As any bricklayer will tell you, walling material of equal courses is faster and therefore probably more efficient and economical than walling random stuff (although the later may be more satisfying and fulfilling).
Our practical object is a disused barn on The Chevin, West Yorkshire, UK. It’s in the progress of being converted into a kitchen and dining room, but that need not concern us here (however, the proprietors of the existing eatery make a mean orange cake, which I can recommend).
When walling a building such as this, the practice is to build the corners first. Building the corners entails ensuring that they are square and plumb on two faces, then the courses can easily be run across using the corners as guides by running a string across and walling the courses between the corners to that line. The cornerstones are clearly visible at right and left of this elevation of the former barn. You may notice that, starting from the courses above the massive lintels above the ground floor doors and windows, the corners are alternately tall and broad. If you were able to see the righthand or indeed lefthand elevations you would see that the tall on this elevation becomes broad on the gable elevation and the broad on this elevation becomes tall on the gable. OK, so far so good. The corners are made hefty as they are important to the stability of the building. Turning now to the walling between the corners, starting low down, you will see that the courses run across two courses high for each corner stone. The run across is interrupted by the ‘door’ in the middle. This would have been where hay etc was forked up into the barn from a cart, but I digress. This forking hole also has cornerstones, one to every two courses.
The lefthand courses do not add up exactly to the number of cornerstones and a smaller stone lies beneath the lintel of the hole. This should not have happened. I can hear the cursing now.
Stand back a bit and imagine the building going up a couple hundred years ago. Men are working from a wooden scaffold. They have lime mortar and stone on the scaffold. Their tools and themselves. A couple of craftsmen and labourers. One craftsman works from left to right (the natural and easy way) and one works from right to left (easy for a scaevola but uncomfortable for a right-handed waller). The waller working from left to right “gets a pig in it” that is his courses don’t level through to his mate’s. This is corrected with the narrow stone under the lintel. Phew.
But. It now gets worse. Because of adding that extra stone his second next course ends higher than the top of the cornerstone. The cursing gets more fierce. I’ll wager the man working on the left was either an apprentice, drunk, or hung over.
The fault actually starts above the fourth course of stones. In fact the third corner up at each end are unequal in height, and throw all the rest of the work out, because the lefthand one is too short.
It’s not as though these cornerstones are just any old pieces of stone that came to hand; they have worked margins. Not very clear, but below you may just be able to make out a narrow band of smoothed stone about an inch and a half wide, running up the arris (or corner) of the lower stone. In fact all the corners have been thus worked, time consuming. Just a little more concentration by whoever was on the banker bench working the corners would have made pairs of equal height.
Anyway, they managed to get level across at the eaves for the roof to sit on, but not without a right lash up involving the third last course being out at BOTH sides.
What a story – frozen now in time, and probably ignored by all, except maybe the men who have just repointed the whole building.