To IW History CentreGouda Bricks found at Whippingham Church

Builders were rebuilding about two metres of the south facing church wall at the east corner. They broke into the mortar foundation and underneath discovered another 'wall' of small buff/yellow bricks. The Society managed to secure a number of sections and loose bricks. The size, colour and style of these bricks were unlike anything else found on the Island.
bricks image
The bricks are very small, averaging approx 150x75x42mm. They vary in colour from buff/yellow to a few salmon pink, the latter being less hard fired. They show considerable deformation including creasing, sunken margins and underside marks indicating the clay was laid on bare ground. Those in sections are laid English bond in sand/lime mortar. One section has a larger red brick included.

Expert Analysis
A number of experts examined the bricks and provided an equal number of different period estimates. The most authoritative analysis was carried out by Terence Paul Smith of the British Brick Society. He concluded they were 'Gouda' bricks made in the Gouda region of Holland on the banks of the river IJssel. These bricks were produced from the 15th century but not widely imported into England until the 17th century. The deformations are evidence of the clay being dredged from a river bed and worked while still in a soft state. Gouda bricks are typically dense, hard fired and were commonly used for paving and floors. Their non-porous feature occasionally encouraged their use in vats and cisterns.

Whippingham Church
Whippingham Church
Whippingham Church before 19th cent rebuilding
The church was one of six Island churches granted to The Abbey of Lyre shortly after the Norman Conquest. It appears to have fallen in status by the end of the 14th century, perhaps due to the plague, French invasions or the growing prominence of neighbouring Wootton Church. The only known illustration of the Norman church is dated 1794 and depicts a modest building apparently reduced from its original size. From 1804 John Nash started rebuilding the church. It's generally assumed he rebuilt all but the chancel, but he may have either rebuilt or considerably altered the chancel as well. In 1855 the chancel was enlarged at Queen Victoria's behest and in 1861 the rest of the church was rebuilt under Prince Albert's guidance. Nothing now remains of either the Norman or Nash buildings.

Site Survey
The Society carried out a number of digs to ascertain the extent of the apparent 'wall'. The first dig, just seven metres along from the original discovery, showed only three rows of old bricks under the existing wall. Another dig further along showed no evidence of them at all. However examples of the old bricks were found in an upper layer of 19th century fine builders rubble. This suggests loose bricks were being moved around during Victorian rebuilding of the church. Further digs around the south and east walls produced no evidence of the old bricks. The old north/west boundary is now within the graveyard and could not be explored.

It would be unrealistic to expect specific reference to these bricks in the archives, and such proved to be the case. The only interesting document is an invoice from a builder carrying out miscellaneous jobs for Nash in 1804. Here he makes particular reference to taking up 'Old Bricks' apparently at the entrance to the chancel. The term 'taking up' suggests a path, floor or steps. There is evidence of bricks being imported from Holland. Island wool exports promoted a lively trading relationship and a sample port record of 1702 has '3000 paving tyles' and '3000 bricks' into Cowes from Amsterdam.

CONCLUSIONS First impressions were that an old wall had been discovered under the present red brick wall. However the Site Survey found no evidence of the bricks beyond the near vicinity of the original find. Loose examples found above Victorian builder’s debris implies they have been taken from their initial location and re-used as a foundation for the existing wall. Expert Analysis shows they are most probably ‘Gouda’ bricks, produced in the Gouda region of Holland. The unique features of Gouda bricks suggests they had a purpose more specific than a wall. What research material there is concurs with their general use in a path or floor. However we can find no wear on them to indicate a period under foot. They could have been in an independent structure such as vat or cistern. Another possibility is that they formed part of the old church. Their use in underground building is not unknown and they would make an ideal crypt material in a church situated on a known waterlogged site. A pre-Nash description of Whippingham Church would be invaluable but, as yet, we have been unable to trace one.