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Master Class: Britain’s & Ireland’s Walling Treasures: Redrawing Patterns (part 1)

Written by Sean Adcock – Photos copyright the author unless stated

“That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet.” Romeo and Juliet (Act II, scene ii). This article is a slightly extended version of an article in a recent Waller and Dyker. That version was much reduced and covered only the Butt and Hudd ‘correction’ The original patterns article can be found along with all the other ‘walling treasures’ at or at (visit the books/articles section).

Not a Butt and Hudd, Murrayton. Dumfries and Galloway

Walling Treasures is an ongoing project and I do occasionally unearth more information and very (very, very) rarely get sent information (sadly I never, ever, receive nominations these days). Following the “patterns” edition (which you can of course find on wallingwonderland) back in Waller and Dyker Spring 2011 Richard Tufnell was kind enough to provide more information on the ‘Butt and Hudd’ style of single walling which I am told I got very wrong. My interpretation was based on a wall I had been taken to when researching the rewrite of BTCV’s “Dry Stone Walling”, and on F.Rainsford-Hannay’s scant text when describing the method as “short pieces of single dyke of the bigger stones are built, with stretches of double dyke between them. The effect is to tighten up the work and to divide it into panels.” (“Dry Stone Walling”. 3rd reprint. South West Scotland Branch of the DSWA. p50). On reflection my example does not ‘tighten up the work’, but beyond that seemed to fit the criteria. However Richard points out that according to his research the single panel I showed is too big to be ‘butt and hudd’, which is a specific pattern, with very uniform spacing, and with the stone spread about in a much more careful and selected way than was normal practice – “in a way that simply relying on available stone would not reproduce”.

Butt and Hudd, photo courtesy Richard Tufnell.

Richard suggests that one reason for their development “was that by spacing out the boulders – the hudds, – in a regular manner, the benefits of the more durable boulders was distributed throughout the length of the wall. In addition, if a portion of the wall was damaged, it would tend not extend further than the nearest cluster of boulders.”

These hudds were commonly built 2- 4m apart, and Richard adds that “one hudd stone was sufficient, but two or three were considered better. The double was built up to the level of the top of the hudd, and then a boulder – butt – was laid, half on the hudd, half on the double. Thus the hudds were connected with the double on both sides”. Once these were in position, the double was continued to around half the overall height, covers then set and the wall continued up as a single wall. “

“Subsequent stones Butt and Hudd, photo courtesy Richard Tufnell. Not a Butt and Hudd, Murrayton. Dumfries and Galloway 25 (named gulls) were so dressed as to sit firmly and level without pinning. The tops were a minimum of 10” (25cms), and also dressed to give the tightest possible fit. Such a wall cost about a third more than a standard version.”

Apparently another name for hudd is “sneck”. I find this interesting as “sneck”, as far as walling is concerned, is probably better known as a masonry term for a small (usually square) stone filling a gap between two stones of differing size/height (levelling with the lower of the two). My Shorter Oxford English Dictionary definition of sneck however does precede its masonry definition with another one – from Scotland and the North “the latch of a door or gate…” and from this the verb form “to close or fasten with a sneck”. The fastening aspect is thus possibly relevant to its use vis hudd. Nick Aitken suggested “’Hudd’ is a Scots word which can be translated in some instances as ‘hold’”. This seems relevant in this instance with hudd, hold, fasten and sneck amounting to much the same thing, with the hudd securing/holding the wall, whilst at the same time the coverstone (butt) sits on the lower hudd stone and the adjoining double, fastening/holding them.

In summary the term ‘butt and hudd’ is used as a single term which describes alternate double and single (or Galloway pattern) walling in a regular pattern. In its purist form it is a series of short, regular, panels forming a simple pattern.

