Masons Livery company visits Weald & Downland Open Air Museum

One of the charities supported by the Masons' Livery Company, one of London's oldest Livery companies, is the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum near Chichester in Sussex and on Saturday 20 April, a delegation from the Livery Company visited the Museum with the aim of helping to improve the exhibition space there devoted to stonemasonry.

On the 40-acre site are buildings that have been rescued from destruction by modern development. When they are rebuilt at the Museum, modern adaptations are removed so that they can be seen as they were when they were first erected. The work of dismantling, re-erecting and restoring the buildings is carried out by skilled craftspeople supported by a host of volunteers.

Various crafts involved in the work – brick making and laying, carpentry and joinery, leadwork and plumbing, metalworking and others, as well as stonemasonry – have display areas devoted to them and the museum likes to have demonstrations of the crafts.

When the Liverymen visited, they were able to see Marie-Louise Bolland and Neil Topeley demonstrating the art of stonemasonry on bankers set up behind Perspex screens to protect the public from flying pieces of stone.

Masons demonstrate at the Museum most weekends. Marie-Louise Bolland and Neil Topeley had both benefited from bursaries from the Masons Company to help them achieve their masonry qualifications, which is another part of the charitable work on the Livery Company.

Marie-Louise said working in front of the public at the Museum had the benefit of achieving some commissions from visitors, although Neil said the amount of work that could be achieved was limited because they were constantly interrupted by visitors asking questions, although he said that was one of the interesting aspects of working there. 

The Liverymen visited the exhibition and display area after an introduction to the Museum by Director Richard Pailthorpe and a tour led by guide Alan Wood, which was all the more pleasant for taking place in glorious sunshine.

Thoughts about the stonemasonry display after the visit included the possibility of having a video showing the stone from extraction through production to installation on a building, pieces of stone for visitors to feel and a section devoted to Chichester Cathedral instead of (or as well as) the current display of St Paul's Cathedral in London.