Masons in Medieval England were responsible for building some of England’s most famous buildings. Masons were highly skilled craftsmen and their trade was most frequently used in the building of castles, churches and cathedrals.
Masons were highly skilled craftsmen and they belonged to a guild. However, a mason’s guild was not linked to just one town as the members of the masons guild had to move to where building was required. The Mason’s Guild was an international one and even in Medieval England, the guild was sometimes referred to as the Free Masons as ‘free’ stone was the name of stone that was commonly used by masons because it was soft and allowed the masons to complete intricate carvings.
The main entrance to Amiens Cathedral
Masons tended to lead nomadic lives. They went where there was employment. Other tradesmen could effectively stay where they were as there was enough trade for their skill to allow them to settle. However, masons had to move on to their next source of employment once a building had been completed – and that could be many miles away.
A mason who was at the top of his trade was a master mason. However, a Master Mason, by title, was the man who had overall charge of a building site and master masons would work under this person. A Master Mason also had charge over carpenters, glaziers etc. In fact, everybody who worked on a building site was under the supervision of the Master Mason. He would work in what was known as the Mason’s Lodge. All important building sites would have such a building that served as a workshop and a drawing office from which all the work on the building site was organised. Anyone who arrived at the building site and claimed that they were a master mason would be tested by the Master Mason and by master masons already working on the site. By doing this they ensured that quality was maintained – and that they would have a good chance of future building work.
A mason would have an apprentice working for him. When the mason moved on to a new job, the apprentice would move with him. When a mason felt that his apprentice had learned enough about the trade, he would be examined at a Mason’s Lodge. If he passed this examination of his skill, he would be admitted to that lodge as a master mason and given a mason’s mark that would be unique to him. Once given this mark, the new master mason would put it on any work that he did so that it could be identified as his work.
There can be no doubt that masons in Medieval England were highly skilled craftsmen. The testimony to their work stands today in the numerous cathedrals and castles that still exist.