Sectional Preface: Building Materials and Construction

An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the Town of Stamford. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1977.

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'Sectional Preface: Building Materials and Construction', in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the Town of Stamford, (London, 1977) pp. lxiv-lxix. British History Online [accessed 29 February 2024]

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Building Materials and Construction


The outcrop of Jurassic rock running from Yorkshire to Somerset provides some of England's finest building stone. Stamford lies on this outcrop, within 4 miles of the quarries at Barnack and Ketton, and 7 miles from Clipsham; it is unlikely that much stone was carried to the town from a greater distance before the 19th century. Most of the building stone used in the town came from the Lincolnshire Limestone beds of the Inferior Oolite; mainly oolites, they range from even-textured stones to coarse shelly ragstones.

Within and immediately around Stamford the Lincolnshire Limestone produces an oolite suitable for general building purposes, some beds yielding stone of a very high quality; this is known as Stamford stone. Both during and after the Middle Ages this stone was usually won by digging pits rather than by horizontal quarrying. Archaeological excavation has revealed many quarry-pits within the town and castle, dating from the 12th century and earlier. They are up to 30 ft. across, and when exhausted were immediately filled in. As late as 1764 Edward Sharpe, a mason, had a stone pit behind his house in Barn Hill (Court Roll). Most Stamford stone, however, must have come from pits in the open fields. Around 1270 Master Reginald of the hospital of St. Thomas on the Bridge had a quarry in the open fields which he extended into the highway; this encroachment was 40 ft. long and 8 ft. wide (Rot. Hund. I. 352). Pits in Pingle Field are mentioned in 1725 and 1839 (Mercury, 5 Apr. 1839) and a 'newly opened freestone pit' was adverstised in 1822 (Mercury, 31 May). In 1785 the 9th Earl of Exeter had paid £2. 12. 6. for 'filling up and levelling stone pits in Stamford fields' (Exeter Day Books), and in 1843 the 2nd Marquess made payments for 'filling up a stone quarry and bringing half an acre into cultivation' (Ex. MS, 47/31/10). South of the Welland in St. Martin's parish Robert Hames had won stone before 1796 from a 4¾-acre field at TF 036069; when the workhouse was later built on the site the infilled quarry was found to be 30 ft. deep (NRO, St. Martin's Enclosure Award; Mercury, 4 Mar. 1836).

The quarry at Rock House must date from the Middle Ages and further quarries are visible at the ends of the gardens on both sides of Scotgate. The Rock House quarry may be that called St. Clement Delves in 1619 when a pinfold was made in it (Hall Book 1 fo. 329); it had probably fallen into disuse some time before 1466, for in that year a quarry in Scotgate was declared to be a public dunghill or rubbishtip (Hall Books 1 fo. 7). In 1699 the top of this quarry was protected by a fence (Court Rolls, October 1699). Another medieval quarry existed further E., called St. Michael's Delves; it had fallen out of use by 1617 (Hall Books 1 fo. 324 v). By the mid 19th century the main quarries within the town were those on the boundary with Casterton, producing a high quality oolite from the lower beds of the Upper Lincolnshire Limestone. A coralline bed in the Upper Lincolnshire Limestone was called Stamford Marble; being very crystalline it takes a high polish, and was used in the 18th and early 19th centuries for chimneypieces (Judd, Geology of Rutland (1875), 162). It was also used for the stairs of the Stamford Hotel (352).

The relatively coarse bedding and jointing of Stamford stone meant that it was possible to raise large blocks of stone, though the method of quarrying by pits must have also produced much rubble and waste. Not surprisingly, therefore, the major part of the masonry in Stamford is of coursed rubble. The locally quarried freestone blocks were sometimes large. In 1807 blocks averaging 3 ft. long cost 2s. 1d. a ft. cube (Browne's Hospital Records, draft specification). This freestone was used for quoins and dressings, particularly for the flush dressings fashionable in the second half of the 18th century and the early 19th century. Gandy originally intended using it for all the quoins and chimneys of the Infirmary (62) in 1826 (correspondence, in hospital).

