Building Methods

Earth building is the practice of construction using unfired, untreated, raw earthern materials such as earth, chalk, lime, gravel or sand, which can be mixed with other raw materials such as fibrous materials and water as needed to bind it all together.  Different material use, methods and techniques exist, some similar, just with variations of included and added materials.

The UK has an extensive history of earth construction, with regions tending to have their own traditional and heritage construction depending on the nature of materials, variety available and conditions –  thus a ‘vernacular’ style. The result is a wide variety of techniques, and in addition to principle methods, subsequent variations and hybrids exist. And just as varying and unique with extent of construction methods themselves, traditional nature, background, and their locality, are the names of them, often being seen with a degree of quirkiness.

  • Cob, is found predominantly in the West Country.
  • Clob, of Cornwall.
  • Wattle and Daub of various localities.
  • Clay Lump or Clay-Bat of East Anglia.
  • Mud and Stud of Lincolnshire.
  • Mud and Frame of Leicestershire.
  • ‘Mud’ (unshuttered mud walling) of Leicestershire and Northamptonshire.
  • Clay Dabbins of the Solway Plain and area’s either side to the north and south, including Cumbria.
  • Clay Dab or Clay and Dab of Scotland.
  • Cloy and Bool, of Scotland.
  • Auchenhalrig Work of Scotland.
  • Clunch primarily of Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire, and beyond.
  • Clom of Wales.
  • Whitchert, alternatively spelled, Wytchert or Wichert of the Chilterns / Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, particularly between Oxford and Aylesbury.
  • Clam Staff and Daub of the Lancashire plain + Cumbria.
  • Mud Wall, including the Carse of Gowrie, Scotland.
  • Rammed Earth, of the South of England, significant numbers in the Winchester and Andover areas of Hampshire.

Wattle and Daub variations (often subtle in nature) are known by so many names, probably more so than any other method and technique. Beyond the examples given above such as Mud and Stud, Mud and Frame, and Clam Staff and Daub, there also includes a profusion of names;

Raddle and Daub, Clay and Wattle, Clay and Mott, Stake and Rice, Clot and Clay, Stab and Rice, Daub and Stower, Rice and Stower, Riddle and Daub, Keeber and Mott, Caber and Daub, Strae and Rake, Rod and Daub, Split and Daub, and Cat and Clay.

Thus, earth building has wide-ranging forms of construction, quite possibly more so than use of any other building material/type of building, in particular that of natural material use, geographically across the UK.

Mud & Stud is the vernacular form of building and architecture in Lincolnshire. Today, approximately 500, such traditional buildings and structures exist.  This work follows on, to digitally develop the work of Rodney Cousins, former Chairman of the Earth Structures Society (EMESS), who originally identified and used a paper-based map system to display not only those mud and stud’s existing today but also, those known of which have been lost, e.g. demolished.

Clay lump (or clay bat) is the vernacular material use specific to East Anglia.  It consists of earth with a high clay content, mixed with straw, chalk/flint, and other natural materials, even animal dung, etc and formed into blocks, bigger in size to bricks. Clay was historically trodden out by a horse and mixed with spear-grass (also known locally as “twitch”). It was then cut into lumps and dried. W.A. Dutt, the local historian of 100 years ago wrote of these cottages: “although rather attractive in appearance they are often undesirable dwellings.”

Mudwall more commonly a vernacular of Scotland, is formed of earth mixed with straw. This type of construction was built in “lifts”, or courses, of between 15 and 55 cm depending on the material properties. Mudwall is commonly known as cob in other parts of Britain, being found predominantly in the south-west of England.

Clay and Bool is a vernacular of Scotland, being a variation of mudwall construction where rounded stones of a type unsuitable for other forms of building are set in courses between the earth material.

Turf, more commonly a vernacular of Scotland is occasionally referred to as sod, and entails using earth blocks to form walls either on its own or alternating with stone. Turf is commonly laid in a herringbone pattern for added strength.

Wattle and Daub is where a clay and straw mixture is used in combination with timber framing.  It is a method for filling-in for a timber-framed structure and constructing walls.  Vertical wooden stakes, or wattles are fixed into groves of timbers above and below, and are woven with a lattice of pliable horizontal twigs and branches – the wattles, traditionally coppiced hazel considered typical for wattles but willow and ash also used as well as split. (riven or cleft) beech, oak or chestnut and the resulting lattice or wicker work is applied with a covering or ‘daub’ of mixture comprising wet soil, clay, sand, and straw, the process being called ‘daubbing’ and the person carrying out the work being called a ‘dauber’. Sometimes animal dung was traditionally included in the mix.  This method is one of the oldest known for making a weatherproof structure.

Plasters and flooring, clay and straw mixture, used to plaster or render internal and external walls, or to form or cover solid sub-floor or laid over to cover timber floors, even being used as deafening as an early form of sound insulation.

Clunch is solid blocks of chalk cut directly from the stone. mixed with water, straw (or other fibre) and sometimes dirt.

Clay Bat
Clay Bat is a mixture of Clay, Chalk and Straw moulded into a block and allowed to dry in the sun. Buildings are then made with these bricks,

Clay bat is the local name but ‘Clay Lump’ is more common in East Anglia