26 October, 2023
None of the buildings that we see today would be possible without scaffolding - in fact many of the historical structures we see across the world wouldn’t have been possible without scaffolding, either. The use of scaffolding goes back much further than you may have first thought, with there being speculation that its earliest use can even be dated back to prehistoric times.
We’ll discuss all in this article, delving deep into the history of scaffolding from its early beginnings to its widespread use in modern times. So, without further ado, join us on our journey as we dive straight into the extensive narrative of scaffolding.
From Cave Paintings to Bamboo Scaffold Tubes
Though there is no definitive proof that scaffolding was used in prehistoric times, there is circumstantial evidence to suggest that scaffolding was used in the Palaeolithic era. At Lascaux in the Dordogne region of France, researchers found cave paintings that date back to 17,000 years ago that were so high up that some form of elementary scaffolding would likely have been needed.
This theory is supported by the socket-like holes that were also found in the walls of these caves, which suggested that the Palaeolithic people devised a structure resemblant to scaffolding in order to navigate the otherwise difficult to reach areas within the caves.
Though this evidence is not comprehensive and it cannot be said with absolute certainty that these sockets are directly correlated to scaffolding, it certainly is a plausible and convincing theory!
As with many features of modern times, early scaffolding use can be dated back to both ancient Greece and Egypt. Unlike the speculation surrounding prehistoric scaffolding use, there is strong documentary evidence behind its usage by Egyptian pharaohs and ancient Greeks.
Through thousands of various depictions on tombs and relics, we know that ancient Egyptians built scaffolds to assist with the construction of some of their most notable buildings. They did so by tying together wooden beams or planks with knots of willow branches, papyrus or sisal. However, these would need to be soaked in water for several days to become flexible enough to tie, making this type of scaffolding both time consuming and heavily labour intensive.
In addition to this, wood was a rather scarce commodity here at the time given the surrounding landscape, which also made it an expensive one - certainly too expensive for simple craftsmen. As such, they would instead use ladders to reach taller heights at their construction sites. Scaffolding, then, was predominantly used only for important temples, statues and structures.
It’s thought that scaffold-like structures were also used in the building of the famous pyramids of Giza, as is recounted by the Greek historian Herodotus; Heroditus wrote about the ‘stones intended for us in constructing the pyramids’ as being ‘lifted by means of a short wooden scaffold’.
As for ancient Greece, there is evidence of wooden scaffolding being used as early as the 5th century BC. Archaeological finds show that the ancient Greeks regularly used wooden scaffolding in their building work, especially as the need for larger buildings grew with the rapid development of metropolises such as Athens.
For example, the construction of the Parthenon temple on the Athenian Acropolis involved the use of various sophisticated scaffolding types, including both crane scaffolding (consisting of cranes and ramps) and support scaffolding (consisting of posts and beams).
There are even records of supporting scaffolding structures being used to support large lifting machines at the time.
As significant as the use of scaffolding in ancient Egypt and Greece is, the most notable resemblance of modern scaffolding can be traced back to ancient China, whereby rope was used to tie together pieces of bamboo - resembling structures very similar to those we see today.
It is widely believed that a form of bamboo scaffolding was used in the construction of the Great Wall of China, which took over 2,300 years to build (nine separate dynasties contributed to its completion).
Even today, many south-east Asian countries still use bamboo scaffolding, albeit with more safety precautions than there once were, as can be seen during the construction of skyscrapers in Hong Kong.
Medieval Scaffolder Monks
Perhaps surprisingly to many, the Middle Ages were fundamental in the development of scaffolding. Builders at the time would create wooden structures strong enough to support both workers and materials as architectural demand and development grew alongside advanced construction techniques.
These builders would often use mortise and tenon joints to hold the pieces of these structures together, which were used to build everything from simple houses to elaborate cathedrals.
A group that were instrumental in the development of scaffolding during this period were monks. Known as ‘scaffolder monks’, groups of monks would be specially trained in the technique of constructing religious buildings such as cathedrals and other sacred buildings with the use of scaffolding.
As well as building new religious buildings, this allowed them to effectively repair any sacred buildings that may have sustained damage over time.
The trend of scaffolder monks continued well into the 20th century, before the use of metal tubing became standardised.
The Modern Era of Scaffolding
It’s only within the past hundred years that metal scaffolding has become more commonplace. With the development of new materials and construction techniques during the industrial revolution, scaffolding subsequently evolved to what we are more familiar with today.
Steel scaffold tubes are the key advancement in question, which were both more durable and easier to assemble than the more traditional wooden beams that were being used beforehand. These steel parts became the preferred choice from the 1920s onwards.
It wasn’t just these steel tubes that became more popular, but other modular parts also had a huge impact on modern scaffolding. There is one name in particular that is significant within scaffolding history: Jones. Brothers David Henry and Daniel Palmer Jones are the ones who standardised the modular parts used to build vertical scaffold structures.
They are responsible for the creation of a piece of tubing known as a ‘Scaffixer’, which was far more secure and flexible than rope, as well as the universal coupler, which creates a joint between two shafts. The standardised use of these modular units meant they could be traded with ease, making them a key invention that changed the scaffolding game.
Though we still use many of the same basic components that were created by the Jones brothers over 100 years ago, there have been even more technological and safety regulation advancements in recent years that have furthered scaffolding’s use in society today.
Following the devastation of World War II, many homes and offices needed to be rebuilt after their destruction during the conflict. Due to the scale of work that needed to take place, there was a lot of unskilled labour and lacking health and safety procedures. After the resulting accidents that occurred during these years, significant improvements were made in the 1960s, including the use of harnesses to protect workers from falling.
New materials have also been introduced to make the erection and dismantling of scaffold towers easier and safer. For example, old steel tubing has instead been replaced with lighter weight galvanised tubes and aluminium tubes, with composite materials sometimes used when more strength may be required.
In the 1980s, the first mobile scaffolds were developed, allowing workers to move scaffolds around more easily. With all these developments, scaffolding is now widely available today with various types to choose from. Their modern design and ease of application makes scaffolds an essential component for construction workers all across the world.
Scaffolding Hire in Devon & Cornwall
If you’re ever in need of scaffolding for either a domestic or commercial construction project, then you can count on us here at TJR Scaffolding Ltd - your contract scaffolding specialists.
Delivering throughout Devon and Cornwall, we offer a full range of scaffolding products for hire and purchase, including everything you could need whether that be aluminium tube rental or acrow props for sale.
For more information on the products we supply or to request a hire quote, then don’t hesitate to contact our sales team today and we’ll be in touch promptly.