Livery Company Yeomen continue their professional development at Fountains Abbey

WCM at Fountains Abbey

Claire Wallbridge with Liverymen, Yeomen, National Trust staff and guests at Fountain's Abbey.

Claire Wallbridge, the Training Officer of the Natural Stone Industry Training Group (NSITG), has also recently been elected as Chair of the Craft & Training Committee of the Worshipful Company of Masons (WCM), the stonemasonry livery company. The WCM invites working stonemasons it has helped with their training or otherwise been involved with into the Livery as Yeomen. There are 73 of them. Although the Yeomen are invited to take part in some of the activities of the Livery, the Craft & Training Committee was concerned there were no events especially for them. It has decided to change that.

It is planning a number of events especially for the Yeomen and the first of them took place at the National Trust's Fountains Abbey in Ripon, Yorkshire, on 27 July. It gave the Yeomen a chance to meet two of the National Trust's apprentice stonemasons working at Fountains Abbey and to hear from three Liverymen about their experiences in the stone industry.

It was presented as an upskilling and networking opportunity for Yeomen to find out more about their craft, the industry they are working in and what stonemasonry has to offer as a career.

The three Liverymen they heard from were: John Burton, an architect who headed Purcell Architects; Tom Billington, of Oculus Management; Adam Stone, MD of Chichester Stoneworks

As well as the Yeomen, those who took part in the day included York College stonemasonry tutor Paul Hill and Stone Federation President Chris Kelsey, who was there representing the Stone Academy that Stone Federation launched at the Natural Stone Show in London in June to ensure there is comprehensive training provided for today's stone industry.

At Fountains Abbey, John Burton and Adam Stone outlined their eventful involvements with the stone industry.

John Burton with Fleur Gordon

John Burton with Fleur Gordon, Head of Skills & Crafts at the National Trust. On the left is apprentice stonemason Harry Walkeden.

For John, who said he is the 11th Surveyor of Westminster Abbey since Sir Christopher Wren, a highlight lately has been the re-laying of the Cosmati Pavement on a screed of cocciopesto hot lime, which is a lime mortar developed by the Romans. It includes pozzolans to strengthen it and olive oil to make it easier to work and stickier for the tiles to adhere to. He has also used it at Canterbury Cathedral. 

He emphasised the strength of stone under compression and explained how that enables arches, including those in vaulted ceilings, to hold up many tons of materials above them and the importance of that weight in giving arches their strength. 


Adam Stone

Adam Stone.

Both he and Adam Stone had worked at Fountains Abbey. It was where Adam started his career in stonemasonry as an apprentice. Adam's take-away point was that the stone industry is not doing enough training to satisfy its needs for skills. He said employers need to do more training in their companies. He wanted them to engage with the colleges and the Masons Livery Company, which he said was a great organisation that needed more young blood involved in it.

Tom Billington, who has acted as commissioning client for institutions including Kew Gardens, the Royal Academy of Arts and various cathedrals, turned the focus on to contracts. He said too often contracts were about risk and liability; identifying who would be hit with the litigation stick at the end of a project.


Tom Billington

Tom Billington.

He said contracts should be about costs and value. "Value requires a contextual understanding of the requirements of a project," he said. It was important to keep in mind at all times what the work is aiming to achieve – something that often gets forgotten with 'value engineering' when a project is underway.

"Every part of a project should be traceable back to the reason for the project," Tom said. That could justify higher quality work rather than sacrificing quality for the sake of cutting costs. "Incompetent people make money without delivering any benefit," he said.

Claire Wallbridge said afterwards: "The focus of The Worshipful Company of Masons is to preserve and encourage the use of natural stone in the built environment. Part of the Livery commitment to the craft  includes supporting the training of craftspeople. Our Yeomen are the future of the craft and the Fountains Abbey event, in partnership with National Trust, is the start of a programme of networking opportunities that The Worshipful Company of Masons’ Craft & Training Committee is organising."

The National Trust has already offered Montecute House in Somerset for a similar event for Yeomen next spring and after that it is intended there will be one at a National Trust property in London on a date yet to be decided.

Claire continued: "It has been inspiring to meet Yeomen and apprentices from our craft today and join with them in the exchange of experiences and ideas. As Chairman of the Craft & Training Committee I am most grateful to the National Trust and everyone involved in making the first event such a success."


Claire with apprentices

Claire Wallbridge with National Trust stonemasonry apprentices Harry Walkeden (left) and Tom Park.

Fountains Abbey NT people

Fountains Abbey apprentices Tom Park (left) and Harry Walkeden (right) with Martin Mitchell (second left), Building Services Manager for the National Trust, and Barry Firth, Building Supervisor for the Specialist Craft Centre at Fountains Abbey.