Celebrating 30 years of SPAB Fellowship

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the SPAB Fellowship. Founded to nurture craftspeople at the beginning of their career and introduce them to building conservation whilst also allowing them to develop their own craft. This unparalleled experience encourages hands-on learning and a passion for building conservation. We’ve trained over 100 Fellows, from all over the country, working in many different trades. SPAB Fellows are some of the most dedicated and knowledgeable craftspeople, and work on some of the most important buildings in the UK.

We’re celebrating with three videos featuring some Fellows from the past 30 years. Last autumn we caught up with them at their place of work: Alex Gibbons (cob builder, 2014 Fellow), Helen Bower (stained glass conservator, 2001 Fellow) and Ray Stevens (stonemason, 1987 Fellow).


Ray Stevens, stonemason at Calke Abbey


Alex Gibbons, self-employed cob builder based in Cumbria


Helen Bower, stained glass conservator, filmed at York Glaziers Trust


Read more on the background of the Fellowship in the spring 2017 issue of the SPAB Magazine, reaching SPAB members by mid March.


Congratulations to our ‘graduating’ Fellows!

In November the SPAB, Fellows and their families were welcomed to the Carpenters’ Company Hall in London for this year’s Fellowship Presentation. Joe Coombes-Jackman (blacksmith), Ben Hornberger (carpenter) and Emma Teale (stone conservator) were awarded their certificates by the Chairman of the William Morris Craft Fellowship Founding Committee, Lord Cormack. After presenting their certificates and book prizes he noted that they were now part of the illustrious SPAB Fellowship alumni and assured them that “once a Fellow, always a Fellow”.

Fellows with Scholarship and Fellowship organiser, Pip Soodeen.

Fellows with Scholarship and Fellowship organiser, Pip Soodeen.

The Carpenters’ Company award was presented by the company’s Master, Michael Neal, to the SPAB’s 100th Fellow, Ben Hornberger. Ben thanked those that hosted the Fellows during their countrywide conservation tour, saying that they “pass on a lifetime of knowledge, they cook you meals and they welcome you into their home”. Unsurprisingly, Ben said, it was the carpentry-focussed visits that stood out the most for him.

Ben Hornberger, SPAB's 100th Fellow, giving his speech

Ben Hornberger, SPAB’s 100th Fellow, giving his speech.

Lord Cormack concluded the presentation by saying that the Fellowship “will flourish, our marvellous built heritage must endure for our children’s children”. The SPAB wishes this year’s Fellows the best of luck with their endeavours and looks forward to introducing 2016’s Fellows in the new year.

Lord Cormack giving his opening address at the Carpenters' Company Hall

Lord Cormack giving his opening address at the Carpenters’ Company Hall


Some of the SPAB Fellows from the last 29 years

Some of the SPAB Fellows from the last 29 years

Scholars and Fellows: Where are they now?

We recently caught up with 2012 Fellow and stonemason, Samantha Peacock. She talks about the survival of traditional craft techniques and their important place in conservation.

I currently work as a conservation stonemason in the south west. Having worked and trained as a banker mason (mostly workshop-based), I increasingly found the philosophies and complexities of the issues surrounding the conservation of historic buildings more challenging and appealing than the new-build industry. I was encouraged to apply for the Fellowship by my then employer, Simon Armstrong of Wells Cathedral Stonemasons, and was awarded the William Morris Craft Fellowship in 2012.

The Fellowship was fantastic. As a group of 6, three Fellows and three Scholars, we travelled the country, learning about the many building materials involved in historic building conservation –from dry stone walling in the Lake District to wood carving in Stirling, Scotland; we visited forges, threw bricks, split roofing slates, cut mortise and tenons at a timber framers and even thatched a cottage. We visited many historic buildings where we could discuss their conservation and repair with the architect or engineer.

Samantha helping to conserve the 14th-century statue of St Peter at York Minster

Samantha helping to conserve the 14th-century statue of St Peter at York Minster

My favourite part of the Fellowship was spending a summer evening in the Welsh countryside burning limestone to make lime with the architect Stafford Holmes. Not only was it great fun, but I got to really understand a material that I use frequently in my work.

After the Fellowship I worked at York Minster, experiencing the issues of historic building conservation first hand. I was part of the team of masons repairing the Great East Window and conserving the original 14th century statue of Saint Peter.

Conservation is not just the physical act of repairing the historical fabric of a building but it’s also about preserving our built heritage for future generations. The issues of conservation can also be found in a form of intangible heritage, such as in the arguments of authenticity and significance, and how these are interwoven into the tradition, continuation and re-enactment of traditional craft skills. These skills can only be passed on if building material is replaced and opportunities are created for craftsmen to practice their trade. Balancing both these concerns often creates a conflict of interest between the replacement and retention of the fabric of a building. Wanting to explore these arguments further I undertook a master’s degree in the Archaeology of buildings at the University of York.

I am now self-employed and I have worked with a small conservation company, Minerva Stone, on a number of churches such as St Peter and Paul in Kilmersdon and St Mary the Virgin at Yarlington, combining both conservation and replacement of stonework. Over the summer of 2015 I have been back working with Wells Cathedral Stonemasons on the 18th century coade stone panels of the Radcliffe observatory in Oxford. The work I do is often varied from banker work, letter cutting and conservation, to setting out and carving pinnacles, but it will be difficult to beat working at York Minster.

The Fellowship has shaped my career immeasurably. It directly influenced the direction that my career has taken and given me the confidence to be assertive and confident in my craft.