Being based in North Norfolk, we’re surrounded by beautiful homes and churches built using flint. Some of these original flint homes need a bit of attention every now and then to help maintain their structure and keep them looking good. But we also have quite a lot of work which involves building new homes, or extending existing homes, using the same classic Norfolk flint style. It’s quite a skill!
We love working with traditional materials and flint is close to our hearts. Whilst there are some pre-cast flint building materials now being manufactured, nothing can beat working with flint using the same methods that have been used for many years.
What is flint?
Flint is compact crystalline silica. It occurs as nodules in bands within the upper layers of chalk geological formations. As well as Norfolk, it can be found in Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire, Sussex, Kent, Surrey, Berkshire and Suffolk. It is very hard and is usually black or dark blue-grey. The nodules fracture forming sharp edges – early man used flint to make tools and weapons.
It was the Romans that first used flint for building using unprepared cobbles mortared together. The Saxons and Normans followed suit, often using flint to build their churches. Use of flint for building has continued through the ages, with more sophisticated architectural flint work beginning to make an appearance in the 14th century. At this point, knapping (chipping the flint to reveal the interior black surface) was introduced. However, it was in the 18th century that there was a real revival in the use of flint – you may have noticed it being used in garden structures of great houses from around that era.
The skill of building with flint
There aren’t very many skilled flint craftsmen around. This can present a challenge to home owners and conservators. If repairs are carried out by builders who are not properly trained, the results can be less than desirable. To a non-expert, flint can be very difficult to split and shape. Not only that, raising it into a vertical wall can seem nigh on impossible!
Traditional mortars were largely lime-based. The use of similar mortars for repair work on traditional buildings, and indeed new structures, is essential to good practice. It’s important visually, to maintain the look of the property, but it also helps avoid cracks which cement mortars might experience. These cracks could lead to flints falling out of the wall, and also damp getting in. In good flint work, the flints should touch each other and lock together as much as possible. Work by an inexperienced builder can lead to a look which is more mortar than flint.
Not all flint work is random and it’s important that the original structure is carefully studied before any rebuilding or repair starts. The aim is to replicate any pattern so as to avoid changing the character of the property.
There are some 54 recorded kinds of building techniques using flint. Whilst they’re not all commonly in use these days, several techniques are still used. As well as knapping, techniques such as galeting (using flakes of flint pushed into the mortar between larger blocks) and flushwork (combining flint with other materials such as brick) are used to create more complicated patterns and decorative finishes. This all takes training and several years of experience in order to achieve a good finish.
We’re lucky to have Matt, our flint mason, who was trained locally. He is trained to lay flint freehand – the only way to achieve quality results. We’re proud to be able to work on traditional builds and restoration projects to protect our traditional Norfolk flint buildings.