Flint at West Dean
Flint is one of the defining characteristics of our chalk landscape. Whether coating the fields like a dusting of pebbly ground pepper or as the principal constituent of most local vernacular architecture it is a constant geological presence. It is also evident in the flint walls that line the river banks in the Spring Garden area of the West Dean grounds and that date from the Regency period. Over the last decade we have completely rebuilt these river banks as nearly 200 years of flood and frost have left them in a pretty parlous condition.
As the essence of their character is a knobbly rusticity rather than geometric precision we felt able to undertake the task ourselves. As in any construction the critical factor is working off of a level and suitably strong foundation, hooray for ready mix concrete! Then it's simply a process of building up the wall in courses, with a large mass of mortar being used behind the flint face to give the structural strength required to resist the River Lavant in full spate.
We use a coarse, gritty sand rather than standard builder's sand which contributes to the textured effect. As with dry stone walling you are working with an irregular module, unlike say a brick in a brick wall, and you need to develop a "feel" for which flint will sit happily alongside the surrounding flints, both visually and spatially. Once you have developed this sixth sense its pretty plain sailing, although I would not recommend attempting anything much over 75cm high without the input of a professional.