During the late Middle Ages there was a popular fashion among the rich for building
tall, fancy chimneys as a conspicuous way of showing off their wealth and prestige.
It reached its peak in the second half of the sixteenth century, the period with
the most elaborate styles lasting about fifty years. There’s some uncertainty about
how the idea started, but a lot of skill is needed to manufacture the bricks of which
the chimneys are made. It’s likely that skilled immigrant workers from the Low
Countries, of whom there were many at this time, brought with them samples of moulded
and cut brick that may have acted as a source of inspiration. Mostly the chimneys
consist of between twenty-four and twenty-eight courses of brickwork.
Left: Fancy brick chimneys, some with honeycombed surfaces, on a house at Somerleyton
Below: Zig-zags and stripes (known as barley sugar twists) on brick chimneys on
a building in Bury St. Edmunds.
Other examples of fancy brick chimneys in East Anglia, of which there are many, are
at Helmingham Hall in Suffolk and at Elsing Hall in Norfolk.
Most of Elsing Hall was built between 1460 and 1470, but the fancy chimneys date
from the sixteenth century when Richard Browne, on inheriting the property, commissioned
its renovation. The architect chosen for the work was the well-known East Anglian
Thomas Jeckell. He designed not only the Elizabethan-style chimneys but also several
carvings elsewhere on the building. For further information on Elsing Hall go tohttp://elsinghall.com
ON STRIPES IN BRICKWORKK
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A booklet on South Norfolk’s Heritage, published in 1975 and prepared by Barry R.
Joyce, tells us that East Anglia ‘has a great number of stacks which are marvels
of geometric complexity, the shafts either being clusters of octagons, hexagons,
squares or even circular forms. Their surfaces are often enriched with a variety
of raised designs such as chevrons, zig-zags, diamonds, honeycombs, lozenges and