Big strides have been made during October/November repointing the yellow brick facades of 18 Ormond Quay using a traditional pointing technique knowing as ‘wigging’. This process takes place after the brick has been cleaned and decayed bricks have replaced as necessary.
So what is ‘wigging’? This is a distinctively Irish variation on ‘tuck pointing’, the general term used to describe the pointing of irregular brickwork to give the effect of expensive, finely gauged brick. It was a process used during the 17th-19th centuries to disguise inconsistencies in handmade brick burnt in ‘clamps’ - essentially large, covered mounds - which produced bricks of varied quality. Brick-making improved with mechanisation from the middle of the 19th century onwards, however wigging continued to be used into the opening decades of the 20th century as a means of dressing brickwork.
The principle of tuck pointing involves applying a thin white ribbon over the brick joints. Depending on the process used, a 'stopping mortar' coloured the same tone as the brick - usually red or yellow/buff - is applied under or around the ribbon to make it stand out. Pictured opposite is an Irish example using red mortar.
English and continental tuck pointing typically applies the coloured mortar first, followed by a fine white ribbon to finish. Irish tuck pointing [opposite], known as ‘wigging’, reverses this process, applying the white mortar first (finished into a ribbon), with the coloured stopping mortar then applied over and around the ribbon. This has subtle consequences over time. In the English version, the ribbon degrades first, causing the façade to gradually return to the colour of the brick/stopping mortar. In Ireland, the stopping mortar often washes away first, revealing more white area between the bricks.
There are other variations on wigging, including the Irish ‘bastard tuck’ (excuse the French!), which uses a shadow gap undercut along the white horizontal lines, with colour stopping mortar applied to the vertical joints only – the latter known as ‘perp-ends’ which are usually thinner than the horizontal lines. This was a slightly more economical process that still produced a ‘dressy’ effect.
Tuck pointing and wigging should not be confused with colourwashing. This is related process that does not use mortars, but rather water-based pigments that helps to even out the colour of a brick façade in advance of pointing. It was also used, mainly as a later intervention in the 19th century, to recolour yellow brick facades to give the impression of red brick.
Until recently, the subtle art of wigging, and the irreplicable patina that it develops over time, has not been understood or valued. For much of the 20th century, fine lime jointing on brick buildings all over Ireland was replaced with crude, cement strap pointing that not only looks bad but also damages soft handmade brick over time.
Dublin Civic Trust helped stimulate the revival of tuck pointing in the 1990s in its various conservation projects in Dublin. Since that time, the process has been revised and refined following extensive analysis of surviving buildings and new research into how the process was originally undertaken. A number of specialist contractors have also developed the skill sets required to carry out the work. Wigging is now almost universally deployed in the repair of Dublin’s brick buildings as the local, ‘vernacular’ tradition that is largely specific to Ireland.
At 18 Ormond Quay, we carried out extensive analysis of our façades in order to arrive at an authentic, evidence-based approach to re-wigging the brickwork. This step is vital to the conservation process, one that should not be made on arbitrary whims of received wisdoms or personal tastes. Buildings rarely lie and are usually highly instructive once a detailed eye is cast over them.
In this case, we found a perfectly intact sample of original wigging on the side elevation at the location of a former street sign. This sample, which almost certainly dates to 1843 when the building was substantially rebuilt, features fine lines of lime jointing and a dark gold stopping mortar. Note how the horizontal lines are thicker than the vertical lines, characteristic of Dublin wigging.
On other parts of the facades of 18 Ormond Quay, we found traces of a red wash [opposite] which we believe was applied over the yellow bricks and stopping mortar at a later date – possibly in the 1880s when a new tenant grocer moved in and made alterations to the upper floors, including inserting plate glass windows.
After exhaustive analysis of the facades and known changes over the years, we adjudged this red wash to be a alter alteration, one that had largely degraded and had not been part of the original design intention, and whose reinstatement was therefore not warranted.
We decided to proceed with the reinstatement of the 1843 wigging using a dark gold mortar, fine horizontal ribbons and even finer ‘perp-end’ ribbons that are approximately one third narrower than the horizontals.
Samples of different coloured mortars were then undertaken. A factor that became immediately apparent was that the yellow brick of the facades had darkened since the building was erected, through a process of oxidisation and light erosion of the face of the bricks.
This has caused the façade to be now made up of approximately 25% yellow tones and 75% dark tones, a likely reversal of its original appearance. The application of an identical dark yellow mortar gave an untidy appearance, producing a high contrast effect [pictured opposite, middle bottom]. This would have presented a crude apprerance repeated across the entire facade of both elevations. Other, more red samples were not accurate to the 1840s design intention.
Working up further samples, the yellow mortar colour was darkened slightly to better bridge the ‘new reality’ of a darkened façade. A successful sand-like tone was arrived at that maintained the spirit of the original yellow brick façade while unifying the disparate colours into a coherent appearance. This can also be seen in the previous picture [top middle]. We’re delighted with the result.
This completed area pictured opposite will soon be cleaned up, with tiny fragments of white mortar removed. Note how the horizontal lines are approximately one third thicker than the vertical 'perp-ends', expertly executed in the Dublin tradition by Nolans Group.
Pictured below are the different stages involved in preparing and repointing the façade.
- Mortar raked out of facade
- Paint removed using low pressure water washing
- Stubborn paint remains removed with hand hammering
- Facade ready for repointing
- Mortar fillets and ribbons are formed using leveling strings
- Ribbons are formed by ruled cutting and plucking the mortar beds
- Yellow stopping mortar is applied by small trowel
- Stopping mortar is brushed back
- Ribbons are refined and cut to receive other ribbons
- The process is repeated on the verticals. This is the (almost) finished article. Just needs a light clean up.