Shropshire Star

Challenge Dan: Learning stonemasonry with renowned sculptor Tim Royall

With the new year upon us, I've been resolved to expand my skill set and broaden my creative horizons. With this, I was delighted to find that my challenge these week would involve me trying my hand at an art form I'd always been intrigued by, but never dabbled in.


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Based at the Maws Craft Centre in Jackfield, sculptor and stonemason Tim Royall runs Memorial Arts – a business that sees him spending his time working on a wondrous range of sculpture projects, all of which result in beautiful and extraordinary creations.

"My practice is very varied, but principally focused on stone and stonemasonry," said Tim. "I do memorials and headstones and that kind of thing, but I also do architectural carving, restoration work, and what we call banker masonry, which is making heads, sills, window frames and that kind of thing, all in stone. But then I also do work in wood, and I also do work in bronze.

"I've been in creative industries for 35 years now. I trained as a furniture designer and maker, and then I worked various jobs – working in super yacht design, and as a jeweller for a while. Then 25 years ago I started teaching myself stone carving and sculpture, and I've carried on that journey since, teaching myself along the way."

A man whose passion for his craft is palpable, Tim remembers the moment when the wonder of stone carving first touched his imagination.

"I remember my grandfather taking me to Lichfield Cathedral when I was six, and I remember being awestruck, even as a six-year-old," he said. "It was this fantastic stone building with all these amazing sculptures and carvings all over it, and clearly something got into me."

Tim Royall in his studio in Jackfield

Tim's workshop is nothing less than a temple to the talent he has spent decades honing, with a variety of incredible works-in-progress adorning his benches. This week, it was my honour to be assisting him with one of his recent commissions.

"This is going to be a carving of a regimental crest – the crest of the XXXVI Sikh Regiment of 1897," he told me. "This particular regiment were famous for defending a fort. It was the Battle of Saragarhi, and 21 men defended a fort against literally thousands of Afridi and Orakzai Afghan marauders. They held the fort for several days. These guys fiercely and ferociously defended this fort right down to the very last man, and unfortunately they all did perish. But they held it long enough to get messages back to the next fort down the valley, and they protected all of those people.

"It's a really famous battle, and the client is a historian who is very interested in the story, and he wants this carving to commemorate that event.

"It will be carved in relief. I've got 50mm to play with for the carving, so that will allow me to really form it and lift it out off the stone."

I was braced to get stuck in, though admittedly a little nervous about making a mess of what Tim was surely destined to render into something beautiful. The last thing he needed was an unsteady set of hands tainting the project.

"I've already roughly outlined the design, so we're going to have a go at chipping away some of this material," he said, as I strapped on my safety goggles. "You're going to pick up a dummy (or a maul). It's a good, sturdy hammer and it's got a lovely 'thunk' to it. Hold your chisel with your little finger underneath and your thumb up near the head, and we're first of all going to start to outline it. You don't have to go that quickly, just work it along as you go; work along the stone rather than going down into the stone."

Dan gets to work

Under Tim's careful observation, I got stuck in. Instantly I was taken aback by two things. Firstly, the stone we were working with yielded to the chisel much more easily that I'd expected. But the second – and most important thing – was the complete and enveloping sense of calm I felt while working with my hands, all thoughts focused on the sculpture. It was like having the cares of the world physically lifted from your shoulders and being transported to a place that stress of any form could not permeate. There was simply me, the tools, and the stone – and I was in love with it.

Tim showed me a couple of techniques and my enjoyment of the task in hand only increased. If this was how Tim spent his days, I was jealous – but also, incredibly inspired.

"This is very good for the soul," he said. "This is an interesting point that people are sort of beginning to find again – that, actually, people are fundamentally 'makers'. A lot of our jobs these days have taken us away from that, and so people are kind of realising that there is a lot of joy and a lot of pleasure in making things. You see that with the growth of TV programmes dedicated to makers."

Though stonemasonry may not be the career that many of us would naturally pluck out and dream of as children, as Tim relates, vocations such as this are still great options that can be deeply rewarding professions.

"They are very viable careers," he said. "Not always easy, but they are very viable careers. To be competent, to be good at what you do, you've got to put in the time, but that's the same for every profession. It's just with making, you have something very, very tangible at the end that you can show to people that lasts. Our museums are full of things that people have made. We spend a lot of our time going to places to see how things were made and the history around them. The Ironbridge Gorge here is a perfect example – the birthplace of industry."

Though I handed work on our carving back to Tim before any fine-detail sculpting had begun, the time I spent in his workshop under his tutelage had opened an exciting new creative door that I was genuinely itching to leap through with gusto.

Working with the stone was soothing, engaging, and relaxing. Yet it was also wonderfully challenging, as all the worthiest pursuits surely are.

I fully intend to explore stonemasonry and sculpture as a new hobby, but, as Tim relates, for those interested in looking at it as a profession, there are various routes you can go down.

"If you're talking about stonemasonry particularly, the first thing you can do is look for apprenticeships," he said. "There's a definite shortage of young people coming along for apprenticeships, but they are available. And there are things like the Cathedrals' Workshop Fellowship, and they actually have a pathway that allows people to go and learn at a cathedral workshop.

"There are also then a couple of colleges. There's the Building Crafts College in London, there's Weymouth College, Bath College. Those are the formal training avenues, but there are still stonemasonry firms all around the country, and very often they are hiring."

There you have it, folks. If you're looking for a change of pace, and work that's good for the soul, it's out there.

For more information on Tim Royall and his exciting work, visit