August 16th 2023
How do you like your bricks? In case you hadn't noticed, they don't just come in one colour. And if you travel to different parts of the country, you'll notice that certain regions have a higher proportion of a certain colours of brick.
If you're undertaking a house building project, you'll want to know if it matters what colour you use; and, if you're aiming to keep things local, you'll want to know what the typical colours are for your part of the UK.
A brick's colour is largely dictated by the clay used to make it and how the bricks are fired. They can also receive tinting and colouring, which changes things further but this didn't used to be available.
Generally, bricks will fall into one of four main categories: reds, buffs, browns and blacks/blues. There are loads of variations in these categories, but they'll often be referred to as one the big four.
As a general rule of thumb, blacks and blues are produced through tough clay and a hotter firing process; reds are generally softer clays.
There's a simple explanation for this: when house building was originally started in any region, local clay would be used to manufacture the bricks. Plus, transport links around the country weren't what they are today, so clay bricks wouldn't just be moved across the country to scratch an aesthetic itch.
The older brick buildings you see around you are probably a pretty good reflection of the geological landscape of the British Isles - and the impact of the clay on the colour of the brick would have been greater back in the 18th and 19th century, when manufacturing taechniques weren't nearly as developed.
Over time, changes in brick manufacturing and quarrying would lead to a greater variation in the number of colours available. Plus, the brick tax in Britain was abolished in 1850, removing a major barrier to industrial expansion. The brick industry now had greater resources to improve mixing and implement better firing techniques.
Blended clays, better moulding and more even firing would lead to greater consistency in colours and a wider range too; and improved quarrying techniques allowed deeper clays to be extracted, producing stronger, denser engineering bricks - many of which became desirable for their dark blue colour.
In spite of this, locally sourced clay would continue to be popular for obvious economic reasons and, later, to preserve the heritage of most areas.
With brick transportation no longer an posing problems for developers, the increase of people refusing to settle for less, and the internet boosting universal trends, planning regulators have been forced to relax when it comes to brick choice.
That said, the brick colour can still come into play when seeking planning permission for a house or extension. If the colour of brick differs significantly from the colours used in the surrounding area it's still possible to face some opposition.
This is more likely to occur in places where there is a greater desire for architectural conservation, due to the historical significance of buildings in that area. But in most places, it shouldn't be too much of an issue.
Aesthetically speaking, it usually makes for a better look when the building is a similar colour to the surroundings. But if you're working on your own self-build, you may want to make a statement and try something new.
As a general rule of thumb, you get darker tones in the north and paler tones in the south. Here's a breakdown of the UK brick spectrum:
The London Stock brick is so called because it can be found in townhouses and city buildings all over the capital. This light yellow-toned brick, which has often faded to a darker buff over time, was used extensively during the building boom of the late 18th and 19th centuries.
Colours can now vary from dark golds to pastel beiges and will often have black flecks from ash in the clay. This colour was originally popular because it wasn't too different from stone. It has since been replicated in places around the country as a result of being associated with the London townhouse look.
The Shire counties are a breeding ground for red and orange brick buildings. The classic brick colour Farmhouse Orange has been used for centuries on, unsurprisingly, farm buildings, country houses and more.
Staffordshire, which is home to an Etrurian marl clay, led to the proliferation of deep red brick houses and terraces. When fired at high temperatures this darker clay makes the imposing Staffordshire blue brick.
The Iron oxide Wealden clays of Sussex and Kent also create vivid red bricks. These are particularly associated with the south east of England as they were used in many royal buildings and Georgian townhouses.
In the 17th Century, these Soft Red bricks were called 'Red Rubbers' due to their soft texture being ideal for carving. This meant wealthier occupants who wanted to show off their status could add features and embellishments to the brickwork, which will still be seen today in many places.
Cambridgeshire on the other hand is known for distinctive white buffs. This almost sandy colour, the result of Gault clay, native to the region.
Have you ever driven through a mining or industrial town in the north of England and noticed a lot of grey and dark buff colours in houses? This is partly from the fumes and ash of the industrial era, but it's also a result of the type of clay used. To be in keeping with this sort of area you may want to go for a similar colour.
Of course, there are some colours that are used all over the country, regardless of the heritage. Traditional orange wire cut bricks are used in many new housing developments and estates. They're easy to come by and fit the bill when it comes to a typical house building material.
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