York Minster to recruit five stonemasons to help preserve historic Gothic cathedral

For the centuries-old heritage of some of the nation’s most historic places of worship, they are the new generation of custodians.

And the ranks of apprentices who are being trained to conserve England’s cathedrals will be bolstered through a new investment running into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Among the beneficiaries is York Minster which is set to recruit another five apprentice stonemasons to help with the preservation of one of northern Europe’s largest Gothic cathedrals.

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The Minster already has a 15-strong team working in its stoneyard, including three apprentices, but the funding will allow another four recruits to be appointed during the next four years.

Emma Waitzmann, 21,an apprentice stonemasons at York Minster.

Among the existing apprentices who will also benefit is James Digger, who will have his existing four-year spell at the Minster extended by a further 12 months through the £700,000 windfall, which is being split between 10 cathedrals in England.

Mr Digger, 21, who is originally from Sawtry in Cambridgeshire, was inspired to take up a career as a stonemason after attending the WorldSkills competition in London a decade ago.

He has himself won acclaim in a contest organised by WorldSkills, which highlights the importance of learning skills to drive forward the economy, when he was awarded a gold medal in the national competition last year.

Mr Digger, who is currently working on an apex stone for the Minster’s South Nave Aisle, said: “It is such a privilege to be able to learn a craft that is centuries-old and help play a part in keeping it going into another generation.

Emma Waitzmann, 21, and James Digger, 22, both apprentice stonemasons at York Minste

“Stone masonry can be difficult, and there’s no faking it - if you make a mistake, then that can be heartbreaking. But I’ve learnt so much from the mistakes I have made, and it obviously makes you a better mason.

“We are based right next to the Minster, so if you ever need any inspiration you only have to look up and see the cathedral.

“Sometimes I have to take a step back and realise that what I am working on is actually going to be there for centuries to come. And that is an amazing feeling.”

The new funding of £700,000 has been provided by the Hamish Ogston Foundation, a London-based charity that provides support for heritage, health and music projects, and will enable the 10 cathedrals, including Canterbury, Durham and Lincoln, to offer training places for up to 25 craft trainees from September.

The money builds on the charity’s Covid-19 emergency grant of £535,000 which was announced in January, and is being delivered through the Cathedrals’ Workshop Fellowship.

Records show that a stoneyard has been linked to York Minster since at least the 11th century, before the current cathedral was completed in 1472.

Alex McCallion, the director of works and precinct at York Minster, said: “The funding gives us the opportunity to train the next generation of masons in an art that has been with the Minster since the beginning.

“The apprentices are very much part of the team, and are imbedded with the masons for all the major projects.

“This is a wonderful chance for us to bring some new recruits on board to help conserve the Minster for generations to come.”

The deadline for applications for the first apprentice, who will start in September on an annual salary of £9,438, is on Sunday, June 6. More details are available at www.yorkminster.org/jobs/