Building Heaton Hall – Bricks and Mortar (and other materials)

Although at first glance it might not appear so, Heaton Hall is a brick-built construction. The South Front is faced with stone ashlars, attached to the underlying brick with iron ties; while the North Front has been covered in rendering.  Recent renovation work to the latter has revealed the exterior brickwork for the first time in 200 years, although interior brickwork has been visible in the West Wing ever since the fire of the 1980s.

The original bricks were probably hand-made on site, using clay dug from the ground and pressed into wooden moulds, then fired.

The stone for cladding the South Front, and larger blocks for features such as the stone columns of the portico, was sourced from the Warrington area. One letter of 1777, by William Tilley of Warrington, refers to ‘a load of 24 tons of stone for Sir  Thomas. ….. I expect they will be at Manchester by next Monday, ‘ and another letter, six months later, informs that 384 pieces were ready for transport to Manchester. Shipment was by canal from Stockton Heath.

From an inspection of architectural detail on the South Front, an observer will soon notice that some carvings are of a paler colour.  These are not, in fact, stone carvings, but a form of hard ceramic, ‘Coade Stone’, named after the London family that manufactured them. Sir Thomas Egerton would have chosen them from a pattern book, and had them shipped from London to Liverpool, from where they would have been sent by canal to Manchester.

Timber for joists, beams, rafters and so forth would in all likelihood have come from trees felled on the estate and processed at the estate sawmill near Heaton Gate.  More decorative woods, the mahogany for doors, would be imports.

The building work at Heaton incorporated an innovative technique which would become quite commonplace, but which at this time was new; the use of iron girders as load-bearing joists. This is one of the features that makes Heaton Hall important architecturally, since this is a very early example.

 

The picture above of brickwork in the interior of the West Wing (the plaster having disappeared as a result of the 1980s fire) shows how the plasterwork was added.  The numerous small holes between the bricks contained wooden pegs to which thin strips of wood were fixed.  This provided the framework which bound the hand-applied plaster to the walls.

Other necessities of construction work came from various manufacturers according to their specialities. Iron railings and gates were installed  by Stanley and Gale, Ironmasters, of Birmingham, who also installed the bell system.  The grates for the fireplaces throughout the Hall were supplied by Henry Tobin of Leeds.

In the course of the building work the main contractor would, as in the construction industry today, call in subcontractors for specialised work; masons, carpenters, glaziers and other craftsmen with particular skills. During the period of construction there would have been a steady stream of such men coming and going, all overseen by the watchful William Rogers, trusted Agent of Sir Thomas.