Job spotlight: Rory Smith, stonemason, DBR

Stonemasonry foreman Rory Smith switched from working in marketing to forge a stonemasonry career which has included carrying out repairs to the Elizabeth Tower.

Marketing to stonemason is quite the job switch. How did that come about?

I went to university in 2001 and in hindsight I went for the wrong reasons: I went because the mindset at the time was that if you can go to university, you should. And although I had a great time and enjoyed myself, the direction it took my career wasn’t the right one.

I worked for about three years in a couple of different graduate jobs but became increasingly disillusioned. I realised that a sedentary office-based environment wasn’t for me, and that I needed something active, creative and outdoors.

However, it wasn’t until I read the obituary of a renowned letter carver from the village I was raised in that I even considered such a drastic change in career. That obituary in a local newspaper was a genuine eureka moment, and within hours of reading it I had arranged an interview for a place at the Building Crafts College in Stratford, east London, and told my wife about my intentions to give up my well-paid job and study for my NVQs.

“Stonemasonry within the historic building sector takes you to such a wide range of buildings, dealing with a broad array of materials and designs, that no two jobs are the same.”

Rory Smith, DBR

Describe a typical day in your job

One of the best things about my job is that there really isn’t a typical day in the conventional sense. We start early and usually work outside – however, other than that our days are pretty varied. Stonemasonry within the historic building sector takes you to such a wide range of buildings, dealing with a broad array of materials and designs, that no two jobs are the same.

One day you can be working a bit of stone in a banker shop and the next you can be installing stones on the roofs of a UNESCO World Heritage site. I might get the time to put in a shift on the tools personally, or I can be supervising the team I work with to ensure standards are met, or helping the design team with their ever-evolving plans.

You’ve been a stonemason for over 14 years now. Which is your favourite project?

For no reason other than simply a fascination with the sheer size and intricacy of the building, ever since I qualified as a stonemason I’ve had a strong desire to one day work on the Palace of Westminster.

Since 2011 I have been working there almost full time. Although I’ve worked on various parts of the estate such at the encaustic tiles relaying project, and the courtyards restoration, my favourite job must be the stonework repair of the Elizabeth Tower.

The iconic nature of the building – not to mention its abundance of highly intricate stone carvings – makes it a stonemason’s dream.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about becoming a stonemason?

It is a hard job that takes its toll on your body. Learning the skills needed and getting good at them is not easy, I can guarantee you will become disillusioned at some point. But if you stick with it, it’s worth it.

You will never be bored, and you will take great pride in the fact that you are doing an honest day’s work and contributing to historic heritage in a significant, and tangible, way.