A rock solid career
Published: 26 Jun 2015
Name: Charlotte Brough
Job title: Stonemasonry apprentice
Company: Historic Scotland
I’m a first-year stonemasonry apprentice with Historic Scotland. I live in Strathdon. I’m based at Kildrummy Castle and cover other sites in the area.
This week, I’m at our masonry training centre at Elgin Cathedral.
It’s an hour-and-a-half commute, making it an early start to get there for 8.30am.
On Monday morning, I’m up at 6am and out the door for 6.45am. I arrive about 8.15am, get into my overalls and head to the workshop.
At the start of the week we have a briefing from one of our trainers on what we’ll be learning and working on.
There are 16 of us, all at different levels of our three-year masonry training at Elgin. I love the training weeks and really look forward to learning new practical skills.
The workshop is divided into two large work spaces. One side has pallets of stone and slab, traditional chimneys, wheelbarrows, toolkits and mortar buckets, and is lined with stone walls and brick structures used for practical construction and maintenance work.
The other side is the hewing shed, a stonemasons’ classroom that has rows of individual mechanised workbenches, each equipped with the latest tools and ventilation pipes to extract excess dust.
I’ve been learning how to lay and level walls. This takes a lot of concentration to make sure it’s level throughout. If your mind wanders off, so does the level.
We all break for lunch at the same time. I bring in a sandwich and we have lunch together. It’s a good chance to catch up and hear what everyone’s been working on.
We’re based at different historic sites and come together for training. We work at castles, churches, historic structures, standing stones – it’s really varied.
My favourite thing to do is cutting stone. That’s my reason for getting into stonemasonry.
At college, I get to practise cutting different templates, working with traditional hand-held stone-cutting tools is amazing. You really get into your own zone.
The apprentice programme is four years, during which we learn about traditional craft skills for working on historic buildings.
As part of our training, we also learn about modern construction methods to widen our understanding.
We finish up at 4pm and start vacuuming down and tidying up so that the studio is ready for when we come in the next morning.
I stay at a local B&B for the rest of the week to avoid the commute. I get back at around 5pm and usually go for a run or do some yoga, get washed up and make some food.
Then I’ll settle down for a few hours and do some studying. Many of the techniques we are learning are quite scientific, like working with lime. I enjoy learning the theory as much as the practical skills.
We need to understand the problems traditional buildings face and mostly it’s to do with poor maintenance or repair work using the wrong materials or techniques. If things aren’t done properly, it can lead to all sorts of problems, like dampness or masonry failure.
I’m working in this industry at a really exciting time. Historic Scotland is developing a building conservation centre for Scotland, opening in Stirling in summer 2016.
The Engine Shed will be an education centre, bringing together a wide range of crafts and trades people as well as being open to the public.
It’s great that this training hub will exist and I can continue to improve my skills. One day, I’d love to teach others the skills I’m learning.