The Stonemason at Culzean
by Andrew Bradley
Andrew Bradley has been a stonemason
for 25 years , and has been based at
Culzean since 1981. During the last three years Andrew has headed up
a new stonemasonry unit that works effectively as an independent
firm, pricing at competitive rates for work to be done at
Culzean, other NTS and sites that require restoration or other
high quality stone work to be undertaken.
was a pains to point out this aspect of the Trust's work. The
NTS not only seeks to ensure the long term future of many
historic sites but also seeks to preserve the skills and
craftsmanship necessary to do it. The training is currently
in the form of 4 year apprenticeships, sponsored by the Trust.
Andrew's unit has undertaken work on all parts of Culzean
including the beautiful fountain in the formal garden, the
viaduct, the walls of many buildings, chimneys, etc.
Andrew described an important job they had
undertaken for the David Livingstone National Memorial, at
Blantyre. The work involved the reconstruction of a large stone
sphere representing the world with very complex wedge shaped
curved blocks cut to amazing accuracy for an exact fit. A special
hydraulic lime mortar was used as the jointing compound. The
mortar has to be slightly softer than the rock and just keeps the
On the left is a sample of the blocks used
to create the sphere.
Andrew described some of the difficulties
involved in cutting blocks of this style and coping with
different types of stone.
He showed us some of the stonemason's
tools. There has been little fundamental change to these tools
over the centuries and although modern chisels have tungsten
inserts and mallets have plastic heads, the tool shape and use
has remained the same. There is a bill from the 1780's In
the Culzean archives from a local blacksmith for sharpening 3700
mason's chisels in one month. This was due to working the
sandstone which blunts chisels very quickly (after all, you can
use sandstone to sharpen chisels!). The blacksmith's role in
sharpening chisels was very important as each chisel was tempered
depending on the nature of the stone being worked. Marble would
require a softer tempering while sandstone had to be very hard.
The Crusaders brought back the skills of using mallet and chisel
from the Arabs. Before that, stone masons used axes so could only
shallow relief in their carving (Romanesque). The change to
chisel and mallet brought with it the Gothic stonework.
Individual stones can be dated using mason's tool marks, but
whole buildings usually have many other factors allowing more
Nowadays most stonemasons work to a contracted price, but when
Culzean was developed in the late 1700s they were paid by each
block cut. As a result, each stonemason put his mark on his work
so it could be identified and he could be paid his dues. To
tamper with another mason's mark was a very serious offence!
The stonemason's work at Culzean (as at
many other historical sites) has changed in recent years.
Some time back, restoration meant rebuilding to returning a site
to it's original condition (or that of a certain date). The more
recent view is that work should be undertaken to preserve and
ensure the long term survival of the sites and no more than that.
So where heavily weather blocks of stone would have been replaced
with newly carved ones to return it to it's original look, it
would now only be replaced if it was unsafe. No attempt is made
to repair sites with 'aged' work. As Andrew put it "stones with
corners knocked off don't look old, they look like new stones
with the corners knocked off!".
There are stones on the beach at Culzean
worked by stonemasons over 200 to 300 years ago. There were some
400 stone quarries in the Culzean area in the 18th century. All
the stone used at Culzean was quarried within 3 or 4 miles and
was selected to be easy to work. Now there are about 9. Care is
taken during restoration to use stone that matches the original
as much as possible. Old stone is not salvaged: For a start you
don't want to encourage the demolition of one ancient site with
the excuse of restoring another. Also, stone case hardens with
age; when it is first quarried the stone has a softer more even
texture and can be worked more easily as a result of the moisture
in the stone. As this dries out the stone case hardens (produces
a hard skin) which protects the stone from weathering. One danger
of over cleaning stone buildings is that if the case hardening is
removed the stone will deteriorate quicker.
Many other topics were covered by Andrew in
his talk which was thoroughly enjoyed by all. We wish him many
thanks for coming to the meeting and all success for the future.