What is Flushwork?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Flushwork is a style of stonework which became extremely popular in medieval Europe, especially in England. Today, many of the finest surviving examples of medieval flushwork can be found in East Anglia, although other examples can also be found around Europe. Some modern architects also utilize flushwork as a design feature, especially for older buildings in need of restoration.

Flushwork was exptremely popular in medieval Europe, especially England.
Flushwork was exptremely popular in medieval Europe, especially England.

This type of stonework involves using stones of contrasting colors and textures to create a pattern. As the name implies, the stones are laid flush with each other, so no part of the design is raised; raised designs are known as proudwork. Much of the flushwork in East Anglia blends dressed stone, called ashlar, and flint.

Today, many of the finest surviving examples of medieval flushwork can be found in East Anglia, around Norwich, UK.
Today, many of the finest surviving examples of medieval flushwork can be found in East Anglia, around Norwich, UK.

Flushwork designs can get incredibly detailed and very complex. Geometric motifs are common, but stonemasons can also create illustrations or use flushwork to convey a printed message. Many churches built in the medieval era featured flushwork designs which included excerpts from the Bible or illustrations of religious scenes. Flushwork may also contain a message from the patron who funded the building, or a portrait of the building's founder.

Because flushwork is not raised, it is less susceptible to erosion and crumbling than proudwork, which is why so many beautifully extant examples can be found. It is also an extremely flexible medium, as can be seen in a tour of medieval buildings; the patterns can be subtle or bold, daring or prosaic, and sprawling or tiny.

Setting flushwork is extremely challenging, because the stone has to be cut precisely in order to fit snugly together without gaps and overlap, which could be unaesthetic. Especially in the case of a repeating geometric motif, the stonemason is challenged to keep the cuts uniform, and to select stone with a consistent color so that there are no distractions or interruptions in the design.

Maintaining flushwork can also be a challenge, especially if the stone is damaged with ivy, acid rain, or other environmental factors. Because the pattern is often extremely precise, it is important to match stone if pieces need to be replaced, so that the new stone does not stand out against the rest of the pattern. Sometimes, stone from one section of a building may be removed and used to repair flushwork on another portion, to ensure that the match is reliable.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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