Last edited 17 Jun 2018

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Glossary of paving terms

This is a selection of entries from the 12,000 in the second edition of The Dictionary of Urbanism by Rob Cowan. It originally appeared in IHBC’s Context 152, published in November 2017.


Asphalt (also asphalt concrete): 1 A street paving material made of asphalt (bitumen) and mineral aggregate (such as sand or stone-dust). The material makes up the large majority of all urban paved surfaces. 2 The black, viscous form of petroleum, found in natural deposits or made by refining, used in making the paving material. Compare tarmac.

Asphalt chip sealing: Rolling a layer of aggregate into a base of asphalt emulsion binder to improve tyre grip and road wear, or alter the appearance or reflectivity. Using light-coloured aggregate can increase reflectance and reduce warming, or a local stone can help the road fit in better with its surroundings.

Belgian block: A cubical paving block; a sett

Bitmac: The road surface. From bitumen and MACadam.

Blockhead: An enthusiast for wood-block paving. A group of people who restored Chicago’s last complete wood-block alley (originally constructed in 1909) in 2011 called themselves ‘blockheads’.

Boyington paving: A form of wood-block street paving. It was introduced in Chicago in 1868.

Cassie (Scotland): 1 A paving stone, sett or wooden paving block. See wood-block paving. 2 A cobbled or setted street or pavement. 3 v. To pave. The word comes from causeway.

Causeway: A raised road or path across water or low-lying land, sometimes including flood arches.

Causey: 1 n. (mainly Scotland and the north of England) A street or pavement, usually one paved with cobbles rather than flags. 2 A cobble. 3 n. A causeway. 4 v. To pave, particularly down the centre of the street. Example: ‘By [the] mid 1700s most of the streets in the Old Town were setted or “causeyed” (applied to where they were paved down the middle with drains on either side)’ (from Edinburgh Standards for Streets, 2006). The word comes from causeway. See also crown o’ the causey.

Causey edge (Yorkshire): A kerb.

Cobble (also, especially US, cobblestone): A naturally rounded stone (usually from rivers, fields or the sea) used for paving and walls. Setts are often popularily called cobbles (see cobbled).

Cobbled (of a street): 1 Paved with cobbles. 2 Paved with setts. When people refer to ‘cobbled streets’ they are often referring to streets paved with setts.

Crib-stane (Scots): A kerbstone.

Crown o’ the causey (Scots): The middle of the street. The 2006 guide Edinburgh Standards for Streets writes that in Edinburgh’s Old Town ‘crowns of the causeway (a ridge or crown along the centre of a road) was [sic] removed and levelled along with other subsequent improvements in the late 1700s’. See causey.

Cube: A square sett.

Dropped kerb/curb (UK/US): A short stretch of kerb that has been lowered to allow vehicles to drive across the pavement and park in driveways which used to be front gardens; a section of kerb lowered to let people in wheelchairs or with buggies to cross the road.

Dropper kerb/curb: The kerbstones required to create a dropped kerb.

Encaustic tile: One whose pattern is created by using different colours of clay, rather than by printing or glazing.

Flagstone (also flag): A flat slab of stone, often used for paving.

Granolithic paving: A material composed of cement and aggregate, used for paving.

Gridder: A person who spots drain covers, coal-hole covers and other similar metalwork on streets and pavements as a hobby.

Horonized paving (Scotland): A paved surface consisting of irregular fragments of stone (usually by-products of the manufacture of setts or cobbles) set in cement or another binder. Such paving is often used to cover small, irregular areas and on slopes, where the rough surface provides good grip.

Kerb (also curb): The edge of a pavement, often marked by a kerbstone (curbstone); a line of kerbstones where footway and carriageway meet. From the Latin curvus meaning bent, by way of the French courbe.

Knucklebone pavement: One surfaced with the knuckle bones of animals.

Ledger (also ledger stone): A flat stone slab, usually inscribed, covering a grave or tomb.

