Stone cleaning outside and inside

The Talbot Hotel in Malton, Yorkshire required gentle cleaning of soot staining from the historic Hildenley limestone frontage during refurbishment in 2012. I used sodium bicarbonate in a technique that was first developed to clean the Statue of Liberty and which is now gaining wider recognition for potential to remove dirt from the pores of stone without abrading the surface of the stone itself.

The sodium bicarbonate crystals burst on impact and thereby cut into the dirt and then laterally disperse taking waste away with the air blast before hitting the matrix of the stone itself. The owners wanted someone who understands stone textures and who could apply the technique effectively but without risking stone or other features. The upper storey came out a slightly different hue, it appears that different beds of stone were used in adding a later floor to the building.


The 18th century palladian New Wardour Castle (below) was converted from a school to private accommodation and music studios in 1994. I cleaned the gallery stone staircase as well as laying new local limestone floors to original standards. This cleaning involved fine abrasives and chemical cleaning to remove paint and adhesive from the limestone treads.

External Link

The cleaning below is a recent task – removal of paint from Hereford sandstone cills. The hard synthetic paint and underlying traditional paint is being removed by refinishing the dressing of the stone. This method treats the paint as though it were the last millimetre of original finishing, it can be rubbed to a smooth finish or left with chisel finish as in the images below. This does not lead to an uneven and deeply worn surface which would occur with grit blasting or machine dressing – due to the varying density of paint and stone layers. These cills, all exposed surfaces, were re-dressed by hand in about two hours each. This can come down to well below an air using air tools but the control is less and the cut slightly deeper.

IMG_20140226_113647_hdr IMG_20140226_165035_hdr

Repaired sundial

IMG-20130911-01004This limestone sundial had sheared in two and the rusted iron cramps holding it to the wall at the top were now only barely gripping.

Luckily it was inspected in time and I was able to take it down before it fell. Just as well because it is 4m high above a stable entrance arch.

The two halves were pinned together and jointed using lime. The gnomon (metal style) was restored and repainted by specialists, I cleaned the face of the plate, and discovered and highlighted the markings with non-etching paint. It was replaced using stainless steel fixings.

The white stain is lime and stone from the repair. In a few years this will become less chalky and will no longer be noticeable

A Way of Life

I attended the Royal Welsh Show in July with Ty Mawr alongside other crafts people. CPRW asked us to write our profiles for a publication. Here is my contribution:

Although I have tried other work, it is the rural and craft based life that puts me in touch with people, environment and sustaining rhythms, which has turned out to be the most fulfilling.

My rural stonemasonry work is now a part of who I am, creating enduring structures in a living and traditional landscape satisfies my daily need to work on things with hands head and heart.

Working in stone puts me in direct relationship with a rich and evolving material through an artisan approach – assessing a task, observing and understanding that need in its environment, judging and selecting an appropriate material, shaping the stone to suit the built forms around it and sympathetic to tradition, the engineering and aesthetics of the present needs, and the creation of enduring legacy.

This is my day’s and lifetime’s work; interleaving problem finding and solving, leaving something settled for present and future communities.

Pointing KilpeckStanding back to eye completed work at the end of a day brings a wholeness through treading reassuring cycles of craftsmanship and seasons. To finish the day refreshed with tools put away brings a kind of health and vitality.

The work is further lightened by fellowship and trading skills, traducing knowledge and experience with other crafts people as our paths combine, by navigating and absorbing the countryside and communities of my locality and region, and by keeping the demands of commerce and industrial methods at a distance.

Crafts are inherently suited to rural life, I have come to meet so many others who feel the pull of countryside and its vernacular form, sometimes the classical, but mostly the hand-made resilience of structures made with full attention and organic process.

Ty Mawr Lime is a prominent hub of this craftsmanship culture in South Wales. Their belief in the synthesis of traditional and ecological materials and skills brought me to the Royal Welsh Show alongside other artisan crafts.

We all seem to share a similar attitude, shaped by head hands and heart, that the direct connections between people and place, and process and products, is enriching for us and provides inheritance for those who come after us. It is as life affirming and sustaining as it was for past Britons who left us this landscape and its buildings.

New Light Through New Windows

New stone mullion windows in conversion of stables to flats at an 1870’s stately home near Hay-on-Wye. The work required a careful adjustment within stone courses which form the outer jambs, and to be cut around steel supports behind the lintol profile, in order to provide appropriate elevation and sufficient height of casements for good views of the Black Mountains.

A repair was also carried out at the same location on a collapsed and broken Roman arch. Voussiors of the arch were pinned with stainless steel and repaired using Lithomex, three new sections were made and the arch was then rebuilt on site.

The Stonemason. Dust protection is essential due to the 95% silica content of the stone.

Lorimer’s Astragals

Worked on the roof of a Scottish mansion designed by Robert Lorimer. Repairing the damaged stonework on a baronial tower after the removal of an extended roof structure, and aided in the dismantling and reclamation of stone from the 1960s lift shaft below. The damage that was done to the building by the attachment of a modern structure included liberal coating of tar, cutting-off stonework unnecessarily, and ham-fisted cutting of stone where flashing was inserted. Thankfully this is all repairable.


A replacement corbel currently being replicated for this work. This component shows the semi-circular section of the astragals that Lorimer used throughout the building


Working on the roof with traditional builders reconstructing the roof.

Kilpeck the Romanesque

This church is my favourite in the Marches. We have been removing cement and Victorian coal-ash mortar over the past five years and replacing with a lime mortar that both replicates the original mortar and protects the stonework from further erosion particularly near ground level where water was not evaporating adequately.

The colour change has also been beneficial, from grey mass of masonry to a better defined rubble stonework in the panels this has brightened the building and shows the historic carvings on a more appropriate background. We also replaced some of the stone roof tiles this year


Large fireplace

Beginning to restore this large 10 feet wide fireplace in a medieval farmhouse. The structural cracks in the large lintol and cheek stones have been reinforced with structural pins. All cement has been removed from joints. Excavation will follow in order to discover if a hearth remains at a lower level before reconstruction or replacement with a new hearth. This job has been completed in a beautiful transformation. Posts to follow soon.


Cistercian abbey

Continuing work at Dore Abbey the 1147 monastery in South Herefordshire. Last year we engineered the righting of a precipitously leaning section of historically significant wall, repaired leaking stone roof areas, provided general maintenance, and did structural alterations for the new bell support frame to be fitted in the tower when the bells are returned this year. So good to be involved in the preservation of a building which is now coming back to life after the risk of being lost in previous decades. The Friends of Dore Abbey are doing wonderful work.