Quarrying appears to have been done mainly by masons, several of whom had their own quarries. In 1624 Robert Spademan provided stone for the repairs to the tower of St. John's church carried out by Valentine Hall (Vestry Book). During the 18th century the Earls of Exeter raised stone from their own quarries to provide materials for building; in 1761 William Shaw was being paid for this work, and in the 1780s John Pearson was digging in the Earl's quarries at Wothorpe. This stone would have been made available to other masons, such as those employed by George Betts to rebuild 19 High Street St. Martins (209) in c. 1798. William Legg also provided stone for masons, as he did for the buildings in St. Mary's Street (367) in 1791 (Exeter Day Books). George Portwood too quarried stone; in 1721 a large iron hammer was stolen from his freestone quarry (Mercury, 24 Aug.). Before 1796 Robert Hames had a quarry at St. Martins, and he opened a new quarry at Ketton in 1807 (Mercury, 10 July). When John Hames became bankrupt in 1794, the sale included 'stone in the solid rock ready bared', besides 'stone in the log, ashlin ready wrought and ashlin and jambs in the rough' (Mercury, 22 Aug.).

The medieval quarries at Barnack were worked, as at Stamford, by means of pits, excavating downwards rather than horizontally (Beresford and St Joseph, Medieval England (1958), 232). The stone produced was a hard shelly limestone from the upper part of the Upper Lincolnshire Limestone. It was generally used as rectangular blocks, but sometimes large blocks and slabs were made into coffins, coffin-slabs and architectural features such as tympana (Butler, Arch. J. (1964), 111f). Shelly limestone of Barnack type was widely used in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries, not only in Stamford but over much of eastern England whither it was carried by water. By the 18th century it was used only for inferior purposes; in 1825 hard Barnack stone was used to surface the Great North Road (Mercury, 10 June).

During the Middle Ages Purbeck marble was imported to Stamford for slabs for brasses, and also for the font at All Saints' church. A white Purbeck marble was used for the slabs for some brasses in the same church (brasses (1)). Relatively little of the comparable stone from Alwalton, only 10 miles away, seems to have been used in the town. After about the middle of the 14th century the hard shelly Barnack rag was superseded by an oolite with shell fragments, probably also from the upper beds of the Upper Lincolnshire Limestone. This stone continued in use for major buildings and dressings until the end of the 16th century. Clipsham stone is of similar texture; one of the earliest examples of its use is an inscribed panel of shortly after 1380 (189).

At the end of the Middle Ages the shelly stone from the Upper Lincolnshire Limestone gave way in popularity to more even-grained oolites mainly from the lower sections of this Limestone. The most notable source was Ketton, where the quarries provided much of the freestone and ashlar used in post-medieval Stamford. Some of the Stamford masons had interests at Ketton; Robert Hames had a quarry there and the Hibbins family is found in both places in the 18th and 19th centuries. Slabs of Ketton were used for paving, and thicker slabs, called half-paces, were used as hearth-stones and cost 6d. a foot at the George Hotel (239) in 1725 (Ex. MS, 51/21/24). Probably most of the 18th-century tombstones are in Ketton stone. Among major buildings, Ketton was used at the Infirmary (62) in 1826, and at the Institution (59) in 1842. In 1807 blocks 3 ft. long cost 3s. 2d. per foot cube (Browne's Hospital).

The quarries at Little Casterton were opened on a large scale in 1834, and their working extended into the borough. The quarries at TF 013082 are now filled and built over. The first quarry was owned by Francis Simpson of Stamford (Mercury, 13 June 1834) and a second was opened in 1845 by Clement Brand (Mercury, 9 May). The stone is a fine even-textured oolite, and came out in large blocks. Other limestone differing little in its essential qualities from Stamford stone was obtained from adjacent parishes from time to time, but was not of great importance. In the late 18th century William Willamott dug stone for the Earl of Exeter on Wothorpe Warren (Exeter Day Books, 1771 onwards) where in 1774 he built and operated a lime kiln; in 1778 John Pearson also dug stone there. Wothorpe stone and lime were used for refacing and enlarging 19 High Street St. Martins (209) in 1797 (Ex. MS, 88/51). Ryhall and Easton stones are also mentioned in the early 19th century.

