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“F” is for Flushwork

This year we are compiling an A to Z of architecture in the East of England and asking people to share their examples on Twitter. Here we explore a typical East Anglian building material - flint. Share your examples of flint work and other traditional building materials with us on Twitter @HE_EoE.

East Anglia and the neighbouring counties famously have little good building stone. Flint rubble has served in its place. The grey of flint pebbles and lime mortar provides the colour of the region's monumental buildings from the medieval period. Knapped flint - flint broken and squared - seems a quite different material: precise, tightly jointed, closer to black than grey. "Flushwork" comprises knapped flint used with stone to form patterns. The exuberant, even showy, patterns of flushwork are the opposite of the formless character of flint rubble.

Among the earliest and most flamboyant examples of flushwork is the gatehouse of Butley Priory. A chequer-work of knapped flint and stone apart, the principal face of the building is covered with a lattice of tracery and blind windows all achieved in flushwork - an architectural effect "drawn" across the building with stone set in knapped flint. Butley Priory was built in the early 14th century, but despite its early date the use of flushwork appears here fully developed.

Exterior view of church window and surrounding stonework
St Michael, Coslany, Norwich

Flushwork gave builders a means of display which flint rubble could not provide. It was not until the second half of the 15th century, however, that it was taken up in earnest.  It can be found in parish churches across the region. Among the finest examples is St Mary's Church at Long Melford, Suffolk, where it embellishes nave, clerestory and chancel. At Eye the entire tower of the church is faced with flushwork. More commonly it is to be found in small - but always eye-catching - additions:  new porches, aisles and the like.

Flushwork rarely seems to have been used domestically - no doubt on account of its expense. Two exceptional late medieval examples survive, in the form of the gatehouses of St John's Abbey at Colchester and St Osyth's Priory at St Osyth, also in Essex, buildings which provided domestic accommodation, albeit for monastic foundations.

Oddly, whereas by the time its use became common the highly ornamental Decorated style of Gothic had given way to the more sober Perpendicular style - the last phase of medieval Gothic - the patterns wrought in flushwork often have a Decorated character. The flushwork enrichment of these later buildings can seem to contradict the architectural lines of the buildings themselves!

Exterior view of entrance to priory
St Osyth’s Priory, Essex

Examples of flushwork

Flushwork can be seen at:

Essex

Suffolk

Norfolk

Why not enrich the list with flushwork, or contribute examples to our architectural alphabet - #archalpha@HE_EoE - "F" is for Flushwork

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