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Story of a Medieval Stonemason

My name is James Anderson. I am aged twenty one and I am an apprentice stonemason in my 6th year of learning. In one year from now I will be tested by the Master Mason and if my masterpiece is of sufficient quality I shall become a journeyman mason. I shall then go on my travels to see the world and earn a good wage.

I have travelled to Dublin from Bristol with my master, William Scott to work on Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin. Last year in the year 1562a portion of the nave roof vaulting collapsed and extra masons were required to come to Dublin to carry out the repair work on it.

It is early in the morning and the incoming tide has brought us up the river Liffey to dock at Merchant’s quay. We have sailed from Bristol on a merchant cog carrying a cargo of wine from France and iron from Spain.

There is great trade between Bristiol and Dublin and the captain of the ship will be bringing a cargo of cow hides and wool back to England to be worked on by the craftsmen there.

Our ship carried a number of crossbowmen in the fore castle because of reports of pirates active in the Irish sea but luckily we did not need their services on our voyage to Dublin.

The captain has paid the mooring tax of 2d and we are now ready to disembark from the ship. The heavy bags containing our masonry tools and other belongings are hoisted on to the quay by the winch-men and we are now ready to go ashore.

My master sets me to watching our belongings in case there are thieves about and he sets off to find our lodgings. He has not far to go as we will be lodging with Mrs. Mary Malone, a Catholic widow of twenty seven years of age and with no children. Mrs. Malone presides over a tavern and lodging house of good repute on Winetavern street called The Eagle.

My master arrives back on the quayside with a servant from the tavern to help us with our baggage and tools. We arrive at the Eagle and are shown to our chamber by Mrs. Malone. She appears to be a respectable widow and her house has a good reputation. We inspect our chamber and find it clean and free of vermin.

The chamber has a hearth with a fire already burning and we inform her that we are happy with it. There is a fine canopy bed for my master with a tuckle bed underneath for me to sleep on.

After resting and refreshing ourselves for the afternoon we go down to the tavern for our evening repast. We purchase a penny’s worth of tavern tokens which should keep us in ale for a fair amount of time.

My master generously gives me a fair share of the tokens for which I am very thankful having a good taste for ale. We have been warned that not to drink the water from Dublin’s rivers, the Liffey and the Poddle is salty, both rivers being tidal.

We sit down at our table and order ale and wait for our meal to be served. The ale is strong and dark and gives us great refreshment. Looking around we see a good mix of people from the City of Dublin.

There are clerks from Four Courts, which is close by and various traders from High Street. There are not Irish from outside the walls of the city but we are told they are wild men dressed in heavy matles, saffron coloured tunics and with long hair and heavy mustaches.

Mrs. Malone has ordered in some fine white wheat bread from the baker’s ovens outside the old walls at Cook Street which is better than the usual coarse bread made from oats and rye. The ovens are outside the walls because of the danger of fire spreading to the wooden buildings.

If a cook causes a fire he could be tried and convicted and his punishment could be as serious as being flung in a fire himself! We are also served roasted pork and rabbit highly flavoured with sage and rosemary.

We retire early to our chamber as we have an early start to our day and we need to be clear headed as we are meeting with the Master Mason of Christchurch, Robert Shaw. We rise at dawn and break our fast with some of yesterday’s bread and a cup of ale.

We walk the short distance to the Cathedral. The cathedral is said to have been founded in 1030 by Dunan, the first bishop of Dublin and the old Norse king Sitric. The old wooden cathedral was replaced by a stone building in the year 1180s. The cathedral is surrounded by many small lanes with full of shops, taverns and houses of ill repute.

We meet the Master Builder, Robert Shaw at his lodge house on the grounds of the church. He knows my master from working with him previously and has asked him to come to Dublin to help repair the roof of the cathedral which.

When the roof collapsed it destroyed the tomb of Strongbow. Strongbow was the name given to Richard FitzGilbert deClare, who came to Ireland in 1170 to help King Diarmait McMurchada reclaim the throne of the province of Leinster.

He was promised the hand of Diarmait’s daughter Aoife if he helped him reclaim his kingdom from Ruaidri Ua Conchobair, the high king of Ireland. While on campaign in Connaught Diarmuid died and Strongbow claimed the title over the head of Diarmuid’s son, Donal.

We carry our tools to the lodge as we are to work on shaping stone to repair the buttresses supporting the roof. I have my own set of tools including my heavy lump hammer, a square to make sure my right angles are correct an various chisels for shaping and carving stone.

I am put to rough shaping work on the stone after which my master will finish and smooth the stone to a very high level. He will leave his mark on all the stone we work on so it can be identified as his if needs be later.

I will get my own mark when I finish my masterpiece and become a journeyman in my own right.

A year has now passed since we arrived in Dublin. We have a steady routine and are very comfortable in our lodgings. On Sundays we attend mass with the guild of stonemasons in the Church of XXXXXX. Once a month we attend the fair in the Cornmarket outside the city’s old walls.

A charter was granted for the fair in 1215 by King John. We pass through the Newgate where prisoners are held and always look to see if there is anybody locked in the stocks for punishment.

At the fair we are barbered by the barer surgeon who also looks after any small ailments which we might suffer. There is always great entertainment to be had with tumblers, acrobats, bear baiting and performing monkeys.

Today I am being examined by my master and the Master Mason, Robert Shaw. I show them my skills and they place very close attention to the finer work of tracery and carving.

I am told that I have passed the exam and will now be presented my my own mason’s mark. I am a journeyman and can travel freely to work at my chosen trade.

That night I tell my master that I am to journey to London as there is much work to be had there.

We have a great feast to celebrate and judging by the way my master has been looking at Mrs. Malone I expect we shall be celebrating another great feast, a marriage, before too long!

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