The brickies have finished. However, there is still a lot to do to clean it all up. I still need to scrub it all down, fettle it, then acid wash the surface and water blast it, but even at this stage it looks great to me.
I asked Bill, one of our brickies, if there was a rule about laying bricks with the frog up or the frog down, as I had noticed while securing the brick ties to the shed frame, that some of the bricks were laid either way. Bill explained to me that he was taught by the English Master Bricklayer Dave Smith from Leeds in Yorkshire to lay bricks frog down, so he lays bricks frog down unless there is a reason not to, such as the need to get a particular face out, or if the brick is warped and won’t sit flat any other way.
At this point, I should explain to those not familiar with bricks, that old fashioned sand stock or modern day dry pressed bricks have an indentation in one of the broad, flat faces. This has a few functions, but mostly to provide a ‘key’ to allow the mortar ‘grip’ the brick and lock it into the wall.
Modern extruded bricks have a lot of holes all the way through them, so don’t require a ‘frog’, the extrusions provide the texture for the cement to grip the brick. BTW, Bill told me that he refuses to work on jobs that specify extruded bricks. He said that they aren’t ‘real’ bricks, just rubbish.
So a frog is an indentation in the brick. In old, hand made, sandstock bricks like ours, the bricks were made one at at time in wooden mould, also hand made on site and not always exactly the same as the other moulds that were being used, so there is plenty of variation in the size and shape of the bricks, but particularly in the size and shape of the ‘frog’ indentation.
We have diamonds and ovals, but mostly a huge range of rectangular shapes.
It appears that each brick maker seemed to make his own mould and chose what ever piece of wood was available at the time to add to the mould to make the ‘frog’ indentation in the brick. There is a huge variation. I have read that as each frog was different, the shape of the frog in the brick was a way of counting up the tally of each individuals daily output, as the brick makers were paid per brick produced.
You can see above, many of the various shapes of the frog, these varied from long, narrow and deep, made by using a squarish baton of wood in the bottom of the mould or ‘Stock’, to very wide and shallow, with tapered edges. Warwick Gemmell in his book ‘And so we graft from six til six’ – Brick makers of New South Wales. states;
Having a wooden piece in the bottom of the mould also had the beneficial effect of pushing or ‘kicking’ the clay slop out to the corners of the mould. It is important to fill the corners of the mould to get a well shaped, square edged brick. Having a ‘kick’ in the bottom of the mould made this easier to achieve by kicking the soft clay out to the edges and allowed the brick maker to work faster with less ‘seconds’.
So where does the word ‘frog’ come from in brick making? The the OED vol 6. P208/6 quotes it’s first use in print in 1876. But gives no indication of it’s origin. In a book called “Des Brykes”, I read that fancy brick work in many old English stately homes was done by imported Dutch bricklayers, as the techniques of sophisticated and decorative brickwork were well advanced in Holland at that time. The Oxford Dictionary also quotes on the same page that Dutchmen were called ‘frogs’ as a term of derision in 1652.
Could it be that immigrant Dutch brick workers introduced the frog into English brick making? It just might be possible, because the ‘Kicker’ piece in the bottom of the mould is also the same word in Dutch (kikker) that means frog!
Just speculation, but food for thought?
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