A distinctive fissile sandy limestone known as Pindle was dug at Wittering in the early 19th century from the same beds that produced Collyweston slate. The slabs of this fine and hard stone are seldom more than 2 ins. thick, and give a pleasant texture to the wall surface. The large number of courses meant extra expense in both lime and labour; in 1826 Gandy estimated that ordinary pindle walling cost 7s. 6d. to 8s. 6d. a yard as opposed to 4s. 6d. for Ryhall, an ordinary rubble stone (Infirmary records). Consequently it is rarely found. The first occurrence is at 21 St. Mary's Street (357), shortly after 1827. Edward Browning put it to good decorative use on the buildings flanking the bridge in 1849, and Gandy used it at the Infirmary. In 1844 the Marquess of Exeter was paying Thomas Roffe for raising the stone from pits at the rate of 6d. a yard (Burghley Account Book).

Ancaster stone, from the lower beds of the Upper Lincolnshire Limestone, was perhaps little used before the 19th century. It was the facing-stone for Rutland Terrace in 1830 (288). Later in the century, Bramley Falls stone was brought from Yorkshire for the Town Bridge (64).

Masonry techniques

Almost all masonry walling in Stamford is of coursed rubble. The stones vary from being very roughly dressed to being carefully squared and accurately shaped blocks. In the post-medieval period freestone quoins and dressings are found on all but the poorer buildings where wooden lintels and angles without quoins are normal.

From the late 17th century the better houses are faced in ashlar. Where the construction can be determined this ashlar is composed of slabs sometimes no more than 4 ins. thick, laid on the face of a rubble wall. In 1726 George Portwood charged 2d. a foot for such ashlar stone, but 'parapetting ashlar', where blocks alone formed a true ashlar wall, and hence about a foot thick, cost 6d. a foot (Ex. MS, 51/21/24). Significantly John Pearson in 1775 made no difference in labour charges for building in rubble or ashlar, both being priced at is. a yard (Ex. MS, 89/24). Chamfered quoins cost 2s. a foot in 1725 and rubble walling 2s. 6d. a yard in 1726 (Ex. MS, 51/21/24).

In about the middle of the 18th century a distinct masonry style arose, using flush freestone dressings for doors, windows and quoins (Plate 121). Arranged alternately, these quoins were used to give a deliberate decorative effect in the best work, and sometimes the lintels were continued as a band of ashlar from one window to the next. This style was relatively economical and continued in use until the mid 19th century.

Several rubble-built houses are now plastered, and resemble ashlar-faced buildings. The details of some other houses show that they too were formerly rendered. Clearly in many cases, such as 34 High Street St. Martins (219), this rendering was intended to conceal the scars of altered openings in an older building. This house was presumably rendered in the early 19th century when it was replanned. No. 28 St. Mary's Street (362) was formerly rendered, obscuring a variety of archaeological details; the plastering of other buildings may also cover unsightly scars (255, 294).

Exposed wooden lintels are relatively rare features, most buildings having flat or nearly flat arches made up of three or more stones. During the 17th century mullioned windows were constructed with mullions supporting what are in effect stone lintels, any timber-work being internal and concealed. In the 17th century and earlier, door heads were made of single stones or two stones meeting in the centre.

Where heavy floor beams require maximum bearing, especially in warehouses and maltings, their outer ends are almost on the external wall face. These beam-ends are covered by a slab of stone slate, which protects the beams, makes the wall flush, and disguises the construction.


