Nicholson introduces the roof as “one of the principal ties to the building. It connects the exterior walls and binds them together in one mass”. This vital component of the home was one requiring the trades of carpenter, plumber, slater and brickworker for its completion as a weatherproof construction.
Roof structures in Brighton are remarkable in their range of pitches, framing patterns and materials. A walk locally will quickly reveal lead, pantile, slate, plain clay tile as well as terracotta and buff clay chimney pots, and the wide variety of metals and mortars that were used. Each of which was carefully raised some 40 to 70 feet above the ground, either ‘barrowed’ via boarded ramps between scaffold layers, or by pulley operated hoists fixed to the timber scaffold erected around the new construction.
In Bedford Square the originally pantiled roofs sit peculiarly upon semi-classical facades. Elsewhere in Brighton, the Italian style of Inigo Jones reappears, it is to be seen in the later work of Amon Wilds where low pitched roofs are carried out onto deep eaves and brackets. Different roofing materials and sometimes, different sizes of the same material, required the carpenter to form different roof pitches. Rules of thumb and simple geometry were invariably used by the carpenter to form pitches between 15 and 45 degrees.
Above: Regency roofing by Soane.
The simplest roof was of rafters pitched onto a ridge and braced with timber ties, the whole resting upon a wall plate. Larger roofs had ‘common rafters’ set between strongly framed trusses. Timbers known as ‘purlins’ were fixed lengthways to support the common rafters these were supported by struts off binders which lay along the roof joists.
Overall, many forms of roof were devised: two angled, hipped, mansard or kerb roofs and ‘M’ pattern or double roofs. Some being promoted as a styling that would avoid the ‘archaic’ gable, and others as designs that provided the most effective frame for a given amount of timber.
The variously named roofing trusses include scissors, king posts, queen posts and struts. While timbers were sometimes simply spiked into place, it was normal for them to be mortised, tenoned and dowelled. Rafters though, were often just accurately butted and nailed in position although they could be fixed with metal straps and patent bolts.
Above: Principles of framing, Nicholson 1836.
‘Concealed gutters’ were often used on roofs during the Regency. These were lead-lined gullies that drained their water through the internal roof void, or loft space. Whilst convenient for the Regency builder to construct, these gutters are prone to blockage and flooding and have been responsible for many stained and collapsed ceilings!
After the 1760s, Welsh and Cornish slate became the choice of roofing material for urban housing, rather than the hitherto popular clay tiles. Many of the houses in Brunswick Square were roofed in blue slate from the Penrhyn quarry in North Wales, identifiable because of its characteristic green discolourations.