My name is Alice and I am a stonemason working at Worcester Cathedral as an apprentice for the National Trust. For me the motivation to work in the heritage sector is the fact that they, quite clearly, have all the best buildings! Working in and on a building that began its history as far back as 680, been destroyed, rebuilt, knocked down and repaired definitely gives you a real sense of connection with the past.
Each generation and period of history has made its own mark and changes to this centre point of the city. Politics, fashion and the economics of the time all have a huge part to play- as they do now- but seeing the record of it quite literally, in stone conjures up visions of how life must have been like all this time ago. At the time of the reformation and the huge upheaval of the religious system of the country soldiers came into the cathedral and other than pillaging all the precious goods, destroyed all the faces on the beautifully carved memorials and on the figures inside the chapels. You don’t find that in a new building.
I am lucky in that at Worcester we use no power tools at all, meaning that the methods we use and indeed the tools too are exactly the same as they have been for centuries. A moment where you particularly feel the connection with the generations before is finding old masons marks in stone. Masons marks are essentially a signature each mason has- the amount of stone you work tallied with how much you’re paid and are individual to each man. The cathedral archaeologist has a record of every mark found in the cathedral since the restoration began and many can be dated and even found at other cathedrals and buildings around the country.
A lot of the restoration that needs to be done on the cathedral is due to damage caused by a direct result of well meaning, good intentioned ignorance. Most of this has not been found out until many years later when the full extent of the damage created is realised. Iron cramps are a big issue for us, where water has got to the metal and it rusts, expanding to 3 times its size and exploding the stone around it out. This problem was not known to be a problem until suddenly so much damage became apparent. Cement is the big one- as anyone in the heritage sector will no doubt tell you. The destruction caused by the use of this harmless looking, apparently fantastic stuff is catastrophic and whilst it is well understood in the heritage sector unfortunately until it is taught in colleges and to all in the construction industry, it will continually be used by people who are unaware of the differences in the way traditional buildings and modern (post 1919) buildings should be treated.
This is where the Traditional Building Skills Bursary Scheme are doing so well, from a range of trades, the importance of understanding where you’re working is paramount. It is no harder, or easier, to work in this way, but it just needs to be identified and recognised with the importance that it holds.
I have had a fantastic opportunity to get very much hands on, knowing that stones I have worked will be in there for hopefully many hundreds of years. Working within the heritage sector is so much more than just a job and the TBSBS has given me so many opportunities to learn more about my chosen career and fantastic support in gaining my qualifications.
Any words of advice?
Well a healthy interest is a good start; you’ll meet a lot very passionate people and it’s a fairly small circle so everyone knows everyone. Talk to people, it’ll get you a long way.
Beware though: You will find yourself telling anyone and everyone about the dangers of cement and boring friends about buildings!