Mentor opens new workshop

STEPHEN PULLINGER He is the mentor Tony Matless holds responsible for transforming him from a “real lad” into a conscientious, hard-working adult.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

He is the mentor Tony Matless holds responsible for transforming him from a “real lad” into a conscientious, hard-working adult.

So when the self-made businessman was ready to move into his new £750,000 village workshop there was really only one person he could invite to open it - the man who trained him with a firm but fair hand 40 years ago.

Mr Matless, 55, who now employs more than 20 people in his thriving memorials firm based in South Burlingham, near Norwich, recalls he was a nervous 15-year-old apprentice when he first met Charlie Taylor who was to train him in letter cutting at the city's Woods Memorials.

He said: “I was a bit of a lad then and I am not sure how things would have turned out without Charlie. He would cuff me round the head if I did the lettering wrong but I was very fortunate to be trained by him. He was highly respected.”

Wheelchair-bound Mr Taylor, who still lives near Norwich, came to open Abbey Memorials' new headquarters on his 97th birthday

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and choked with emotion as he unveiled a wall plaque stating: “This building was opened by Charlie Taylor, master letter cutter and mason.”

It was also a special moment for his daughter Doreen Woods, whose late husband John had been the third generation of the family to run Woods Memorials where Mr Taylor had worked all his life.

She said: “My father will tell you Tony needed a firm hand to kick him into gear, and Tony has never forgotten his gratitude for that. I lost mum five years ago and since then Tony has rung my Dad every week to see he's OK.”

Mrs Woods said her father had been skilled in all aspects of monumental masonry but had been forced to focus on letter cutting because of ill health. “His hands are too shaky now, but until five years ago he could still cut number plaques for houses,” she said.

Mr Matless, who has three children, said he worked at Woods for 19 years before running his own business out of stables and barns at his home, St Edmunds Farm, South Burlingham.

He bought a neighbouring industrial site 15 years ago and over the past 12 months has spent £1.3m on developing it. His expansion, which has taken the firm to a £500,000 annual turnover, has also involved taking over three other firms, Woods of Norwich, Great Yarmouth Marble and Granite and On Reflection.

He said: “The business has been revolutionised by new technology. Charlie will tell you he remembers taking headstones from Norwich to Wymondham by horse and cart. When I started, all the letters were hand-cut, but now 95pc of the work is done by machines.”

He said the modern-day use of lasers and sand-blast machines allowed “unbelievable detail” not possible by hand-cutting although there was still a place for the old skills.

“Every year since the opening of County Hall I have gone along to cut the name of the new chairman on the marble wall,” he said.

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