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Monday, 31 August 2015

Castles the guilds built.

Over the past four decades (my working memory) and into antiquity the guilds that are now involved in training young people in Norwich have built, re fortified and conserved castles internationally. This process continues with at least two of our board of masters having worked on several significant fortifications over the last twenty years.

Here are just a few.

Krak des Chevalier, Syria.

Tower of London, England

Citadel of Salah Ed-Din, Syria

Windsor Castle, England 

Rocca dei Tempesta, Venice, Italy.

Raglan Castle, Wales.

Yilankale (snake castle), Turkey.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Cotswold lodge

In 2016-17 we plan to be opening our subsidiary lodge in the Cotswolds. A crucial part of our guilds' ethos is training which allows constant, well paid, full time work. To this end we introduce our apprentices to a wide range of project in all main limestone regions. This includes construction and restoration, heritage conservation and design across commercial, domestic, tourism and ecclesiastical sectors.

Here is an idea of the diversity of potential work within walking distance of our planned new lodge. 

A Master Masons travels - Welsh strongholds and Bristolian beauties.

After a day in Bristol visiting a couple a stonemasons I have known and worked with for years I decided to go abroad, a short drive and with passport in hand I crossed the new Severn bridge into Wales.

Two project I had worked on years ago were close enough for a visit and would allow me to return through the Forest of Dean back into Gloucestershire.

First stop Usk prison.

Then on to Raglan castle
The building we see today dates from the 15th and early 17th centuries.
Both buildings are constructed from Pennant and a type of Monmouth red sandstone which sometimes has the added benefit of staining the mason working it orange for a day or two. This explains the colour of some Bristolian girls and boys on a Saturday night, obviously stonemasons?

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Water tower?

Yes this is a water tower Cotswolds style and a sight better looking than those concrete monstrosities.

The Keble Clapper bridge, Eastleach Martin.
Stone slab stile, Eastleach Turville.

Renovated Ox sheds near Tetbury.

Just four of the many regional rural utilitarian aspects of a masons work, these found in the Gloucester/Oxfordshire area.  

As our apprentices will be working from Exeter in the southwest to Yorkshire in the north east in years 2 - 5 and in Europe years 6 & 7, they have a lot to learn regarding local materials, styles and techniques.

A Master Masons travels - On the way to look at a small project inWestminster

On a walk from Parliament Square to Pimlico to look at a new project I passed several jobs I have worked on over the years.
The House of Parliament 
The Grand Imperial Hotel

Library, Buckingham Palace Road.

The majority of the work we have coming up in the next 6 months is medieval gothic but next year I will be looking for more neo classical and 19th century projects as much of the work in the South east of England falls into these categories.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Sunday afternoon from the tower of our lodge

Showing our proximity to Norwich Cathedral we see its spire, finished in 1485, built after the collapse of its predecessor; it is the second tallest in England (at 96m or 315ft). Our tower from which this photo was taken dates from around 1450 and is just over 21 metres (70ft), the same height as the donjon of Norwich castle.
The donjon of Norwich castle left of centre on the sky line.

Fye bridge and the river Wensum.

On the north side of our lodge is Colegate, on the far side we can see the Octagon Chapel, 1756, and the Old Meeting house, 1693.

The east end of our lodge now battoned and felted, awaiting the rebuilding of gables, replacement of copings and finally re-slating. This part of our lodge dates back to 1350.

Here we see the planting out of our new Prime Wardens and Officials gardens with the Mischief Tavern in the background, dating from the late 16th century.

The International Touch - Saddam's Nebuchadnezzar

One of the many unique attributes of our guild is that we are international in both training and disposition. Our Master is from the European Guild of Master Stone Masons, our guild friends are on every continent and our techniques span over aeons and civilisations.

As an apprentice this of course inspires me to look outward into the world and find ways to incorporate my own cultural heritage into my training. The beauty of this unique outlook is that I do not feel as if I have to appropriate local culture and abandon my own heritage.

