Perhaps sometimes as we extol the quality of historic tools and their manufacture, it’s rather easy to overlook the trades in which they were used.

Under the knowledgeable guidance of Dick Reid, the Northern Group were truly privileged to witness first hand, the outstanding skills used in the restoration of York Minster by its stonemasons and the work of York Glaziers Trust. This was a most popular and oversubscribed event but due to space and safety had to be limited to 24 members and guests. Needless to say we had a full house!

During the morning visit to the Minster Stone Yard, Danny Simpson (recently awarded the distinguished status of Master Craftsman) and his colleagues demonstrated the stonemasonry and stone carving skills employed to restore the intricate and delicate stonework of York Minster. Danny explained the process of converting blocks of locally quarried (Tadcaster) Magnesian Limestone into the moulded stonework and ornament that decorates the Minster. With gargoyles and grotesques peering out from every corner of the workshop, selecting a highlight was a difficult task, but ultimately the gaze of a life-size St Peter was always going to catch the eye.

It was a visit that clearly inspired those would-be carvers amongst the group as witnessed by several members exiting the yard carrying significant pieces of magnesian limestone – I should add retrieved from the Stone Yard skip with permission. Perhaps a miniature St Peter will be appearing somewhere in the Northern region soon!

Our lunch break was spent in Bedern Hall, a heavily restored fourteenth century survival from the medieval complex known as the Vicars Choral of York and a building that generated an interesting debate on the philosophy and techniques of building repair.

During the afternoon, we were given access to the workshop of the York Glaziers Trust, under the expert leadership of Sarah Brown. Sarah and two members of her team described the incredibly delicate and intricate process of restoring the magnificent great East Window, the largest stained glass window in the country. Their work involves not only repairing the damage caused by centuries of weathering and deterioration, but also unpicking inappropriate repair previously carried out to the window. The aim is to provide both enhanced clarity and legibility through the repair, cleaning and where necessary, replacement of the glazed sections.

One interesting aspect of their work is the very limited range of tools used in cutting the glass. The Trust is currently experimenting with a small range of irons, similar in shape to soldering irons that are believed to have been used during the medieval period to cut and shape glass. Although somewhat unwieldy in appearance for such delicate work, apparently the heated irons can be used to great effect.

Our thanks go to Dick for making the visit possible and also to all the staff at Bedern Hall and especially the expert Stone Masons and Glaziers who gave up their Saturday to make us so welcome.

It was great to see their skills and to understand that there is a continuing investment in sustaining these skills for the future conservation of such an iconic and internationally important Cathedral.

All in all, a great day and one that took us outside the normal comfort zone of planes, saws, braces and chisels.