10 Jul



Dry stone walls have been around since the Iron Age in the British Isles. In a sense they remind us of the gradual evolution of an agrarian economy moving away from feudalism in the dark ages to the ever increasing enclosure of land. Mending them is fun if you like three dimensional puzzles. As a technique, dry stone walling reached it’s peak with the ancient Incan builders of Machu Pichu – there are no gaps at all between the interlocking stones of the buildings here.

The building of a successful sturdy dry stone wall rests upon the way you dismantle it.



You can see that every stone recovered has been sorted and graded. Toppers (the triangular stones from the top of the wall), key stones (long pieces which tie the two sides of the wall together), stones graded roughly to size, and hearting (broken infill and shards used to plug up the centre of the wall) each have a separate pile.

This wall had collapsed into Chancet Wood in Sheffield down a very steep embankment. My young friend Tom helped me as the work is physically demanding, and I’m not getting any younger.

In the end we had to completely dismantle 3.5 metres of wall and dig out the embankment about 1.5 m below the garden level. We then built a concrete and stone foundation for the old wall and tied this into the embankment.



Picking up each carefully recovered stone from organised piles allows you to rebuild the wall in the same style as the original builder. Stones are laid in courses (rows) so that their edges touch and their top surface slopes very slightly down and outwards from the centre of the wall. Each course is laid so that stones above span joints below as near as possible – this give the wall integrity. The sides of the wall taper gradually from a wide base to the top – marked by the metal pins either side of the wall. This is called the batter. Throughout the construction it is important to use long stones, at intervals to tie the parallel courses on either side of the wall together and to keep filling the central channel with ‘hearting’.

What I like about the work is that nature, the weather and the client will find you out in short order if you don’t do a ‘proper’ job. It is the best kind of work – it is an ‘honest job’.


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