27 May 2013 by Mel Russ Articles
Watching a skilled stonemason at work is mesmerising, to bring a dormant lump of heavy stone to life is beyond most mortal men but specialist historic building conservation and restoration company FWA have men who can create miracles. Stonemason Alex Williams works with speed and skill as he cuts a section of new stone that will be incorporated in Stowe School, near Silverstone, a project being undertaken by historic building conservation and restoration company Fairhurst Ward Abbotts.
With offices spread over the Midlands and south east England, FWA are proud of their new specially equipped stone yard not far from Wansford, a picturesque village built out of mellow Barnack stone sitting comfortably beside the River Nene, and within easy access of the A1. Based on the Kings Cliffe Industrial Estate, the newly refurbished building boasts its own computerised stone cutting saw, diamond cutting tools and specially equipped masons benches with all the latest and traditional tools. The unit also has its own secure stone compound, where all sorts of stone are held before they go into the workshops.
The stone yard is new to FWA but the business has been established since 1941 making its name, and being granted a Royal warrant, for its quality decoration and building work on many Royal palaces, including Buckingham Palace. Skilled workman have also worked on Castle Acre, Tamworth Castle, Chatsworth House, the Royal Observatory, numerous ecclesiastical buildings and other prestige buildings across the country. Director Geoff Taylor sums it up when he says: “The FWA package of workmanship, maintenance and exceptional aftercare reflects a commitment to projects long after we have handed them back to our clients.” Having been in the business for 70 years FWA saw an opportunity to expand their business further by pulling together a team of time served artisans with the skills and knowledge to cut new or restore and conserve all types of stone for customers who demand the highest quality work.
The new stone yard is the idea of conservation manager Matt Webster, 48, who could see the clear advantages to the customers of FWA having their own yard, masons and stone store. Explains Matt: “We have an office near Cambridge which deals with our conservation and restoration work, but I felt we could expand the business and service by being able to offer even more specialist work. “In the past we have bought in stone but have found the supply and quality to be questionable so I asked the question ‘why don’t we do it ourselves?’ We found a yard used by a previous stonemasons company, redesigned it, put in new machinery and staffed it with skilled people who can now work for and supply our own company or work direct with customers.
“The business is growing as clients demand the very best workmanship. On the management side we have Eric Knight our masonry manager, Rebecca Hardaker, who takes care of the regional development, a team of three workshop masons, another five working on site plus another eight self-employed masons. “We plan to grow but we are aware of our limitations in output, although we do work with much bigger stone cutting companies within the business who we have traded with for years. But we were finding that when we tendered for work we were finding ourselves being out priced because we had to buy in certain materials, products and services. We couldn’t control the costs and final tender price, which was another reason for doing our own work.”
Fairhurst Ward Abbotts have built up a reputation over many years for their bespoke work and this is reflected in their workforce. “Sadly,” says Matt “we are losing one mason who has been working with stone for 51 years. He is retiring and will be missed in the business. Luckily we have other skilled men, one who has been working on Ely Cathedral for 26 years. “We have new blood too. Alex Williams, 27, is a prime example of the stonemasons we like to employ. He trained at York College, one of only three masonry colleges in the country, and was named top apprentice of the year. They are all very skilled and dextrous, and while I am no mason, although I am learning fast, their work and what they can do with stone fascinates me.”
The stone that the mason’s work on comes from reliable quarry sources and includes limestone, sandstone, granite, marble and grit stone with petro logical data analysis guaranteeing quality assurance. Their work includes carving and sculpture, stone consolidation, nano lime technology, facade cleaning, natural stone replacement, on site repairs and a lot more. Matt Webster has all the information, just ask.
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