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DRY STONE WALLING
A brief Introduction and guide
Dry stone walls are a prominent feature of many upland areas of Britain and have
long been employed as territorial and estate boundaries and stock proof field divisions
wherever stone was plentiful.
The practice of building dry (without mortar or artificial bonding materials) can
be traced back at least five thousand years, to the Neolithic period. Although walls
of great age can still be found, most walls encountered today can be dated to the
late 18th and early 19th centuries, when much land enclosure was carried out as a
result of acts of enclosure, approved by Parliament.
Stone boundaries vary in style and construction in different areas of Britain. The
most common type of dry stone boundary is that which is termed a "Doubled" wall.
This type of wall consists of 2 separate faces, interlocked together within the wall
and packed with smaller stones. The whole structure should form a tight, solidly
filled column which tapers inwards from the base to the top. This column is tied
through from face to face by large, long stones called "through stones" which extend
across the full width of the wall. At the top of the double skin the wall is again
tied across by a continuous row of large stones which cap the wall and bridge across
the span of the top course of the two faces of the double skins. These capping or
"top" stones securely finish off the whole structure.
The principle advantages of dry stone walls may be summarised as follows :
1. They make use of locally available, natural materials.
2. They are low maintenance, requiring a minimum of attention for many years. Many
walls which are still functioning as stock proof barriers are well over a century
3. Walls can be constructed where ground, or other environmental factors, make hedges
or fences unsuitable or impossible.
4. In severe winter conditions walls provide refuge and shelter for stock. In this
context the ability of a dry built wall to break the force of the wind whilst still
allowing air to filter through allows trapped animals to breathe and also prevents
excessive build up of humidity and helps the animals to remain relatively dry.
The uplands of Britain have been utilised and modified by man for thousands of years.
These activities have left many signs and the complex pattern of dry stone walls
is one of the most obvious.
The above is an extract from a publication produced by Mick Walsh of the Mid-Lancs
branch of the Dry Stone Walling Association whom I wish to thank for allowing its
reproduction here. Thank you Mick.
First we must build the foundation. It is very important that this be constructed
correctly because "If the bottoms aren`t reyt, tops wont be" !
After the foundations we build the first 4 courses up to what is known as "through
At about "knee height" we place into the wall the "through stones" These effectively
tie the double wall together and make the wall stronger. These stones must at the
very least span both sides of the wall.
This is the finished item showing a"cheek end" or "wall head" which is another level
of difficulty and is not as easy to construct as at first might appear !