Context 152 - November 2017

10 C O N T E X T 1 5 2 : N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 7 RICHARD GUISE, DAVID HARRISON and ROBERT HUXFORD Britain’s historic paving We cherish fine buildings. To cherish fine streets and paving we need to record them, and to understand the materials used, their qualities, how they were laid and how to care for them. The delight that we derive from traditional paving is by no means the exclusive preserve of obsessive anoraks. Tourist blurb extolling the qualities of historic cities will inevitably refer to the charm of their ‘cobbled streets’; Gold Hill, Shaftesbury and countless stretches of remnant setted streets provide the setting for film sequences and television adverts as shorthand for heritage and distinctiveness. Paving is not a trivial item.Without paving there would be no towns or cities. Rain turns heavily trafficked soil to mud, and soon after into an impassable quagmire. One of the main purposes of paving is simply to enable safe and efficient passage. Public health is a second concern. Prior to the arrival of the motor car, streets rapidly accumulated animal wastes and refuse. Resilient, easily cleaned, waterproof paving was the key to maintaining an acceptable environment within a town. There is the matter of aesthetics: there have been times when introducing flagged paving was thought to add to the dignity and sophistication of a town, and was a matter of considerable pride. Traditional paving includes not only stone, but a wide range of pre-concrete manufactured materials, such as brick pavers and cast-iron kerbs (see page 18). Like vernacular buildings, it can tell us so much about local distinctiveness and Britain’s complex geology. Unlike vernacular buildings, however, the story of traditional paving concerns not only the use of locally sourced materials, but also the importing of more durable or economical materials from elsewhere.Whereas build- ing materials are to a degree protected from the weather, paving must survive rain, snow, frost, heat and traffic. Lucky is the town that has such durable materials close at hand. Local distinctiveness in paving is therefore a mix of geology and the prevailing transport systems. Larger ships, and engineered roads, canals and rail- ways, led to better or cheaper paving from more distant areas finding their way into local streets; and not just from Britain, but from parts of Europe, Asia and South America. Cornish and Devon granites and Purbeck stone from Dorset was transported by coastal ships. Canals and railway lines aided the spread of Staffordshire blue bricks and Mountsorrell granite. Scoria bricks produced by theTees Scorriae Brick Company in Middlesbrough from foundry slag can be found along the east coast, and even in Canada, Mexico and Costa Rica. Paving in Britain goes back into prehistory, with timber paths such as the Sweet Track, surfaces paved with river cobbles found in the entrance to hill forts, and major roads such as the iron-age Sharpstone road in Shropshire. The Romans were prolific pavers, but it is in the medieval period that we begin our story. Misconceptions about medieval roads abound. The most persistent is that they were merely rights of ways. In fact, those making journeys on horse or foot or conveying freight needed investment in physical infrastructure, both in roads and bridges. Goods were often carried by road in preference to water transport.Taynton stone from the UpperThames for Eton College was carried by road to Henley before being ferried down the river.Two-wheeled carts were ubiquitous in lowland England, supplemented by pack-horse trains and four-wheeled wagons. Granite cubes in Aberdeen A Bethersden stone footway in Biddenden, Kent