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Bricks and Construction Materials during the Reign of Edward IV (1461 - 1483)

During the reign of Edward IV, a period of relative peace and economic growth in England, the use of bricks in construction became more widespread, leading to notable changes in architectural practices. This article delves into the transformation of construction materials and techniques in this era.

Population and Living Conditions

Historical records suggest that the population of England during Edward IV's reign was between 2.5 to 3 million people. The majority of the population lived in rural areas and small villages, with farming as the main source of livelihood. Life was laborious, with the lower classes living in modest, often cramped conditions.

Common Dwelling Types and Construction Materials

During Edward IV's reign, the majority of the population lived in wattle and daub houses. These structures consisted of woven wooden strips, covered with a mixture of clay, dung, and straw. Timber was another common construction material, particularly in wealthier households and for the creation of manor houses and castles.

Brick was becoming increasingly common as a construction material, especially in areas with good clay deposits. These bricks offered better protection against the elements and were more durable than the traditional wattle and daub.

In Edward IV's England, there were primarily two types of dwellings - the cottages of the peasantry and the houses of the nobility and wealthier citizens. The average cottage was constructed using the wattle and daub method. It involved weaving a network of wooden strips (wattle), which was then covered (daubed) with a mixture of clay, sand, animal dung, and straw. The roof was typically thatched with straw or reeds.

The layout of these cottages was quite simple, usually comprising a single room that served multiple purposes - a living area, a kitchen, and a sleeping area. An open hearth would provide both heat and a place for cooking. These homes often housed large families, sometimes with as many as eight or ten people living in the same space.

The day-to-day life of the inhabitants centered around work, particularly farming. Men, women, and even children would labor in the fields during the day. Evenings were spent around the hearth, preparing and eating meals and enjoying what little leisure time was available.

On the other hand, the homes of the nobility and wealthier classes were larger and more complex. These houses often had multiple rooms and were constructed with a combination of timber framing and, increasingly, bricks and stone. The use of more durable materials not only offered better protection from the elements but also symbolized status and wealth.

These homes often had specialized rooms, including kitchens, bedrooms, and even parlors. These households would include the family, their servants, and sometimes even tenants. Life in these homes was considerably more comfortable, with daily activities centered around trade, governance, and social events.

Notable Buildings from the Era

The most significant architectural achievement of Edward IV's reign is arguably the King's College Chapel in Cambridge. While not constructed entirely of bricks, this masterpiece showcases the shifting building practices of the time, featuring an extensive use of stone and limited application of bricks in its magnificent structure.

Societal Impact from a Housing Perspective

The increased use of brick and stone during Edward IV's reign represents a move towards permanence and durability in construction. It suggests a growing economy and increased wealth, as these materials were more costly than the traditional wattle and daub. The shift in construction materials also indicates an evolution in societal values, with greater emphasis on aesthetics and display of wealth.