In the Spring 2011 article I mentioned that patterns could be highly localised centring on a village, even a farm, or cover whole counties, and that they were often completely overlooked, not even recognised, identifying them being a huge problem. Deciding what to call them (essential for ease of reference) is no easier. At exactly what point more random panels become close enough, or regular enough, to be considered strictly butt and hudd is difficult to say. What should we call Rainsford-Hannay’s “short pieces of single dyke … with stretches of double dyke between them”. Subtle differences from one location (or even wall) to another can lead, eventually, to markedly different patterns or styles of building. As Nick points out, “variation in available stone and dykers’ style would affect how … walls would be built”. I think it likely that many local patterns of walling in general would have developed as variations of more formal patterns, and lack a definition in their own right. Whilst describing these panels as butt and hudd is inaccurate, it is the nearest  formal pattern of reference. If we are to call them anything (personally I think if they are worth recognising
they ought to have a name), might we not get away with describing the panels as a ‘variation of butt and hudd’, maybe ‘extended butt and hudd’ (glossing over the hudd – holding aspect), although I accept that my original example would be stretching the looseness of this definition to the extreme.

What’s in a name? (That which we call…). In the Spring 2011 article I briefly mentioned the angled layers of the walls of Purbeck. This is technically known as inclined stonework, not to be confused with inclined walling which is sometimes used to refer to building walls on slopes. In Britain (outside of Purbeck) it’s not something I’ve come across, or heard tell of that much.

Part of the Hypostele Hall at Karnak. Photo © S.Adcock

Purbeck’s inclined stonework can be found primarily in a strip along its southern edge, between Worth Matravers and Swanage. Slightly further afield there are other Dorset examples in Abbotsbury, and Portland, but these are scant at best and possibly just sporadic copying of the Purbeck ones. There are occasional examples elsewhere, for example most of the remains of Thomas Stevenson’s ill fated Wick breakwater in the Scottish highlands (built in the mid nineteenth century and washed away not long after), is very steeply inclined stonework. The sloping stonework of the North Pier at Eyemouth in the Scottish Borders dates back to the 1770s. Vertical stonework (ultimately inclined?) is far more widespread in single walls in Scotland and Ireland and also in banks and retaining walls in Wales and parts of the south west . That found at other harbours such as Castlehill near Thurso, (glossed over in the original ‘Patterns’), is worth more of a mention in its own right, but will have to wait, and the inclined work of the harbours is probably more relevant there than here..

The Purbeck walls are something of an enigma, I have been unable to unearth anything particularly solid about their history although I have heard a fair few ‘urban myths’ about them. One story goes that they were built by Napoleonic POWs. A familiar chestnut, everywhere seems to have its Napoleonic wall story. Even if this one is true you’d still have to ask why they slope… Perhaps they originate from an area in France, and the pattern arrived with prisoners. However when you analyse the structure you realise that working on a long length rather than sequentially from one end where have something to build up against, to lean your stones on, is a problem. So it would probably have required very few prisoners on a one to one basis with their guards. Other counter arguments include high unemployment and low wages in the area at that time, so prisoner labour would not have been appreciated/tolerated, or that the walls predate that period of history anyway, then again do the walls predate that period or is it just the boundaries. An important distinction when there are a lack of records (that is even if a wall has been between 2 fields for 100s of years how do we know
it was not completely rebuilt at some point?). For every theory there seems to be a counter one.

Maybe they are just the lifetime work of one  or two wallers. But then if that was the case I’d like to think that maybe names would have been passed down through oral history (more so than if it was a pattern that almost any local waller did), but this does not seem to be the case, and whilst (I’m told) the norm is for an incline of around 30 degrees, there are many examples of different inclines, styles of coping and footings. Why would one or two people vary it so much? Of course we can also ask why vary it anyway?

It could be a method of major repair, stripping as you go. This process is a little difficult to visualise, but efficient in terms of dismantling and rebuilding, essentially you only have to handle the stone once. You can in effect stand in the footings and build both sides, although this is more problematic towards top and for shallower inclined stonework. As a theory it more or less implies that the walls are essentially rebuilds, which is always a possibility. I’ve not quite got my head around this one!

Steeply inclined Purbeck stonework

The content below was copied with the generous permission of the author Sean Adcock.  This Master Class article originally appeared in the No.29,  Summer 2013 of STONECHAT, produced by the North Wales Branch of the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Brittan.  

This entire issue of Stonechat, and many more, are available at  Thank you to Sean for allowing us to provide this content, and please donate to The North Wales Branch.

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