Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Friday, 31 January 2014
Eating garlic in confined spaces
This somewhat strange photo is of a vertical and horizontal joint in the Bath Stone wall of a client's stable-block, and is only here to demonstrate the skill - or rather the patience - of old masons which is impossible to find these days.
It is difficult to see without any relative scale, but those joints are about one sixteenth of an inch thick. These days, a very tight joint would be about three-sixteenths of an inch, and the average acceptable one seems to be about three-eighths.
When you consider that each block is six inches thick, fourteen inches high and anything up to three feet wide, then you understand that each block must be absolutely perfectly square and plumb to achieve joints like this. You also begin to understand why - traditionally - all stonemasons are bad-tempered, taciturn sociopaths after about three years of practice. They spend all day repetitively fighting the material with no scope for losing without losing their jobs.
There is square yard upon square yard of this masonry in the stable-block alone, never mind the rest of the huge house and its other outhouses.
The rot began to set in when those crafty masons began to 'feather' the joints to be tight at the front and wide at the back, often needing oyster shells wedged in them to prevent the whole wall from leaning back in the wet mortar. These days, the blocks have to be 90 degrees front to back, so they keep it simple with half-inch joints and computer-controlled saws.
I visited the inside of the Great Pyramid in Egypt once, and at the bottom of the entrance shaft, the walls are made from huge blocks of granite, the same size and weight as steam-trains, all set in a 45 degree angle upwards, with no mortar at all in the beds. It is absolutely no exaggeration to say that you could not slide a cigarette-paper between any of them.
Most people stop at wondering how they moved the things into position, but what astounds me is how they could have cut these gigantic blocks so accurately with only copper chisels.
High up in one of the compartments just in front of the King's Chamber, there is a thousands of years-old shopping list painted onto the stone, and it is of the lunch for the hundreds of masons working there at the time.
It consists mainly of garlic and onions. They must have been - like the embalmers of the time - people to be shunned socially, and not just because of their state of mind.