Cherry-cocking in Buchan

An example of cherry-cocking

In many areas of Buchan the most accessible stone for building is granite, in some ways an ideal building material, durable, impervious, but also very dense and extremely hard. Until the development of the granite industry in Aberdeen in the 1830s, dressing granite ashlar for masonry was slow and tedious, and a technique was applied that minimised the need to dress the granite, and which had the contingent benefit of producing aesthetically pleasing masonry. The technique is called variously galleting, perhaps from the French word galet, meaning pebble, or cherry-caulking, or locally here in Buchan, cherry-cocking. The blocks of granite are laid in mortar, in the normal way, but pebbles are embedded in the mortar, adding decoration to the joints and beds, but also allowing the relatively undressed blocks to be aligned neatly into courses.

After mechanical methods of dressing granite had been developed in Aberdeen finely cut granite ashlar became so cheap that it was used to build cottages in the towns and planned villages of the area. This diminished the need for cherry-cocking, but the practice evolved, emphasising the decorative effects of interspersing large precisely cut blocks of granite, with smaller, equally finely cut blocks of the same stone or stone of a contrasting colour.

In its most fully developed form cherry-cocking is completed with pared pointing, a method that leaves the mortar standing proud of the blocks, producing a geometric, sculptural effect, but with a practical value as well: executed by a master mason the horizontal runs of mortar are finished with edges that slope away from the blocks, directing rainwater away from the plane of the wall, minimising the accumulation of dampness in the masonry. The pared pointing is carried out in three stages. First the mortar is pargeted on to the blocks, then it is ruled using a spirit level to keep the pointing squared, and then after the mortar has cured for a while the surplus is carefully cut away with a trowel.

Cherry-cocking was used to decorate dwellings of all types, from palatial country houses to terraced cottages, and adds a unique and striking quality to much of the masonry in Buchan.

(The 10th of 14 pages. Revision date: Saturday 24th March 2012)

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