The Serpentine walls of Suffolk

By Alan Hughes,Garden,June 2, 2020

By Andrew Duff, Garden Design Faculty Director.

East Anglia has an historic relationship with Holland, partly due to proximity and shared marine interests, but no doubt enhanced by the accession of a Dutchman to the throne of England in 1689.

However, the links between the two coastal areas were established earlier; in 1630 Dutch engineers were brought over to drain the Fenlands, deploying the skills they had already perfected in Holland.   With them came variations on architecture and design and one of their innovations was the introduction of serpentine brick walls, dubbed by the Suffolk locals as Crinkle Crankles.

This design of alternating curves indicates a requirement for extra bricks and sounds expensive, but the structure of the curve is far stronger than that of a straight wall.  Thus, the Crinkle Crackle can be built only one brick wide and still withstand the natural elements.  Unhappily cars are a more significant hazard.  When the wall at Easton, famously the longest crinkle crackle in the country at 2.5 miles, was struck by a car it inflicted 20 feet of total damage, costing over £10,000 to repair, re-using original bricks.

The swirling outlines of these walls provide great design interest, offering variations of light and shade, and when they are constructed east to West, they take full advantage of the sun’s warmth, ideal for growing fruit.    Did they then originally have an agricultural connotation, did the visiting Dutchmen have a cultural reason for them, or were they just a fad?

Whatever the case it is surely rather sad that garden designers seem to have forgotten about the Crinkle Crankles.