13 February 2021
Where Did Flagstones Get Their Name?
Flagstones can be seen peppered throughout historic sites in the UK. With many National Trust homes and gardens, castles and churches boasting stone flooring and paving. Steeped in history and mystery, we explore where flagstones get their name.
All In A Name
Interestingly, the use of the word ‘flag’ for a particular type of stone predates the more conventional use of the term to describe a cloth emblem. Although there is something of a connection. The flag initially came from the Middle English term ‘flagge’. Which meant a piece that had been cut out of turf. This can be connected to how flagstones have been traditionally used as paving materials.
The idea of flag meaning turf may also explain how the flapping cloth in the wind that symbolises a nation, also came to be known as a flag. Beyond this, there is a theory that the word could go further back. The word ‘flaga’ in Old Norse means a stone slab. So at some point by the 17th Century, the term for a stone slab and the turf it would replace became conflated. However, It is most likely that the term and the material were used much earlier than this.
The Flagstone Castle
Historically, prior to the thirteenth century, castle architecture was all about function rather than form. But around the time of the Anglo-Saxons, flagstones began to see a lot more use in castles.
As stone masonry and quarrying became more sophisticated. Buildings across Europe would use elaborate flagstone designs for their walls, floors and ceilings. The material was sedimentary, which made it ideal for carving elegant architecture.
Sadly, none of the earliest examples of flagstone floors exist anymore. However, the use of flagstone can be seen in several castles across the United Kingdom. Most notably, the hilltop Lindisfarne Castle and Muchalls Castle in Aberdeenshire. Both castles were overlooking what were historically rather volatile areas of the country. History has shown us that flagstone has the ability to look both elegant but also powerful, creating a real statement in any space.
How flagstone is Formed
Flagstone is a sedimentary rock, that is to say, a stone formed by the gradual accumulation of sand, rocks, mud and other materials. These form over such a long time that it creates a hard surface. Despite looking like slate, the two rocks are incredibly different in how they are formed, with slate being a metamorphic rock that has been shaped through significant amounts of pressure and heat.
Flagstone has more in common with sandstone and is formed from a similar mix of quartz and feldspar. This is bound together naturally by a combination of silica, calcite and iron oxide. Typically this binding material is what gives flagstone its distinctive and often beautiful colours. Although, the majority of flagstone is either red, blue or a light brown colour.
It was also exceptionally popular for memorials, owing to its strength and ability to endure strong conditions, with many landmarks made of flagstone still enduring to this day.
The inherent strength and durability of flagstone make it an ideal paving material. It is often used as an alternative to the word slab for a multitude of materials with similar characteristics, charm and character.
If you are looking for a way to introduce some time-worn and rustic tones to your home and garden - we have a range of traditional paving and flooring inspired by the flagstones in Castles & National Trust house and gardens in the UK.