CORK stonesmason Tony Murphy is lending his skill and creativity to a Live Build project at Dumfries House estate in Ayrshire in picturesque south-west Scotland.
In 2007, Prince Charles reopened the 18th century stately home set on a 2,000 acre site to be used to provide learning opportunities that promote confidence and personal development as well as to offer skills and training to open up future employment opportunities.
The Live Build is part of an eight month Building Crafts Programme run by The Prince’s Foundation for Building Community (PFBC). The programme includes a three-week summer school which Tony, 33, from Youghal, recently completed.
The Live Build team comprises of three stonemasons, five woodworkers (who are a combination of furniture makers, carpenters and timber framers), a blacksmith, traditional lime plasterer and a bricklayer.
They are all responsible for the construction of a series of pergolas designed to offer shelter to some of the 130,000 visitors who enjoy the walled garden on the sprawling estate each year, as Tony explains.
“Over ten weeks, we are going to build two matching ornate stone and wooden shelters (pergolas) for the ornate walled garden here on Dumfries estate,” he said.
“It will be a combination of stone work with columns and ornate work with a wooden roof and with wooden ornate features. There will also be some furniture made specifically for the interiors. They will basically be open shelters. There is a beautiful walled garden on the estate but being Scotland, it rains! So these structures will allow people to enjoy the garden when the weather doesn’t want them to.”
Tony has been studying part-time at The Building Crafts College in London for the last four years and is due to graduate in November. It wasn’t until Tony moved to London eight years ago that he developed an interest in stone crafting and masonry.
“When I moved to London initially, I was working at an office job in a business school which was really just to pay the bills.
“I started going to evening classes just to learn new things and as much for my own sanity if anything. I wanted to feel like I was doing something productive with my time. So I did some courses in life drawing and sculpture and a few other bits and pieces.
“Then I did a course in stone carving and after that I signed up for another 10 weeks and another 10 weeks... and before I knew it, I had been doing classes for two years. I guess at that stage I began to realise that I really loved it.
“The thing for me about the evening classes was it was never really about learning a skill. It was more about enjoying it and having fun.
“But I knew that if I wanted to progress I would need to go on and study properly part time. I felt like I needed someone to stand over my shoulder and tell me what to do again.”
Tony’s first job was on an old courthouse in London where he spent much of his time stripping glue and paint from old stone stairwells and in April last year he carried out work on the pinnacles of Canterbury Cathedral.
“The thing that is amazing about stone is you just get such a sense of connection because you look at pieces of worn stone from 500 years ago or more and you can see the chisel marks. You get a real sense of the workmanship from a bygone era because you can see it right in front of you which is amazing!”
So where does Tony’s creative side stem from?
“My dad used to work in construction before the crash in 2008 so there is a little bit of history there. My family have always been very supportive of what I’ve been doing.”
Dumfries House Estate is an incredibly interesting place with a rich and fascinating history and is home to an outstanding collection of 18th century furniture including fine examples of the work of Thomas Chippendale.
According to Tony it is also an extremely important resource for the local economy.
“It is the second largest employer in the area which is a big deal because the mines, which employed many people closed down in the 1980s. The area in general was hit very hard by the recession of the ’70s and ’80s so the work that the estate does and provides is really valued.”
Since its regeneration over the past 10 years, Dumfries House estate has a craft centre, a catering and hospitality school and an outdoor centre and swimming pool. There is also a learning farm where children from cities can come along to see where eggs come from and it even has its own whiskey distillery.
“There is a huge amount of activity and different things happening on the estate which is really interesting but aside from that it is just a very beautiful place,” says Tony who is excited about working on the Live Build.
“To work from design, on paper to completion on the Live Build at Dumfries House will be incredibly satisfying. When we first arrived at Dumfries House, we were given a tour of the Live Build projects from previous years and it was like a shot of adrenaline in the arm. I’m really looking forward to doing similar work on crafted architecture.”
For more information, visit www.dumfries-house.org.uk
He’s worked on Canterbury Cathedral and his latest project is a stately home owned by Prince Charles — JENNY REGAN talks to Youghal stonemason Tony Murphy