Stucco, the Poor Man's Stone

Stucco is a substitute for stone. Stone is so expensive that there is very little of it in Stoke Newington. The New St Mary’s Church (1855) is in stone and cost a lot of money. They built the church but did not have enough left to build the spire. This extra money took a number of years to collect and the church stood for years with a tower but no spire. The only other notabe examples of stonework are the War Memorial at the corner of the Library In Church Street, and the Town Hall nearby.

After the Fire of London, in 1666, the fashion was for red facing bricks made from the local Brickearth deposits. Abney House was a typical example.


++Find colour picture of Abney House


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 powerful enough to buy or steal marble from other parts of Italy and abroad. They raided all round the Mediterranean to glorify Rome. Eighteenth century England wanted to copy Rome, but had to choose stucco as a cheaper substitute. Nash’s Regents Park Terraces, of 1811, are the high point on this stage.


An old verse said that Emperor Augustus

Found Rome in brick and left it in marble.

Wits extended the verse with -

But Nash was the master,
Found London in brick and left it in plaster.


Clissold Road was built about 1886 for people who were quite well off. They could afford high quality brick, but not stone, for their houses. They used stucco.

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 and 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 I part Portland cement, I 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.

As a background to their stucco builders 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 upper floors of many stucco houses, yet often when the stucco 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 rendering, paint and labour. If he got the calculation wrong, he might go out of business and have to become a workman again.

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Revised: October 25, 2011 8:23 AM