Set in Stone

Stories, moments, and landmarks characterize our British identity. We treasure the ancient literature that depicts the eras gone by, and our historic buildings also tell tales of time, educating us on the unique British history we all love. Hand Picked Hotels’ buildings are a fine example of history. But how do we preserve and protect?

As custodians to some of the UK’s most historic buildings, striving to protect, restore, and nurture them is no mean feat. Working closely with our property teams, Richard Heather CEO and founder of Meister Masonry, gives us his insight into the importance and challenges of preserving our beautiful buildings.

Having grown up with the backdrop of Gloucester Cathedral, Richard had a unique insight into the continuous restoration of this ancient and beloved building with everyone, from the maintenance staff to the stonemasons, responsible for its preservation. This early experience clearly laid the foundations for his career in stonemasonry.

During his training at Gloucester Cathedral, Richard described how the Head Mason would insist that everything was done by hand to understand the intricacies of the stone. There were times his knuckles would be rubbed raw from learning the craft. However, this painstaking process helped to establish his commitment to preserving these historic buildings for future generations, ensuring that our designs today become the classics of tomorrow.

Hand Picked Hotels were stately homes once upon a time and it is so lovely that the proprietors of Hand Picked Hotels, Guy and Julia Hands, have taken these exquisite buildings that were previous homes and made them open to the public, so all can enjoy their grandeur and beauty.

Ettington Park is a shining example of this dedication, but maintaining the property and preserving its former glory is a constant challenge. As Richard explains, modern-day stone masonry still uses traditional skills, but is more efficient thanks to cutting-edge facilities and advanced technology. However, invaluable lessons have been learnt proving some more traditional methods are best. For example, early builders used lime mortar to bind the stonework, but during the Victorian era, cement was considered more suitable because of its strength and quick curing period. However, cement mortar acts as a ‘plug’ preventing the movement of moisture within the building stone fabric and during freezing weather, this can cause immense damage to the stonework.

Richard points out many examples where techniques have improved. “For example, masonry requires stones to be fixed together using a peg or pin that locks the units together. Historically, iron or ferrous metal was used, but over time, the metal would oxidize, causing it to rust and expand, blowing the stone, which is why modern stone masons use non-ferrous alternatives.”

These themes of evolution and adaptation are recurring; while many stonemasonry principles and methods remain the same, the emergence of modern materials means today’s stonemasons can minimize unnecessary damage to properties they work on. “It is quite extraordinary how our ancestors managed to create such works of art with stone back then. The one thing they did have on their side was time. We have had to learn to work more efficiently, as in modern day driven by commercial constraints, we have less time.

“Watching the drawing and vision of an architect coming to life is a magical experience. Every restoration decision is made with sensitivity, care, and expertise, weighing up the safety aspects with cosmetic requirements and ensuring any work is purely essential. Assessing the stonework is a painstaking process, and one problem can easily lead to another,” but as Richard explains, “it is about preserving the stone and giving life to the buildings so more people can enjoy these majestic landmarks for the decades ahead. One stone at a time.”