During the past few weeks, I have been telling you stories about places, areas and events that occurred Stockholm. This time, I am going to show you how you alone can get to understand the places around you, especially buildings, better by simply paying attention to one particular element on their façades – the wall anchors. Wall anchors are the pieces of iron that come in many different shapes which are visible on older houses in Sweden’s capital. These, interestingly, allow you to estimate the age of a particular house quite precisely.
Before we move on to talking about how you can tell the age of a house based on the wall anchors used on its façade, let’s look at why they are there in the first place. As we probably all know, people used to decorate buildings they constructed throughout the history. In some cases, the decorative elements did not have any practical purpose whatsoever. That is not the case here, though. The wall anchors were primarily used for practical purposes and their decorative features have always been secondary. So, what was their function?
The Purpose of Wall Anchors
For the past several hundred years, wooden beams have been used to support the roofs and higher floors in the case of houses with several floors. These beams were placed perpendicularly on top of the walls forming the floor below them. However, there was a problem. If the beams were not secured firmly, they tended to slide and the whole roof or entire floors of houses with them. That is where the wall anchors come into play. As you can see in the illustration below, each wall anchor consists of a motif, which is the visible decorative part, and a so-called tongue. The tongue is the part that gets stuck in a wooden beam. Consequently, a wall is built between the end of the beam and the motif. This way, the motif will stay on the outside of the wall and hold the wooden beam in place.
The Wall Anchor Shapes
Before discussing the different shapes of wall anchors that you can find in Stockholm, we should know that the shape of the anchor does not have any functional purpose. Therefore the changes in shapes during the history cannot be attributed to technical advancements or differing needs but should rather be considered results of changing traditions and fashion.
There is one last distinction to notice before we jump into exploring the different shapes of anchors characteristic for various time periods. The wall anchors used in the Middle Ages were wrought from a single piece of iron, i.e. the motif and the tongue were actually a single piece of iron. This has changed during the 16th century, though. The tongues now used to be equipped with a loop in which the motif was then attached. You can clearly notice this difference in the illustrations below as you can see the loop at all those from the 1550s forward.
The years displayed below each anchor shape express an approximate time period during which the particular shape was used.
When you start exploring the houses in the Old Town (Gamla Stan) you can become a little confused. You will find that some of them have different anchors characteristic for different time periods on various parts of their façades. Does it mean you cannot tell the age of these houses? Absolutely not. The twist here is that higher floors were often built later than the lower ones and therefore there are different wall anchors. So, in fact, this makes for an even more interesting exploration and gives you even more information to discover as you can see when different parts of the houses were built just by looking at the wall anchors.
To be fair, not all houses use some of these anchors characteristic for a specific time period but we could have guessed that as the shapes were based on little more than fashion. That can make it harder to guess when they were built. But will it? Well, in some cases, not so much. For example, in the Old Town you can find a few houses which actually have wall anchors shaped as numbers showing the year in which they were built. One such house built in 1630 can be found on Prästgatan and another one finished in 1598 in the Cepheus neighbourhood.
Most sources refer strictly to the Old Town when talking about the wall anchors in Stockholm. Truth is, you can find them elsewhere as well. In fact, I mentioned one of those places in the last issue of our series Places of interest. The house on Klevgränd 1c on Södermalm has quite a few wall anchors on its façade and it is actually considered to be the oldest house on Södermalm based on their shapes.
Unfortunately, you will not find these useful guidelines on all houses either. Perhaps surprisingly, that tells you something about their age, too. The wall anchors were not commonly used after 1850 which means that houses without them were probably built later. There is one more catch. Many of the old houses went through several reconstructions and in some cases the original wall anchors were hidden but that does not mean they were built later than in 1850.
Even though I am afraid there is nothing we can do in this case, I still hope we can agree that this simple trick is very useful and can easily give us more information about the places that we see. Moreover, it can be quite entertaining to look for the wall anchors and try to find all of them on each house to see if there are various types used.
I hope you enjoyed this post about wall anchors in Stockholm and that you will have a lot of fun exploring the city armed with this new knowledge. You can also practice your newly obtained skills on the pictures included in this post where you will find quite a few wall anchors. Next time, I am going to bring a few especially interesting places in the Old Town to your attention in the weekly series Places of interest. Until then, subscribe to our newsletter and check out Trevl on Instagram where we post new photos daily.
Lindgren, Rune, 1992. Gamla Stan förr och nu.