Friday, 26 April 2013

A Biography of a Master Mason


Early life

I was born in Royal Free Hospital, Islington 1965 and lived in The Angel until moving to St. Luke's in 1968 within 1 Mile of St. Paul's Cathedral, the dome of which could then be seen from my bedroom window.

My early education was at Moreland Street School, Finsbury where we were often shown cine films of aproned craftsmen at work. Many of us had dads, granddads or other relatives who worked locally in one craft or another. I later attended Sir Philip Magnus comprehensive school.

As children we were surrounded by craftsmen and tradesmen and we thought it the norm; Wood turners and furniture leg makers in Haggerston, Clock and watch makers in Clerkenwell, Glass engravers in Shoreditch, Wood carvers in Islington, Stone Masons in Moorgate, Stained Glass makers also in Shoreditch, Bell founders in Aldgate, Blacksmiths/ Farriers in Whitecross Street and many Tailors and Typesetters, many of whom where happy for children to watch them work.

In addition to being surrounded by these skilled people my Granddad worked for the Ministry of Works (later the Department of the Environment) at The Tower of London. All this lead to my growing interest in Crafts, Architecture and History.


In the last 4 decades I have worked on all aspect of stone masonry and at all levels. I have worked under, and learnt from, some very experienced Masters and in turn instructed many trainees and been apprentice master to 11 apprentices up to this point. I entered my apprenticeship in the early 1980's with the City of London Company, Ashby and Horner who could trace their origins back to Aldgate in the 1690's and attended Vauxhall College.

While with Ashby and Horner I was involved in the working of the new Seven Dial's Monument, Covent Garden. Upon finishing my apprenticeship and becoming a journeyman, I cut my teeth on the restoration of Somerset House designed by William Chambers, St Paul's Church, Covent Garden and The Queen's House, Greenwich designed by Inigo Jones, St. Martin's in the Field designed by James Gibbs and The Egyptian Avenue, Highgate Cemetery. As I gained experience I had the opportunity to work on the Sultan of Brunei's Palace in Knightsbridge, Grand Buildings, Trafalgar Square, The Savoy Hotel, The Strand, The Canadian Pacific Building, Cockspur Street and The Aga Khan Palace at Newmarket overlooking the gallops. In the early 1990's I had advanced to foreman for J.Bysouth at Woburn Abbey and was in charge of the dismantling and rebuilding of Chambers Bridge and while working on the South Stable Block I was involved in the Consolidation of Clunch trials carried out by John Ashurst and published in the Practical Building Conservation

English Heritage Technical Handbook Volume 1 Stone Masonry.

As Master Mason I ran projects in and around Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire including Heythrop House, Wheatley Park, The YMCA Cheltenham and a variety of Regency Houses in Cheltenham. While working at Stoneleigh Abbey in 1999 I supervised the masonry and conservation packages of both phase I and phase II to their successful completion. The work consisted of the conservation and restoration of the 14th century Gate House, Garden Balustrade, Charlesworthy Bridge and Victorian conservatory. Different degrees of intervention were used for each of the works packages, recognising the individual historic properties of each structure.

Whilst working for a number of specialist conservation companies as a freelance Master Mason and contracts manager in the early 2000's, I ran projects such as the Conservation of the Piers Cloakroom and Westminster Hall at The Palace of Westminster, Windsor Castle, Lancing College Chapel and worked on the Great Court project at The British Museum. Bertholey House was built by George Maddox a pupil of John Soane. In the early 1900's it was razed to the ground over a family dispute and stood completely ruined and with no front elevation until 2000. I was asked to form and lead a small team of craftsmen and with only two drawings and a few very early photographs rebuild it to its former glory. To comply with the clients wishes all replacement stone was worked onsite including entire front elevation cornice, portico columns and Ionic capitals.

Over the course of the last few years, I have personally worked with E.G.M.M in a consultative capacity advising on conservation projects and giving talks and demonstrations and still work at least 3 days a week carving.