The Stonemason: ‘Working on a cathedral is the pinnacle of architectural stone-masonry’

A team of stonemasons is hard at work restoring Canterbury's magnificent cathedral, employing techniques that have been used since the dawn of civilisation. They spoke to Tessa Waugh; pictures by Richard Cannon.

‘The cathedral is a celebration of human creativity,’ declares stonemason Emlyn Harris, workshop foreman of Canterbury Cathedral’s in-house stonemasonry department.

Canterbury is currently undergoing a five-year, £24.7 million restoration programme and there are 26 full-time stonemasons employed by the cathedral, including (pictured top, left to right) Ian Gartside, Aaron Rowntree, Benn Swinfield and Sam Mathews.

©Richard Cannon/Country Life Picture Library

©Richard Cannon/Country Life Picture Library

Mr Harris is deservedly proud of the work they are doing, which is central to the project. ‘Working on a cathedral is the pinnacle of architectural stone-masonry,’ he enthuses.

‘It is a privilege to be able to work in the same way that people have done for thousands of years.’

Recommended videos for you

The sense of collaboration with those who have modelled and maintained the cathedral throughout its long history runs deep. ‘I can look at a stone produced a thousand years ago and understand the stonemason’s thought process,’ he says.

‘I see it in the tool marks, how it has been constructed and how they created certain shapes,’ Mr Harris explains.

©Richard Cannon/Country Life Picture Library

©Richard Cannon/Country Life Picture Library

Extremely technical jobs, such as the replacement of the Great South Window, pose a significant challenge.

‘One of the most complex aspects of our job is making amendments that are needed because the building has moved over time and working around repairs from across the centuries that haven’t been right,’ notes Mr Harris.

‘It’s a strange craft in some ways,’ he muses.

‘You have a huge team working together for one goal, but all on an individual basis. Each one of you takes personal ownership of a stone, working on it in a very focused way, then they all come together as something far greater.’

Find out more about the restoration work at