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Job spotlight: The art and craft of stonemasonry

No two working days are the same in a conservation workshop, explains Tom Flemons, stonemason and manager of Cliveden Conservation’s Bath workshop
Tom Flemons, Cliveden Conservation. Image credit: Ralph Hodgson
Image credit: Ralph Hodgson

A recent recipient of the SPAB Gwyn Watkins Award 2020 for his outstanding contribution to traditional building skills, Tom Flemons has over 30 years’ experience in masonry, conservation, practice and management. He is also an advisor to the National Trust on stone and plaster.

What is a typical day in your role?

I manage a workshop for Cliveden Conservation in the West Country. For me, no two days are the same, so I don’t really have a ‘typical day’. Projects are very varied because Cliveden Conservation undertakes work with stone, plaster, terracotta and the decorative arts. Our portfolio varies in type and scale, requiring project management skills to oversee the conservation of buildings, with a similar skillset required for smaller-scale works to treasured objects and artefacts.

We are fortunate to work across the UK and occasionally abroad on many significant buildings; it is a real privilege to be involved in safeguarding our heritage.

Obviously you need expert knowledge to do what you do. How did you acquire your skills?

I initially undertook a three-year City and Guilds apprenticeship with a marble masonry company, attending Vauxhall College. I then moved on to study architectural stone conservation for a year at Weymouth College. After working for a few years as a mason/conservator I was privileged to be awarded a place on the William Morris Craft Fellowship run by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). I have spent over 30 years in the field and find that you learn something every day; from colleagues, fellow professionals or from the buildings and objects we work with.

You won the 2020 Gwyn Watkins award in part for encouraging craftspeople. What can the industry do to keep these skills?

Training is vital in our industry and the more support given to colleges the better. In my field there are less and less institutions offering apprentice training in stonemasonry. On large-scale projects, training can be a prerequisite part of the tender process, which is a good start but there is insufficient trickle down.

My role at Cliveden Conservation involves practical training to help organisations such as the National Trust and English Heritage develop and nurture skills. We are also developing CPDs to share best practice.

We need to enthuse schoolchildren and demonstrate the variety of roles out there, the job satisfaction to be found and the fact that a university education is not the only route into the world of work.

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