Featuring the work of the Stonemasons’ Guild of St Stephen and St George
One of the things you can be sure about in the area known as Norwich-over-the-Water is that it is the home of free thinkers – people who are part of 21st Century society but who are prepared to evaluate contemporary society, accept what is good about it and reject whatever they feel is sub-standard or shoddy.
Norwich-over-the-Water is and always has been the home of writers, artists and craft-people, who “do their own thing.”
Elizabeth Fry the nineteenth century advocate of prison reform was born in this area so too was the writer Amelia Opie
John Crome’s house is still to be found and the author, columnist and preacher, the Rev’d Jack Burton has his home in Colegate.
Perhaps some of the most unusual occupants of this area though are the stonemasons who belong to the Guild of St Stephen and St George. Their workplace is in and around the church of St Clement’s in Colegate.
A Master Mason, who, it is claimed, is part of a guild which has been in existence since 1096 has set up a workshop where apprentices begin the first part of their seven year training. Male and female apprentices are accepted providing they are prepared to show the qualities of self-discipline, determination, application, humility and a willingness to learn from their mistakes.
The predominantly young apprentices wear unusual paper hats. The folded hat is the uniform of the guild and apparently is a constant reminder to them to lift objects, like stone correctly. (Failure to so would cause the hat to fall off!)
When we visited them this week the apprentices were all hard at work at their bankers (benches), one was planning a new project, another was working on a pillar, one on a statue of two heavenly? beings and two young ladies were occupied out of doors on what was unmistakably a roof boss.
I was quite fascinated by one of the apprentice projects – to recreate Borromini’s Deception. Francesco Borromini was a seventeenth century Italian architect who designed the Palazzo Spada in Rome in 1638. This is a corridor of columns ending in a statued courtyard. Due to a rising floor line, diminishing columns and roof height, the resulting trick makes the corridor appear four times longer than it actually is.
It was good to be able to wander round freely, ask questions and share the enthusiasm the apprentices had for their tasks and their progression through the training scheme. One talked about the prospect of finishing his time in Norwich and progressing to journeying under a master mason to improve his skills.
Do take time to explore their website at www.gildencraft.co.uk There is an opportunity for visitors to become friends of the gild and the organisation runs stone carving workshops for anyone who wishes to sign up.
A little eccentric? Unquestionably! But that is part of its appeal and part of what enables it to flourish in this culturally rich area of Norwich.