Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Row row row

Welsh House, Ferguson at Mary
This is the Welsh/Hodgson House built c. 1857 in Picton Ontario. It sits at the corner of Ferguson and Mary Streets, a house often overlooked due to the grand (and recently expanded) Queen Anne style mansion on the corner opposite.

But this house is unique. It is built in a brick laying style called 'rowlock bond'.  In early building (as opposed to today's which is most often brick veneer)  bricks were usually laid in one of two bonds - common, or the more costly and impressive Flemish bond.

Common bond was laid in rows - 6 or 7 rows of stretchers (the long side), then a row of headers (you got it, the end bit), reaching back to attach to whatever is behind...guess that's why we talk about 'bond'. Flemish bond is the alternating placement of headers and stretchers within each row. It took more time, so was more costly (although with wages as they were, the difference wouldn't seem prohibitive to us today). Often Flemish bond is on the important front of a building (because the Victorians were all about appearances - who does that make you think of?) and common bond on the sides and back.

So...back to rowlock bond, which is what I'm on about today.

Rowlock bond consisted of laying the brick on its narrow edge, perhaps to make the bricks 'go further'. Stretchers and headers still alternated. Rowlock bond characterizes early brick building only - the later bricks with frogs, or indents, wouldn't have been suitable (although I have seen a photo of one in Baysville).

So the bricks look...bigger. Rowlock always makes me think of those 'second teeth' that kids grow before the size of their face catches up...big teeth.

rowlock bond
The Picton rowlock bond houses are attributed to Robert Welsh Jr. and his mason relatives. If you want to know more about rowlock bond, consult 'The Settler's Dream' or 'Building with Wood' (etc.) by John Rempel, my building bible.

Or you could wait til summer 2013 when Orland French's new book Wind Water Barley and Wine is released. A number of us have contributed from our unique perspectives. Orland's let me ramble on a bit about early building in Prince Edward County.

In 1984, Cruikshank and Stokes stated that there were 10 rowlock bond houses still left in Picton...some in hiding under stucco or other cladding. Picton was a hotbed of rowlock bond building, although there are scattered examples in the province. One, in Port Britain, has a sweet Picton connection.

My camera and I really must get to the old town one day soon, when the sun is out and the temperature bearable. Last time I looked, there was a plain little house on the town hill, with some cladding torn off, prior to what I expected was demolition - for there be condos. But work appeared stalled...perhaps it was a nasty surprise for a developer or a delight for an old house nut, for peering out from beneath the siding was what appeared, to a distracted driver heading downhill rapidly, to be rowlock bond.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for making this post, I really learned something here. Its kinda interesting to lay it on edge, since doing so would seem to lessen stability and strength when compared to common bond. I'd love to see a profile of one of those walls, to see if they somehow stabilized it behind the facing. Perhaps the headers tucked into another wall behind the outside one, to create a double wall. Thats common for most brickwork anyway, isn't it ???

    BTW, the link given for "picton connection" doesn;t seem to be working, unless the idea is to actually log in.....

    I was always amazed at seeing these massive houses in the mid-Atlantic states from 1720, 1730 or so, many of them in Flemish bond. Its easy to see where the money was at that time. And when you look at the historical populations, you can also see that these states flourished wrt to settlement and economic activity. Whereas the Maritimes and New England built in wood, and NY & PA did in stone(quite often), states like Md. and Vir. had no qualms about using brick.

    Speaking of building materials, here's an incredible breakdown of building materials used in NS. AS you can see it's overwhelmingly frame construction (99.4%):

    One of the rare brick houses in the province is the c.1775 Chapman H. in Flemish Bond w/ black headers. Its the oldest brick house in Canada, unless there's an older one in Quebec.: