Then began the bricklaying. Labourers mixed batches of mortar on a platform made of wooden boards, using sand, lime and cement to make a stiff porridge. When the mortar was ready, they brought forward a tall frame which leant at an angle against two wooden stays. Over the frame was a thick felt blanket made of animal hair, like a huge horse-cloth. They beat the cloth with sticks so that the hairs fell into the mortar. They mixed the hairs into the mortar, beat again and mixed again, until the mortar was threaded with hairs. These would hold the mortar together and, years later, I could still recognise them in the tiny gap between the wooden front door frame and the brick. Hair mortar was the traditional bricklaying material, now long forgotten.

Then the labourers each stacked a dozen bricks in a carrying hod and carried them on their shoulders to the foundations. They built piles of bricks at intervals along the wall and set out mortar on small mixing boards. All was ready for the brickies. Swiftly a bricklayer spread a layer of mortar on the foundations, picked up a red facing brick, examined it to find the best corner and laid it down on the mortar. He tested it with a spirit level in both directions, tapped the high corner with the handle of the trowel and tested again. It appeared so easy. Quick, assured movements, perpetual checking, a well trained eye. We children were fascinated to watch for long periods as the men spread the mortar, buttered the brick and tapped it true.

Slowly the walls rose to waist height round the first block of houses. One could see the shape arising, but the rooms seemed so small, rooms for dwarfs. Later, when the men had gone, we paced out the rooms and were surprised to find that they were the same size as our own papered rooms.

Now came the scaffolders - quick, lithe men who threw piles of tall larch poles on the ground. These rang out with high, bright notes as they landed on the pile, which became an enormous xylophone. Grown in a forest, close packed like grass, they had shot up straight and tall, with their side shoots weak from lack of light. Now, stripped of bark, with any side shoots cut off and bleached by the sun, they were to be erected as another forest round the new house walls like a giant Meccanno; to be put up and taken down time and again as the building of the estate progressed, in a never ending dance.

Nearby was a huge pile of scaffolding boards, with metal cleated ends, and another pile of puttocks,short baulks of timber about four feet long, adzed to about three inches square. These were the cross- members which would carry the scaffold boards, for at this period there was no metal scaffolding. All scaffolding was still of wood as it had always been. The larch poles were tied together in a square lattice with standard lengths of sisal rope. These ropes, soaked in creosote, with their neatly whipped ends to prevent fraying, were bound tightly round each joint of the framework in a traditional joint. Scaffolders carried special hand axes with a blade at one end and a sharp point at the other. We children were fascinated at the way these axes were used for a dozen jobs. The scaffolders dug the point into a piece of wood to pull it towards them; they wrapped the end of the rope round the axe and levered it tight to bring their poles together; they wound the rope end round the scaffolding pole and the axe tip, removed the axe, slid the rope end through the gap left and pulled it tight. With the axe they bound the scaffolding tight and safe without using one single knot. Without the axe this would have been impossible to achieve.

 

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