Real Workmanship


Much as I enjoy my bricklaying and however effective the results might be if you accept I am by no stretch of the imagination a master craftsman, my efforts are in no way comparable to the the workmanship involved in the above wall. My Mum’s house is the one in the top middle of the photo (this is the back; the front overlooks the sea) and after 27 years she is to have a neighbour on the other side. An early advantage is that drainage works have almost completely done away with the ‘lake’ that used to appear in her garden after periods of rain, which are frequent). But back to the wall:

The size of the plot is such that the wall may take as long to construct as the house itself, but such is the diligence of the labourer that it is clearly a labour of love. He learned his craft in Yorkshire, constructing dry stone walls, but now lives locally and his skills are in great demand. He has had some rest days over Christmas but would normally be working a full day on the task in hand. Unlike Yorkshire, the walls are built from local slate, collected and sorted prior to use. Closer inspection shows the construction, double skinned with slate rubble in between, and a profile wider at the bottom than the top.


The top will have slate pieces on edge in the Yorkshire style (below left) unlike the slate boulders used by the Irish itinerants who built my Mum’s wall – using the term ‘itinerants’ not in a derogatory way but meaning they travelled round building walls to an excellent standard but could give no indication of when they would be back next for additional work or repairs. You can also see how meticulous the work on this new wall is in comparison.


My Mum thinks he possibly constructs about a metre of wall in his working day but I will try and catch him in action while we are here and find out a bit more – most impressive! However, in the absence of huge quantities of stone (of any sort) in situ at home I shall be sticking to brick for my walls…

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23 Responses to Real Workmanship

  1. Eliza Waters says:

    An admirable craft, indeed!

  2. hoehoegrow says:

    Fantastic craftmanship, but, sadly, a dying skill I suppose. Happy New Year to you !

  3. The strange thing about stones – if they are natural – is that each is unique.

    • Cathy says:

      Yes, that is true – and the skill of the waller is in taking advantage of their uniqueness in how they are assembled into the wall. At least the recycled bricks I use for my bricklaying are not identical and have weathered in different ways so there will always be some irregularity

  4. Wow. I have never seen such a wall nor anyone building a wall like this. It is a work of art.

    • Cathy says:

      The smaller fields and presence of local stone lends itself to the tradition of walls in many parts of the UK. My Mum lives on a ‘slate’ island and slate was

    • Cathy says:

      Oops…. slate was quarried for many years and now there is slate ‘just lying about’ although it does belong to the landowner and would still need to be ‘purchased’

  5. A very impressive skill!

  6. Annette says:

    So interesting, Cathy, have I told you that hubby and I are passionate stone ‘wallers’? Guess living in Ireland and being surrounded by miles and miles of stone walls you don’t have a choice as they tend to be knocked over regularly by the storms. What fascinates me most is that different regions have developed different methods/ways of building. To get savvy we bought a great book ‘Irish stone walls’ by Patrick McAfee. You may know it. Have you ever been to Aran? Fab walls there too but the UK has some fine vernacular styles – great craft which I admire greatly.

    • Cathy says:

      Glad you found it interesting – it looks as if he is not working today and we won’t get to see him. It was so intriguing to see it partly constructed and notice the difference between it and the ‘Irish’ built original of my Mum’s. I knew you both enjoy a good project but didn’t know about your passion for stone walling. Have not been to Arran since a Geology field trip in around 1972 but I daresay we will take the camper van over some time in the future

  7. Brian Skeys says:

    This type of craftsmanship is not fully appreciated today.l sense a new project developing at R.I.T.G?

    • Cathy says:

      Yes, it would be easy just to notice these walls and take them for granted without considering their construction – but you humour me by suggesting a new project might be in the offing… 😄Joking aside, I did construct a ‘mock’ dry stone wall, the one behind the little stone trough with water running into it that is directly outside one of the kitchen windows…

  8. Rick Nelson says:

    As a retired dry stone waller and landscaper I can certainly appreciate the craftsmanship in your pictures. The end product is very different depending on the type of stone used, using slate for example gives some nice flat surfaces to build on whereas limestone is very irregular and therefore much more difficult to build with, it is quite likely that if your Mum’s waller learnt his trade on limestone in Yorkshire that he would find building with slate much easier. The local stone for me is millstone grit which varies in difficulty of use. You see some ridiculous prices quoted in articles about walling, one I saw was £270.00 per metre which, even if the price of the stone was included, would be about triple the going rate. Labour cost of a metre of walling standard height being approx.1.5 metres is usually between £30.00 and £60.00, you need to do 3-4 metres a day to make any money and there is 1 tonne of stone in each metre run.

    • Cathy says:

      Oh Rick, thanks so much for this comment – so interesting to read about your own skills and also about the relative costs, and the quantity of stone required! My Mum has unearthed an invoice for repairs on her wall and the costs you mention are similar. As you say, slate would make the job easier in many ways although he is using smaller and flatter piece than the gang that built my Mum’s and this gives it the meticulous finish. Thanks again for taking the time to comment

  9. Lovely work. It is so pleasing to the eye and how wonderful to be able to create such a thing. I have just returned from Bath and was admiring the walls there and earlier in the year when I was in Cornwall I saw some other dry stone walls which somehow are the same yet very different. All magnificent. Your mum must be thrilled.

  10. johnvic8 says:

    I fell in love with the stone walls I saw when visiting in New England. When we moved to North Carolina, I decided to build terraces and used Pennsylvania field stone. It was a totally new effort for me and I have to say it turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my gardening life to see those walls take shape…and hold up over the years.

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