The earliest brick buildings in Stamford were built in the middle of the 18th century and were of good quality; however, brick was not widely used before the early 19th century. The first brickmaker of whom we have information is John Newark, who began operations in St. Martins, at TF 03350620 in 1754 (Ex. MS, 77/10/3), perhaps using Upper Lias Clays; he also made pantiles, 'flat tiles', and 'garden pots' (Mercury, 4 June 1767). Newark was probably succeeded by John Charlesworth, but the kilns closed after the expiry of Newark's original lease in 1776 or 1777 (Stamford Baron Court Rolls, 1776). Charlesworth continued in business until his death in 1781, and his widow was still burning bricks, but N. of the river, in 1788 (Court Rolls).

Later, brick production was based on Emlyns Closes near the present Recreation Ground, in the open fields and also on the Lings, an area of common pasture now the Williamson Cliff Brickworks. In 1779 Charlesworth was digging clay from the Upper Estuarine beds on the Lings (Court Rolls; at TF 018079). George Neale's 1½ acre brick yard near Emlyns Closes passed in 1825 to William Smith (Mercury, 25 Mar., 4 Nov.); in 1845 a nearby claypit of ¾ acre had become a garden as agricultural use was clearly no longer possible; in that year Robert Woolston had a 2¾ acre brickfield in the same area (Survey of 1845). Woolston probably began brickmaking in c. 1842 (Mercury, 8 Jan. 1864). The 18th-century bricks were fired to a red colour; during the early 19th century an orange-red or yellow-red was normal, probably the result of the use of the Upper Estuarine clays from the N. of the town.

Coade stone was used for a monument of 1800 in St. John's church, and the statue of Justice on the Stamford Hotel (352) may also be of this material. In 1858 Blashfield opened his terracotta works in Stamford (451) employing some of Coade's moulds. He used clay from Poole, Wakerley, and Uffington, and Lower Estuarine clays from St. Martin's; the business finally closed down in 1875. Several buildings in Stamford are decorated with his terracotta ((185) by 1876; Scotgate Inn in 1871) and others with an inferior ware which was made by John Lumby in the years following 1861.

Timber framing

The surviving timber-framed buildings in Stamford, in so far as they can be examined, exhibit little variety in constructional technique. From the late 15th to the early 17th centuries the usual style of framing was close-studding with studs about 6 ins. wide set at 12 to 18-inch centres. The earliest dated example is in Browne's Hospital of 1475, and the latest may be the rear range of 11–12 High Street (177), built in the early 17th century. Braces in timber-framed walls are always from the post down to the sill, and are set internally to avoid interrupting the external pattern of parallel studs, as at 9 St. Mary's Street (347). Such braces are rarely recorded, probably because they are hidden behind plaster. In some houses the gables have raking studs on either side of a central stud. The rear block of 10 High Street (176) has a single pair of such raking studs, while the N. gables of 25 High Street St. Martins (216) have two pairs. This style of framing the tops of gables was also seen in Lincoln in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, but in Stamford it was probably more usual to have only vertical studs, as at 10 St. Mary's Hill (336). Storeyed houses are commonly jettied.

The one exceptional building is 6–7 Red Lion Square (280) where the frame consists of a series of slightly curved parallel braces, with only occasional studs or posts; these braces form a herringbone pattern. This building is not closely datable but may belong to the late 15th century; its unusual construction may perhaps be accounted for in part by its exceptional character, for whatever its function it was a large and important building (Fig. 139).

A small amount of timber-framed building was carried out in the late 17th and 18th centuries. Slender timbers generally of imported softwood, used as studs at about 2 ft. intervals, form a frame which is not infilled but plastered on both faces. The upper floor of the rear wing of 5 Ironmonger Street (243) dates from the early 18th century, and is jettied; a smaller projecting section at 25 St. Mary's Street (359) dates from c. 1766.

The types of infilling of timber-frame show little variation. Among surviving buildings the commonest method was to slip stone slates into grooves between the studs and to cover both sides with hard plaster. This technique can be demonstrated at Browne's Hospital of 1475, 68 High Street St. Martins (238), 10 High Street (176), and 40 St. Mary's Street (368). An alternative method was simply to fill the spaces with panels of hard plaster held in place by pegs set at about 18-inch intervals in the sides of the studs. At 6–7 Red Lion Square (280) these panels are formed of small stones set in plaster, which received a further coat of plaster on each face and a final, thin and very hard, external rendering. In all of these methods both faces of the timbers were generally left exposed.

