2019 SPAB Fellows begin conservation 'grand tour'

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Stonemason Sean Henderson, 27, carpenter and joiner Sam Matthams, 29, stonemason Luke O’Hanlon, 33, and bricklayer Matthew Wilson, 42, are the latest recruits to a unique educational scheme designed to nurture and develop the hands-on skills needed to care for old buildings. Chosen as the 2019 William Morris Craft Fellows, the talented group has now begun the countrywide conservation ‘grand tour’.

Since 1987 the SPAB has organised the Fellowship to foster a new generation of outstanding craftspeople with the knowledge and expertise to pass on essential skills for working with historic buildings. The prestigious scheme runs in parallel to the SPAB’s Scholarship programme for architects, surveyors and engineers.

The aim is for the Fellows to gain broad, practical experience and knowledge to enable them to bring a strong awareness of craft diversity to their future professional roles. The Fellowship also equips them with the skills necessary to lead and manage historic building contracts, while deepening their understanding of the importance of gentle repair - the keystone of the SPAB approach.

In March, our 2019 Fellows (and Scholars) began their six-month itinerary of site, workshop and studio visits. The Fellows have already visited projects at the Palace of Westminster and Hampton Court Palace, as well as small-scale, domestic projects in central London. The group will move further around the country over the next 9 months, visiting significant conservation projects to learn about traditional building techniques from skilled craftspeople with established careers in the field.

Interest in craft building skills is steadily increasing as people turn to more sustainable and traditional methods of construction. Yet, ironically, these same skills are under threat as fewer young people are encouraged to pursue careers in these areas. Nationally, heritage bodies are concerned that there are simply not enough people training to continue Britain’s distinctive buildings crafts and each year SPAB’s Fellowship becomes more relevant. Three or four Fellowships are awarded each year depending on available funding.

As usual, the SPAB’s 2019 Fellows are a committed and talented group (see biographies below), with each individual looking to enhance a particular skill and further their knowledge of traditional craft techniques.

The SPAB is grateful to the following organisations for their generous support: the Drake Trust, the Francis Coales Charitable Foundation, Historic England, Historic Environment Scotland, Owlsworth IJP, Stuart Heath Charitable Trust, the Radcliff Trust, the William Morris Craft Fellowship Trust and anonymous donors.


2019 Fellows’ Biographies

SEAN HENDERSON                           

Stonemason, Matthias Garn Master Mason & Partner, York
Age: 27

BSc Psychology, University of Glasgow,  2009-2013
NVQ Level 2 & 3 Banker masonry distinction, York College, 2015-2018
Level 3 Heritage Skills (masonry), Bedale College, 2017-2018

Sean has covered a wide variety of masonry repair techniques whilst conserving church buildings with 2001 Fellow Matthias Garn in York: carving masonry components, mixing and applying lime mortars, conservation and resetting of monuments and war memorials as well as stone cleaning. Conscious that he has not taken a direct route into the trade, Sean has spent much of his own time travelling to gain experience in different environments, including working in Germany at Ulm Minster and Freiburg Minster. Sean grew up in Glasgow, moved to the west coast of Scotland and now lives in York. Embarking on the Fellowship, Sean hopes to further develop a robust and honest approach to his own work and his intuition for problem solving in masonry.


SAM MATTHAMS                                                  

Carpenter/Joiner, Self-employed, Essex
Age: 29      

Intermediate Construction Award Site Carpentry, Colchester Institute, 2006 - 2008
Intermediate Construction Award Bench Joinery, Colchester Institute, 2006 - 2008
National Diploma in Construction, Colchester Institute, 2008 - 2010
Ba Hons Architecture, Plymouth University RIBA PtI (1st class), 2010 - 2013

Realising his skills and appreciation for hands-on crafts early in life, Sam started work at a firm of furniture restorers at 15, which he combined with college courses in carpentry and joinery. When the antiques market slowed in the recession, Sam decided to expand his interest into the built environment and went on to study Architecture at university, maintaining his hands-on approach as much as he could through model making and design. After finishing his degree Sam continued to use his practical skills, taking the opportunity to learn plumbing and heating whilst establishing his workshop. His work now focuses predominantly on bespoke and period joinery and he has developed a preference for conservation. Much of his spare time is spent designing furniture and wall art or restoring antique tools. Sam enjoys his work and finds great appreciation for the craftsmanship and structural integrity of historic buildings.


LUKE O’HANLON                                                             

Stonemason, Cadw North Wales
Age: 33

NVQ Level 3 Heritage Construction (Stonemasonry) Tywi Centre, 2012 -2013
Dry Stone Walling Intermediate Lantra Award Level 2, 2013
SQA Unit 1,2&3 ScQF level 5 Conservation Masonry
Scottish Lime Centre Trust 5 day course, 2016
CSkills Level 3 Award Understanding Repair of pre 1919 Buildings, 2016
City & Guilds level 3 2D CAD, 2017                 

Feeling privileged in his role as a conservation mason, Luke sees his future in the repair of old buildings. Over the course of his career so far he has worked on many Scheduled Ancient Monuments, listed buildings and all of Wales’ World Heritage Sites. Working with Cadw, he has specialised in the conservation of ruinous monuments including: dry stone wall consolidation at Dolbadarn Castle; rough racking core work at Denbigh Castle; repointing on Caernarfon town wall and at numerous towers on Conwy town walls. Luke’s interests range from experimental archaeology and timber framing to digital documentation using photogrammetry, greenwood crafts and flint knapping.


MATTHEW WILSON                                                                    

Bricklayer, Bow, London
Age: 42

NVQ Level 3 Brickwork Blackburn Technical College, 1995-1998
London Academy of Music & Drama Diploma Professional Acting, 2001-2004      

Matt was drawn to the building industry at the early age of 15. Working first under his stepfather, he then worked his way up from apprentice bricklayer to foreman with a small building contractor in Whalley, Lancashire. In a self-employed capacity he has worked on larger sites around the country including Wembley and Arsenal stadiums, Foyles Bookstore, the Sri Lankan embassy and Inverness train station. He has developed an appreciation of design and craft through his building work and of the arts via his acting career. Matt recognises how the lives of the working people he has encountered have shaped him and it is against this backdrop of nurturing and experience that he laments a crafts skills shortage and fewer young people entering the trade. He will use the Fellowship to further his understanding of sensitive building repair and his skills with lime mortars, to become part of the next generation caring for old buildings and passing this on to others.

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