Mundesley Dad’s dream to teach building blocks of historic trade

It is one of civilisation's oldest professions and these master tradesmen were once revered as holding magical secrets to carry out their work.

Now one man is aiming to ensure the traditional skills of stone masonry continue - to protect the sorts of monuments, churches and cathedrals he has himself helped lovingly to restore in Norfolk and beyond.

John Briggs, 56, has been a stone mason for 40 years and wants to furnish youngsters with the same skills and expertise he has built up by opening a training school.

He followed his father - who trained at St Paul's Cathedral in London- into the trade and underwent a four-and-a-half-year apprenticeship in his native London before moving to north Norfolk and becoming self-employed.

Since moving to Mundesley he has worked on Greyfriars Tower in King's Lynn, Langley Abbey in Loddon and more recently St Michael Coslany in Norwich, adding to an impressive CV which includes jobs at Westminster University, Rochester Cathedral and Bodium Castle.


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It has been a long-held dream to open a training school, which would teach students by working with him and other tradesmen on site, as he believes the current training available to youngsters does not equip them with the necessary skills.

Mr Briggs said: 'It has always bothered me that the UK NVQs are considered a good way to teach and pass on the specialist knowledge required. With all due respect to the people who today are the trainers or teachers, most of them only had basic training.

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'I was very lucky because I was one of the first apprentices a lot of people had seen for over 20 years and I was surrounded by masons and tradesmen who enjoyed what they did and found great pleasure in passing on their knowledge.

'I have got a passion for it but no one teaches it the way I was.'

His plans have been fuelled by two trips to Europe to study stone masonry after he successfully applied for a travelling fellowship through the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust.

The trust awards grants to British citizens from varied backgrounds to travel overseas and bring back knowledge and best practice for the benefit of others in their profession.

And Mr Briggs' travels - which included France, Germany, Holland, Spain and Austria - armed him with a wealth of ideas to help his training scheme and stoked his passion to get it up and running.

'I wanted to see what was available in Europe for teaching and training compared to what we have got because we do get left behind,' he said. 'In France they have got a group called the Compagnons, which has got 40 huge training establishments all round France.

'They still do seven year apprenticeships and they encourage their apprentices to travel from one to the other - masons have to do a year at each so the experience they get going round is incredible.'

The dad-of-four's ultimate dream would be to set up a similar scheme in England, using the country's 42 cathedrals - most of which already have on-site workshops - as training bases.

For now, however, he is looking for a suitable premises where he could establish his academy and thought Norfolk and its plethora of churches provided a perfect base.

He added: 'My ideal is to find a church that needs a lot of work doing to it and set up a workshop inside and train people on site. Once you have got a premises the door opens.'

? Anyone interested in supporting Mr Briggs' scheme - or knows of a premises he could use - can email him on john.briggs18@btinternet.com

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