One experience I would like to share is of a trip to Saddam Hussain's reconstruction of king Nebuchadnezzar II. Just like ancient Babylonian kings, the tyrant Saddam found it effective to intimidate his subjects by building dizzyingly huge palaces and monuments out of stone to over-power the simple brick and mud homes of the Mesopotamian people.  Not only did he build his palaces with the blood, sweat and tears of the Iraqi people, he also built it on top of ancient ruins of the original so that the statement was even more devastating.

Saddam chose to replicate the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II (634 - 562 BCE) because many believed him to be one of the greatest Babylonian kings. Due to the successful reign of Nebuchadnezzar's father and the smooth transition into power, he was able to change history in ways which not many rulers before (or after) him have been able to.  He defeated the Egyptians and Carchemish Assyrians, expanded his empire to cover Syria and Palestine, controlled all trade routes from the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean sea, and taxed all his subjects to build cities and monuments which are today still considered amongst the greatest to have ever been erected. During his rule he built most Babylonian cities which still stand today; the Ishtar gate, the hanging gardens of Babylon and many more. He used intimidating yet impressive buildings to further his cause; for example, The hanging gardens of Babylon were built by him as a gift to his wife Amytis to help her adjust to life in Mesopotamia and secure the alliance he managed to forge with her grandfather the king of Medes. To historians he is remembered as a great king who brought equality between the sexes, supported the crafts, funded academia and collected ancient scripture. To the writers of the bible he is remembered as a tyrant who is to be feared, who exiled the Jews from Babylon, who banned the worship of any gods he did not recognize, and who conquered and pillaged.

Saddam Hussein's palace boasts over 600 rooms, hundreds of thousands of square-feet of marble, numerous towers and elaborate stair cases, lavishly carved interior and harmonically proportioned layout to rival the ancient palace of Nebuchadnezzar II. I managed to gain entry in 2013 on the 10th anniversary of Saddam's fall in 2003. The palace was looted in 2004 when all the gold plumbing, sculptures, artwork, furniture and even marble tiling was removed by local villagers. They looted and left messages on the walls that talked of the horror that Saddam had filled their lives with.

Apart from the first image, all images were taken during my 2013 trip.

source: (CNN news)

Home of villager
View from Saddam's palace. Overlooking ancient Babylonian ruins. 
Archway with decorative carving still intact
Detail of carving
View #2. 
Abandoned work

Friday, 21 August 2015

Anatomy of a Church - St Peter, Wiggenhall

During my recent excursion across west Norfolk I stopped off to explore the ruined church of St Peter, Wiggenhall. I'm glad I did. What I found was a remarkably intact 'skeleton' of a church; pretty much intact in terms of brick and stone. 

The roof of this church was intact during the 1920s, so its abandonment and ruination is quite a recent development. Thus, the integrity of the structure remains, revealing its 'ribs and bones' - very useful for aspiring stonemasons. 

Here are revealed locally sourced ginger coloured Carr stone, flint, pink brick and ashlar (worked limestone)

Evidence here that there was once an aisle here

You can still see sherds of the window glass together with some of the lead within the upper tracery. 

One of my travel companions speculated that this carving might be a Master Mason. I remain sceptical: no scars and too jolly by half ;-)

One of two aumbries (a recessed cupboard for storing sacred vessels and vestments) remaining in the structure. 

St Peter, Wiggenhall - well worth a visit!

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

A Medieval Font

Here are some photographs of a very nice fifteenth century font within St Nicholas Church, Blakeney, on the north Norfolk coast. 

A simple little gothic carved head

It is always worth looking up at carved pieces and seeing the play of light. 

Good to see some handsome little wodewose (mythical wild men of the woods) adorning the stem of the font. 

However, as this last photo reveals, the font is not without issues. There are actually quite a few conservation issues that will have to be addressed. More work for stonemasons.