SPAB Lethaby Scholarship – Earth Construction

Ten years ago Dearbhail was travelling the British Isles and further afield on the SPAB Lethaby Scholarship.

The Scholarship is an intensive nine month programme giving scholars a unique insight into current conservation, learning from specialist craftspeople and building conservation experts. Details can be found here

May 2014 brought Dearbhail to Herefordshire where there is an abundance of earth construction. The practical aspect of the day was construction and repair of rammed earth walls. See Dearbhail’s sketchbook page detailing the method of construction of a rammed earth wall.

Earth building is an ancient building technique. Its use has declined massively in the UK. Some reasons for the decline could be attributed the abolition of the brick tax in 1850, the industrial revolution which led to mass production of materials, increased availability of transportation and shift of labour from farm to factory. However, earth construction is still used widely across the world and in recent times earth construction has been revived as a sustainable building material.

Earth building is prevalent throughout the UK. Did you know that Cumbria has a large concentration of earth construction or clay dabbins, specifically along the Solway Firth & the concentration of earth buildings extends across the border into Scotland?

Often earth construction, typically walls are hidden below layers of render, so it’s not always immediately clear that a building is constructed in earth. The earth buildings of the Solway Firth are fascinating and sadly many have been lost. However in recent years there has been a renewed enthusiasm and desire to protect these special buildings and many are now listed which protects them from demolition or insensitive intervention.