This article explores the pivotal role of bricks and other construction materials during the reign of King George II of Great Britain. The era was marked by advancements in architecture and engineering, and this piece takes an in-depth look into the materials, buildings, and innovation that were characteristic of this time.
Population and Life in 18th Century England
During the reign of George II, the population of England is estimated to have been around 6 million people. The population was predominantly rural, with the majority of people living in villages and small towns. Life during this period was generally difficult for the common person. The Industrial Revolution had begun and this led to a gradual shift from agrarian lifestyles to industrial-based urban living. Those who could not find work in the rural areas moved to the cities in search of better opportunities, leading to crowded and unsanitary living conditions in the cities.
Types of Dwelling and Construction Materials
The early Georgian era under George II continued to favor the use of bricks for construction. Bricks were mainly red or brown, depending on the clay, and were often used alongside stone for corners and details. The classical influence was prominent, with buildings often having a symmetrical façade and sash windows.
Timber framing was still used, especially in rural areas, but brick was increasingly popular for its fire-resistant qualities and aesthetics. Brick homes were seen as a status symbol for the rising middle class.
The Georgian era, particularly during the reign of George II, marked significant changes in dwelling types and construction materials. Reflecting the social hierarchy, the dwelling types during this period varied greatly from simple cottages for the working classes to grand mansions for the nobility.
Working Class Dwellings
For the working class, the dwelling of choice was the cottage. Most were rural, built of local materials, and their construction showed regional variation. In areas where timber was plentiful, timber-framing persisted. The walls were filled in with wattle (woven twigs) and daub (a mixture of clay, straw, and dung), providing a degree of insulation. Roofs were thatched with local materials such as straw or reeds. However, in urban areas, brick terraced houses began to appear, particularly towards the end of George II’s reign.
Middle Class and Noble Dwellings
The middle classes and nobility lived in more substantial houses or mansions. The houses of the rising middle class, particularly in towns and cities, were increasingly made of brick. Bricks were not only fire-resistant but also became a symbol of permanence and prosperity. Many of these houses were built in the fashionable Georgian style, which was characterised by proportion and balance. Buildings were often symmetrical, both in terms of their overall facades and the arrangement of windows.
Noble families and the wealthy elite built grand mansions, often in the countryside, which were constructed from a variety of materials including stone, brick, and stucco. Many of these mansions were built in the Palladian style, a revival of the Classical Roman style that emphasized grandeur, symmetry, and strict proportions.
Brick manufacturing during this period was largely a manual process. Clay was extracted from the earth, shaped in wooden molds, left to dry, and then fired in a kiln. The firing process was crucial in determining the hardness and color of the bricks, with longer firing times resulting in harder, darker bricks. Despite the labor-intensive process, bricks were produced in large quantities due to their increasing demand in the rapidly growing cities.
Notable Buildings Constructed During the Era
St Martin-in-the-Fields, London
Although construction began slightly before the reign of George II, St Martin-in-the-Fields was completed in 1726. Designed by James Gibbs, it is an iconic example of Georgian architecture, employing Portland stone for the main structure and ornamentation.
Notable Engineering Achievements
John Smeaton, often referred to as the "father of civil engineering," was active during this period. Among his achievements is the Eddystone Lighthouse, built off the coast of Cornwall between 1756 and 1759. The lighthouse was constructed using interlocking blocks of Cornish granite and Portland stone.
Interesting Facts Relating to Dwellings and Society
During George II’s reign, the ‘Palladian’ architectural style was popular among the wealthy. This style, inspired by the works of the Italian architect Andrea Palladio, emphasized symmetry, perspective, and values of the formal classical temple architecture of the Ancient Greeks and Romans.