Stucco, the Poor Man's Stone

Stone and marble have always been expensive materials. Well-off people could afford good houses in brick but stone and marbles were beyond their pockets. Areas like Maida Vale was built for people who could afford high duality brick and good wrought iron, but not stone.

Christchurch , Bell Street, built in 1824, is in Bath Stone. which is a very good oolitic limestone and must have been extremely expensive. This is a proof that at this period the Bell Street area was a very prosperous one, with a rich congregation, but they could not have afforded stone for their own houses.

Because stone was so dear, Nash began to cover his buildings with stucco painted to imitate stone. His fine 'palaces' in Regent's Park, 1811, set the fashion and everyone else copied. Little Venice followed and by the 1860s Maryland Road houses were being built brick and rendered in stucco. Each time one is repaired we can see how they were made.

Stucco is any render used to coat brick, rubble, or pebble walls to give the appearance of stone. Some stuccos included cheese, eggs, milk and other unexpected things, but almost all the early ones included slaked lime, well-washed sand, bone ash aid finely ground porcelain clay, in different proportions. Many patents have been taken out for different stuccos over the years. Nash used at least three different ones in the course of his career. Today builders tend to use a mixture of 1 part Portland cement, 1 part lime, and 6 parts sand. This is a very weak render which will crack before the supporting bricks and may allow dampness to evaporate away, instead of being trapped inside the wall and causing damage.

After the Fire of London, in 1666, the fashion was for red facing bricks made from the local Brickearth deposits. Wren houses are of this period. A century later the Augustans, the people of Swift's day, wanted something calmer than the fiery red bricks of the Queen Anne houses. They greatly admired Rome and the Roman values of the period of Augustus. He had 'found Rome in brick and left it in marble'. They wished to do the same, but Rome had been rich enough to buy marble from other parts of Italy and abroad. Eighteenth century England wanted to copy Rome, but had to choose stucco as a cheaper substitute.

They used as a background to their stucco the cool, yellow-grey Gault bricks from the London estuary, which contained up to 17% of chalk. These are the London Stocks which we see as the first floor of many stucco houses, yet when the stucco below falls off, it reveals cheap pink bricks below. Every builder was always calculating how he could build more cheaply. He had to work out if it was more economical to build entirely in cheap pink bricks and pay extra for more rendering and painting, or to build some parts in expensive London Stock bricks and save on render, paint and labour. If he got the calculation wrong, he might go out of business and have to become a workman again. In Warrington Avenue there are two changes of house design which show where individual builders went bankrupt and later another builder continued, with a yet another design.

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