In Parts of England, House Builders Use ‘Fake Bricks’ – Here’s Why

There are buildings around here, in Kent and Sussex, that look like they are brick built.

But they’re not. Instead, the structure has been clad in a way that mimics the look of brickwork, without using any bricks. These ‘fake bricks’ can be spotted quite easily by those with a keen eye – but why were they ever needed in the first place?

The answers relate to style, tax, and necessity…

The Brick Tax

In 1784, King George III applied the Brick Tax in Great Britain – to help pay for ongoing war for American independence. Bricks were chosen as a taxable item since their popularity as a building material had exploded in the 1700s.

Bricks were stylish, and everyone wanted them.

But with the arrival of the brick tax, the already costly process of sculpting decorative brickwork now had an added expense. To try to combat this, some brickmakers began producing oversize bricks – gargantuan blocks of clay that would potentially cut applicable tax in half.

The government clamped down on oversize bricks, and introduced a minimum brick size.

Construction costs increased. Rents went up. Building quality began to suffer. The tax even applied to pipes and tiles. Some areas turned to timber lap siding to clad and weatherproof exterior walls – but this solution couldn’t stand up to the salty sea air for long.

So, to lower costs while still achieving excellent weatherproofing, mathematical tiling was developed. Its added protection from weathering is part of the reason why mathematical tiling is so prominent around Kent and Sussex – and the fact that it closely resembles brickwork made it a very popular alternative in the area.

The genius of the design

Mathematical tiles are moulded with a lip on the back, which is fastened to a batten – just like a roofing tile. The next course of tiles would overlap the lip, masking it, and creating the illusion of brickwork. Sometimes, mortar or some other form of grouting was applied to complete the trick.

Even though tiles were initially taxed, cladding in this manner was still a cheaper and faster way to build, resulting in beautiful, well-made buildings. Once the tax was lifted from tiles and pipework in the 1830s, it began to proliferate further – and became established as a style all of its own.

 

Plus, mathematica tiles come with some advantages: tighter curves than bricks could ever allow meant that some bay windows of the era had a dramatic sweeping look, and the corners of buildings could be rounded in a pleasing and beautiful way.

 

This can be seen in surviving 18th century buildings around Hastings, and along the narrow, winding streets of Canterbury – where the tight curves of mathematical tiling allows traffic to snake through the densely-packed structures.

The proliferation through Kent and Sussex

Brighton is probably the UK’s biggest mathematical tiling ambassador, with a huge variety of styles and colours on display. In Kent, the majority mathematical tiling applications – with some notable exceptions – closely resemble brick.

 

But in East Sussex, and particularly in Brighton, the variety of colour and styling is far richer. Black glazed tiles are a hallmark of 18th century Brightonian architecture, still visible on Royal Crescent and parts of Grand Parade.

 

Cream and honey coloured mathematical tiling can be found, in addition to flint and brick effect tiles. White and terracotta tiles, maroon – even blue tiles and patterns – Brighton has a lot of variety when it comes to mathematical tiling.

The legacy of mathematical tiling

Out of necessity, a distinct and beautiful style emerged – and today, mathematical tiling is one of the most striking and memorable features of the architecture in Kent and Sussex.

 

Preserving these buildings is one of our great passions, and the work we undertake in conservation is among our favourite. We can’t overemphasise the importance of these buildings to our shared heritage and our history, and the collective knowledge they hold. The legacy of mathematical tiling is one of overcoming odds, defying conventions, and inventing our way out of problems: and these are the traits we hope future generations will acknowledge whenever they see these buildings.

Mathematical tiling specialists since 1984

Tenterden Roofing is a passionate team of heritage roofing specialists and mathematical tiling experts. Contact us for a quote at [email protected]