Frames of the 17th and 18th centuries were completely covered with plaster on laths, and many earlier buildings were doubtless similarly rendered at this time. The surface of the plaster was roughened by impressing it with a tool such as a trowel-blade. At 9 St. Mary's Street (347) the gable has a scalloped border resembling a barge-board. Decorative pargetting is rare.

Roof construction

Probably the earliest surviving roof-structure is the fragment, perhaps of the late 13th century, at 16–17 St. Paul's Street (379). The tie-beam is arch-braced, and channelled for passing-braces which, along with a crown post, have been mostly removed. The arch-braces are of almost square section and are not jointed but face-pegged to both tie beam and wall post. Face pegging is an early technique, occurring locally at Lincoln in c. 1290 (Arch. J. 131 (1975)).

Dating from later in the Middle Ages are several roofs each of which has members of uniform scantling. The earliest is probably the hall roof at 25 High Street St. Martins (216), consisting of pairs of rafters each with a collar; the timbers are square in section, and no evidence for a longitudinal purlin could be seen. Typologically later is the smoke-blackened roof at 34 St. Peter's Street (414), where only every third pair of rafters has a collar. In this house purlins lie in the angle between rafter and collar; such clasped purlins later became a frequent feature of Stamford roof carpentry. The roof of 21 All Saints' Street (82) may be a little later still; here the bays are wider, the hall being of only two bays, and there are in addition wind-braces between principals and purlins. Over the S. range of 69 High Street St. Martins (238) is a similar roof of c. 1500 with bays of normal width; here the principals had the refinement of a diminution in depth above the clasped purlin, seen also at 6 Barn Hill (95) in the 16th century (Plate 77), and at 10 High Street (176). The roof of 40 St. Mary's Street (368) of similar date, has undiminished principals. Clasped purlins occur in Lincoln from the third quarter of the 15th century onwards (Arch. J. 131 (1975)).

Crown-post roofs are now uncommon in Stamford. The most ornate is that at 16 Barn Hill (103), where the crown post is braced to both collar-purlin and tie-beam. That at 6–7 Red Lion Square (280) is of high quality but quite plain, as is the mutilated roof at 35–36 St. Peter's Street (415). The roof over 18 St. Mary's Street (354) (Plate 76) has ogival braces and probably belongs to a lower level in the social scale. Dating is difficult but these survivals probably all date from the late 15th or perhaps early 16th centuries.

Roofs in Stamford during the 16th and 17th centuries appear mainly to have been of simple construction, with wind-braces going out of use during the 16th century. Purlins are frequently clasped by the collar against the principals. During the first half of the 18th century, beginning perhaps just before 1700 but continuing no later than c. 1745, several roofs were built with principals having curved feet. No crucks were identified, but these roofs are related to raised or upper crucks. The earliest of these roofs include 54–55 High Street (191), and the building behind 14 High Street (178) (Fig. 104); later examples are 3 All Saints' Place (72) and 24 St. Mary's Street (358); no. 13 Barn Hill (100) is dated 1740 and 35 High Street St. Martins (220) is of similar date and design. In some of these roofs the purlins instead of being canted to the pitch are set square. At 1 Red Lion Square (277) square-set purlins possibly date from the late 17th century, but most are found in 18th-century buildings; the latest examples are those of the early 19th century at 1–3 St. John's Street (311). Frequently, as at 13 Barn Hill (100) of 1740, and at 54–55 High Street (191), they are associated with principals with curved feet, and form the lower tier of purlins at the level of the curve; the upper tiers of purlins are canted normally. These purlins are tenoned into the sides of the principals, and some are tusk-tenoned; this technique is known to have been used in the late 18th century by Mrs. Pilkington (S. range of the George Hotel (239), 1791; nos. 1–2 St. Mary's Hill (331), 1792) and may have been a speciality of the firm.

