When pantiles are used as a roof cover they are not nailed down like other types of tile and are therefore more prone to being lifted by strong winds.  One way to help protect a pantiled roof from wind is to build the adjacent gable walls higher than the roof slopes.  This is most easily done in stone or brick.  


The effect is to make the tops of the gables more conspicuous, and so it becomes desirable to make them aesthetically pleasing in some way.  The need for doing so is greater still in situations where a narrow gable end of a building faces frontwards onto a thoroughfare, such as a road.  




The picture on the left here shows a brand new Flemish-style gable being built on the side of a simple garage.  The building is part of a new housing development in Beccles in Suffolk

The idea for fancy gables seems to have originated in places like Amsterdam in Holland or Lubeck in Germany where many buildings have their gable ends overlooking canals and quaysides.


The earliest designs of fancy gables consisted of a series of brick steps along the top diagonal edges of the gables.  These so-called crow-stepped (or corbie gables) of the late Tudor period were superseded by styles that consisted mainly of curves, now often referred to as Dutch gables.  These became very fashionable in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.



This small building with its Dutch gable is in Glandford in North Norfolk.  It is used as a museum for a collection of shells that belonged to Sir Alfred Jodrell who lived at nearby Bayfield Hall.  It was Sir Alfred who had Glandford Church rebuilt, and the museum is situated at the foot of the hill on which the church stands.

Both bricks and pantiles were available in East Anglia long before 1600, but they were too expensive and of too poor a quality for widespread use.  The situation improved in the late 1500s when there was an influx of highly skilled brickmakers and bricklayers from abroad, mainly from the Low Countries.  They brought with them the fashion for fancy gables, a fashion that was soon seen on newly-built inns to impress passing travellers.  A particularly good example is the inn at Scole in Norfolk, pictured below.

Scole Inn is stuated on what was the main trunk road from London to Norwich (before the construction of Scole by-pass).  The inn was built in 1655 in red brick laid in English bond.  Pevsner describes it as ‘one of the most ambitious buildings in England erected specially for the purpose of offering hospitality to travellers.’  It was the home of John Peck, a Norwich merchant.  It used to be known as the White Hart Inn which is why there is a white deer on its sign.


The new ideas in brick came not only with immigrant workers, but also with East Anglians travelling abroad.  As Richard Reid explains ‘Many English men made the journey across the North Sea - gentlemen and their servants off to fight in Germany, merchants and their agents going to Rotterdam or Antwerp, (and) shipowners and their crews trading with the Low Countries’.

For further information on this and other East Anglian buildings see ‘The Buildings of England’ by Nikolaus Pevsner, published by Penguin in 1961.

For further information see ‘The Shell Book of Cottages’ by Richard Reid, published by Michael Joseph Ltd. In 1977.

The red and yellow bricked station at Stowmarket in Suffolk has Dutch-like gables and angled towers.  It was designed by Frederick Barnes in 1849 in Elizabethan style.

It was a London merchant-tailor, Paul Withipoll, and his son Edmund, who built this house at Christchurch Park in Ipswich between 1548 and 1550.  The red brickwork is ornamented with some dark blue diapering.  After damage by a fire in 1674 the upper floor was rebuilt giving us the Dutch gables we see today.  They have curved sides and pediments at the top, which was a fashionable style between about 1630 and 1650, but, according to Pevsner, a little out of date by 1674.

Fancy gables on the front facade of Blickling Hall in Norfolk, which was built between 1616 and 1627.

A Dutch gable on the front of a house in Wymondham, Norfolk.


Dutch gable on the front of a house in Starston, Norfolk.

Here’s half a Dutch gable!  The Dun Cow pub at Swainsthorpe in Norfolk dates from the late seventeenth century.

There are plenty of other examples of Flemish gables in the region.  One is the Shire Hall at Woodbridge in Suffolk.  Built in red brick on Market Hill in about 1575 it was the gift of Thomas Sackford.  The west and east gables, as Pevsner puts it, the kind of strapwork frills that are characteristic of Vredeman de Vries’s engravings and of Dutch buildings of around 1600.




Below: A house with lovely gables at Quidenham in Norfolk.