What a Wavy Brick Wall Means

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Have you ever strolled through the charming English countryside and stumbled upon an enchanting brick wall that seemed to dance with a wavy rhythm? If you have, then you’ve encountered a serpentine, or “crinkle crankle,” wall – a unique architectural marvel that has its roots firmly embedded in history and engineering. 

Serpentine walls, those delightful brick walls that meander in graceful waves rather than following a straight path, have been capturing the hearts of admirers for centuries. The name “crinkle crankle” is derived from the Old English term for zigzag, capturing the essence of their elegant undulations. Interestingly, these walls are more commonly found in the rolling landscapes of England compared to their scarcity in the United States. The Dutch affectionately call them “slang muur,” which translates to “snake wall,” adding a touch of whimsy to their already intriguing character.

These walls aren’t just visually captivating; they’re a testament to the harmonious blend of practicality and aesthetics. Their design is rooted in engineering ingenuity. A serpentine wall, with its single row of bricks arranged in a sine wave pattern, boasts surprising strength. In fact, it can be as strong or even stronger than a conventional straight wall while using fewer bricks. Traditional straight walls often require two rows of bricks and additional buttresses to withstand the test of time. On the other hand, wavy walls need only a single row, making them more efficient in terms of both materials and labor.

These whimsical walls aren’t just a throwback to architectural history; they also embody an ingenious structural concept. When you observe a serpentine wall, you’re actually looking at a dynamic arch in action. This arch-like formation grants these walls a robust resilience against forces like wind loads, which might otherwise push on a wall. It’s fascinating to consider that a seemingly meandering design actually carries an inherent strength that’s far from superficial.


As we explore the origins of serpentine walls, we must also acknowledge a sobering connection to history. These walls have been linked to significant moments, including some darker chapters. For instance, some institutions with historic ties to slavery have used eight-foot-tall serpentine walls strategically. These walls served not only as a visual statement but also as a way to mask the use of slave labor on campuses.

Where to Find Them

If you’re eager to witness the beguiling beauty of serpentine walls in person, England is your ultimate destination. The English countryside (in Suffolk County in the East Anglia area of England) offers a plethora of opportunities to encounter these architectural marvels that have stood the test of time. From historical estates to quaint villages, serpentine walls weave their way through the landscape, leaving an indelible mark on the scenery.

The allure of serpentine walls lies not only in their picturesque undulations but also in their ingenious engineering and historical significance. These walls, born from the Old English word for zigzag, have transcended time, continuing to captivate hearts and minds with their unique charm. As you walk through the countryside, keep an eye out for these wavy wonders, and you might just find yourself unraveling the secrets they hold – stories of strength, aesthetics, and a connection to the past that’s both mesmerizing and thought-provoking.