Roofing materials

Stone slates were obtained from a bed of fissile sandy limestone near the base of the Lower Lincolnshire Limestone, the main source for Stamford being the workings at Collyweston and Easton-on-the-Hill, Northamptonshire (RCHM, Northants. I, Collyweston (11)). These slates were employed in Stamford during the Middle Ages (see Castle (10)), the first documentary reference to their use being for the repair of houses in 1389 (Durham Priory Account Rolls). They were also used for most new buildings in the town during the 18th and early 19th centuries; only after 1850 were they largely replaced in popularity by Welsh slates and pantiles. It is not clear at what date thatch ceased to be used for new buildings. Council Orders such as that of May 1676 which required that all new houses within the town should be tiled or slated, and that existing buildings be so covered within three years (Hall Book 2, 73), must have been partly ignored, for as late as 1835 the Marquess of Exeter was having houses in St. George's Street rethatched (Burghley Estate Office, Accounts). Slating was measured by the rod of 36 square yards; in 1700 slates cost 12s. to 14s. a thousand at the pit, and this number would cover almost one rod. In 1700 the cost of slating a rod of roof was £2 (Wing, 269), and this is what John Burton charged in 1775 (Ex. MS, 89/24); Wing priced labour alone at 12s. per rod. Ridge tiles were generally of clay, and old drawings show that several houses retained late medieval ridge tiles into the last century. One late medieval example was found ((368); Fig. 186), and the rear wing of 17 Barn Hill (104) has crested ridge tiles perhaps of the early 17th century.

Both plain tiles and pantiles were introduced to the area by the late 17th century (Wing, 269). Plain tiles survive from the 18th century but do not appear to have been common, despite the fact that they were probably a little cheaper than stone slates and were certainly less expensive to lay. Pantiles cost even less, and were much cheaper to lay: 1s. 8d. for laying 100 sq. ft. as opposed to 3s. for plain tiles and about 3s. 8d. for stone slates (Wing, 269). Pantiles appear to have been used for humble buildings, and the earliest surviving examples are on small houses and outbuildings of the early 19th century. Welsh slates were introduced at the beginning of the 19th century, their first documented use being on the new roof at the Town Hall in 1819. They are at first associated with better-class houses, and with the lower-pitched roofs then coming into fashion.

Plaster floors

Plaster was used as a flooring material from the Middle Ages, and several plaster floors, laid directly on the earth, have been found in excavations, for example at the Castle (10). All surviving examples in standing buildings are upper floors; because of their tendency to crack when the supporting joists sag, few can be expected to be of an early date. The plaster floor in the attic of 40 St. Mary's Street (368) was laid and relaid on at least three separate occasions. The earliest reference to such floors in Stamford is in an inventory of St. Martin's Vicarage in 1582, where the chamber over the hall had a plaster floor (Ex. MS, 33/11); probate inventories of the 17th and 18th centuries sometimes refer to them incidentally, as 'plaster floor garret' (LAO, 211/280). Perhaps by this time, but certainly by the 18th century, the technique was used mainly for attic floors (e.g. Ex. MS, 89/24, referring to 15 St. Mary's Street). The latest example recorded dates from c. 1820 (274).

The plaster was run on to a layer of straw or reeds laid directly across the joists; as it set rapidly no other formwork was necessary. The plaster was generally between 1 and 2 ins. thick, and contained a little crushed brick. In 1700 a hundredweight of plaster was deemed sufficient for a square yard of flooring and this agrees tolerably well with examples noted in Stamford. At the same date 40 cwt. of plaster, at the pits, cost 4s. to 4s. 6d. (Wing, 269). In 1775, John Burton charged 1s. a square yard for materials only (Ex. MS, 89/24); this equates with Wing's figures of 4d. to 6d. a yard for workmanship, and an inclusive cost of 1s. 4d. a yard (Wing, 269).