Letter: Declining skills

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The Independent Online
Sir: Further to Lucinda Lambton's article on cemeteries ('To Paradise by way of Kensal Green', 3 March) the decline in the individuality of memorials can perhaps be linked to the de-skilling of production itself. Even in the 1960s, when I was serving a five-year apprenticeship, masonry yards were already in possession of stencil- based letter-cutting machines.

The customer was pushed toward machine-cut and preworked (standardised) memorials because new technology and uniformity was the way of all to come. Link this with the decline and de-skilling in the stone quarrying industry, the use of sterile marble and highly polished granite become an easy option to the masonry company. The company could then employ semi-skilled labour to operate the letter cutting machines at a lower rate of pay and, at the same time, obtain memorials at a lower cost per unit.

The standardisation of stone in churchyards also made 'easy work' for the church lay people and was soon incorporated into the church 'rules' for the erection of a memorial.

At the same time almost all the five-year apprenticeship schemes stopped or were phased out, thus the craft of cutting by hand was lost or taken away from the mason. However, the skill today lives on with 'artists'. It seems strange that when a person wishes to commission a memorial stone they employ an artist, not a stonemason.

Yours sincerely,

G. D. GUYATT

Master Mason

Waterside Stonemasons

Southampton, Hampshire

3 March

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