A vernacular mud wall built between 1841 and 1886.
Reasons for Designation
The mud wall between Whittlesey Conservative Club and 36 Whitmore St, Whittlesey, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* For its method of construction, exhibiting local distinctiveness in its form, materials and craftsmanship;
* As an indicator of the impacts of the nation’s changing economic history, through its innovative alternative use of cheaply available local materials during a period of national taxation;
* As part of the sole surviving group of mud wall structures in Cambridgeshire;
* As an important part of Whittlesey’s surviving tradition of mud walling, including several other mud walls such as the wall at 4 West End (National Heritage List for England 1228794); and those to the rear of the Black Bull public house (NHLE 1287279).
The use of earth as a building material can be seen around the world and has a very ancient history. Though it is not an especially common method of construction in England, certain times and places have seen earth walling in significant numbers. This is particularly so with the ‘cob’ tradition in the south west, where cob walls dating to the C15 have been identified. Typically, earth is bound with straw and mixed with a little water to create the raw building material. The C18 and C19 in East Anglia saw the creation of a significant number of earth structures using ‘clay lump’, whereby large blocks of raw material were put into forms, allowed partially to dry, and were then assembled to make a wall. Despite Whittlesey’s proximity to areas where Clay Lump had become more common, the town’s mud walls were produced in line with the cob structures of the south west; the mud walls were raised in tapering lifts without forms or shutters and would have been produced in stages over several months. The vulnerability of earth walling to English weather requires all mud walls to have a dry plinth of a more durable material (often stone or brick), in some cases a surface of render, and a coping at its top.
Mud walling in Whittlesey is thought to date from the late C18 and early C19, during which period a tax on brick and tile was in effect (1784-1850). The tax was initially raised in the period following the American War of Independence (1775-1783) to pay for the Government’s war debts, but remained in place for many decades along with other taxes on building materials such as glass, imported timber, and, briefly, stone and slate.
Whittlesey had grown significantly in the C17 as the draining of the Fens brought new opportunities to the town. Many properties in Whittlesey at that time had long burgage plots capable of producing goods for the town’s large market. During the period of land enclosures at the end of the C18 and early C19 the demarcation of property boundaries became more important. The creation of very long boundary structures will have helped to settle property disputes and to manage the land. Stone and timber were not convenient resources for this purpose in the Fens, but high quality clays, exposed by land reclamation, were available. Though the town would later have a significant brick making industry, with four brickworks in operation at the end of the C19, large quantities of cheap bricks were not so easily available a century before. Given the very long nature of many of these burgage boundaries, and the fact that the walls themselves were not intended to be polite structures for the display of status, the use of mud walling was a cheap and highly practical vernacular solution to an otherwise expensive problem.
Whittlesey’s walls have some variation from one to the other: in height, in plinth material (brick, stone, or a mixture of both), and in coping material (usually thatch, pantiles, or wooden boards), but are otherwise a coherent group of structures. They are difficult to date precisely, especially as they are found on long-standing property boundaries, and their materials can routinely be replaced. By the late C20 this level of maintenance was at odds with building fashions that were faster in operation: whole sections of ready-made fence could replace a dilapidated section of wall. This tendency, combined with the frequent subdivision of burgage plots to accommodate new housing or alterations to the road network, have resulted in a significant loss of the town’s mud walls. Between 1980 and 2017 it is thought that 570 metres of mud wall has been lost in the town, with 28 sections remaining in 2020. Whittlesey is the only Cambridgeshire location with a surviving tradition of mud walling, though the outlying hamlet of Eastrea contains one further example.
Map evidence suggests this wall was constructed between 1841 and 1886 and may have connected to a longer section of walling running north to a (now demolished) outbuilding. Sections of brick walling at the north and south of the structure are of differing dates but relate to the same property boundary, historically separating domestic houses. Despite the changes to its surroundings, the wall appears to be a relatively complete survival of a single phase of construction.
A vernacular mud wall built between 1841 and 1886.
The wall stands on an exposed footing of stone rubble and has a coping of pantiles mortared beneath ridge tiles. The surface of the wall shows the activity of mason bees, alongside some patches of lime render and, on the west side, areas of surviving limewash.
It is approximately 11.92m in length and 2.13m in height.