Macadam: 1 (also stone macadam) A type of road construction with a smooth, hard surface, in which layers of compacted, crushed stone are bound with stone dust. It was pioneered by the engineer and road-builder John McAdam (1756–1836). 2 (also bitumen macadam) A similar type of road construction but with the addition of tar as a binder. See also bitmac and tarmac.

Mathematical pavior: A type of paving brick (similar to a stable-block paver) incised with a distinctive design, made in buff and dark-blue variants in Somerset in the nineteenth century.

Metalled road: One surfaced in road metal, in a late eighteenth century sense of the word metal, referring to the crushed rock that formed part of the system of building a sealed and waterproof road surface pioneered by the engineer John McAdam. Before that, metal referred to anything useful that had been extracted from the ground. The word comes from Latin metallum, a mine or quarry.

Pavement: 1 (UK) The raised surface for pedestrians beside a street or road. The US equivalent is sidewalk, though pavement is used in some parts of the southern states. 2 (US, and UK highway engineers) The structure of a road, including its surface and underlying foundations. The general UK equivalent is roadway. 3 A paved surface. 4 An alley. From the Latin pavire, to beat hard.

Paving Commission: One of the local boards of improvement set up in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the UK by a locally specific Act of Parliament to pave, repair, light and clean streets and other public spaces, levying a rate on householders to pay for this. Their duties were later taken over by local authorities.

Pavior (also paver and paviour): 1 A paving stone or other paving block. 2 A person who lays paving.

Pebble: 1 A small stone, rounded by the action of water, ice or sand, as used in pebble paving. 2 (obsolete) A stone. Leases signed in the 1770s for the construction of houses in Bedford Square, London, specified that the carriageway in front of the houses should be paved with ‘Scotch Granite or Square Jersey Pebbles’.

Pebble paving: Paving consisting of pebbles set in cement or some other binder.

Pitched: 1 (of a roof) Set on a slope. 2 A characteristic of paving that is composed of cobbles that are set on edge to provide an even surface.

Pitching (especially Birmingham, England): n. A pavement, particularly one made from stones set on end or edge; a foundation of a road or pavement made from such stones.

Plainstones (Old Scots): A pavement.

Scoria block: A particularly durable and robust block, used for building and paving, made (from the eighteenth century onwards) from scoria (the residue of metal-smelting processes). Scoria is Ancient Greek for excrement.

Sett: A small rectangular quarried stone used for paving. Setts are often popularily called cobbles (see cobbled). Wooden and rubber setts have also occasionally been used. See also belgian block.

Stable-block paver: A durable paving brick indented with a grid of lines to shed liquid and provide good grip.

Stoneway (also stone tramway): A paved surface consisting of two parallel tracks of stone for a vehicle’s wheels to run on, and setts between the slabs to provide a good grip for its horse’s hooves. They were used in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Tarmac: 1 A generic name for asphalt surfaces. 2 A patented type of road-surfacing material composed mainly of compacted tar and aggregate. The word is a shortening of tarmacadam, a word combining tar- with the name of the engineer and road-builder John McAdam (1756–1836), who invented a process for building roads with a smooth, hard surface (macadam).

Wood-block paving: Wooden blocks (usually treated with bitumen or creosote) used for paving streets as a cheaper and quieter (though less durable) alternative to stone and asphalt. See also blockhead, boyington paving and cassie.

Togher (Ireland): A roadway or causeway. From the Irish word tóchar.

Wheeler: 1 A double track of large, flat stones (often granite) laid in an otherwise cobbled or setted street or other space, providing a smooth surface for the wheels of vehicles. See stoneway. 2 A cyclist.

Whinstone (also whin) (Scotland and northern England): Any hard, dark-coloured rock. Whinstone is sometimes used for setts and as a building material. Whin is also a name for the gorse plant.


This is a selection of entries from the 12,000 in the second edition of The Dictionary of Urbanism by Rob Cowan. It originally appeared in IHBC’s Context 152, published in November 2017.

--Institute of Historic Building Conservation

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