has been used for centuries across different trades by individual craftsmen to denote key information including, in many crafts, to confirm who made the particular item.
Whether it was a stonemason’s mark showing where the finished stones went within the intended structure, or hallmarks on a wedding ring confirming the metal’s quality, or potter’s mark showing which pottery it was made in, the craftsman’s mark was more than just a mark.
Carpenters’ marks on floor joists, found during an archaeological excavation under Chatham Historic Dockyard, showed that 167 timbers from a warship had been recycled as floor joists and they were able to confirm that those same carpenters who had worked on those joists had also worked on Admiral Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory. The Craftsman’s Mark always represented more than just the mark and still does to this day.
Who has not heard of words and phrases such as: ‘hallmark’, ‘trademark’, ‘on your marks’, ‘hit your mark’, ‘mark my words’ and ‘make your mark in life’ ? The Craftsman’s mark and its purpose has found its place in our everyday language in such phrases and is still being used within various industries in many different ways to confirm attributes such as the quality of a particular piece, be it a piece of pottery or jewellery or some other piece of workmanship.
Over the last several centuries most of the trades or skills such as carpentry, pottery, jewellery, metalworking, stonemasonry and others had Guilds or Trade Associations to govern those employed within the trade. The Guilds and Trade Associations ensured that skills were retained and that the practitioners of the craft were appropriately qualified, skilled and authorised to do so.
In many of those traditional crafts, words such as Apprentice, Journeyman or Fellow of the Craft and Master were common and described the level of skill each practitioner of a craft had. The local or regional Guild or Trade Halls were where members of a craft met to discuss and manage their craft. Stonemasons and the history of the master builders from before medieval times are part of the history of Freemasonry in Britain.
In medieval times, unlike blacksmiths and bakers, a stonemason most likely had to travel from work site to work site and would arrive at a cathedral or an abbey asking for work, and their first port of call would have been the Mason’s Lodge. The stonemason might have tools; he might not, if times had been hard and he had been forced to sell them. He would prove his identity by knocking in a prescribed way, and answering a ritual set of questions and if he was lucky, the site’s Master Mason might set him on plain ‘walling’ with a few simple mouldings, to test his mettle; the Master Mason would check each piece he cut and if it was good the mason might gain advancement to more complicated work.
There was an interesting documentary, originally on BBC Four, about Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland.
It has been undergoing restoration for several years and modern equipment has enabled them to access areas of the Chapel which probably haven’t been seen since it was originally built by the stonemasons who worked on it.
There is a piece in the documentary where they discuss the original stonemasons of the Chapel, whether they came from France and how the current local village was where they originally built ‘lodgings’ for the ‘fellows of the craft’ to reside while they worked on the chapel.
There would have been apprentices, journeymen or fellows of the craft and master masons, some of whom were enabled to leave their marks in the stones. At Rosslyn Chapel many stonemasons’ marks have been found high up, perhaps put there as the last few stones were placed so that the master masons’ work was forever recorded.
Masons’ marks have been found all over Britain: in all the key medieval bastions of stone, and at first glance they may appear not much different to little geometric doodles but in reality they represent an identity, which would have been very important to the itinerant craftsman, it was their signature and their way of confirming this was the work completed by their hand.
The mark of the individual skilled person was in many cases unique to them and was a way for their audience or clients to know the quality of the work.
This is not peculiar to stone masonry – think of words still in common language today, for example, if you are wearing a wedding ring or piece of jewellery it is likely to have hallmarks – marks issued by the Assay Office or you might be lucky enough to own a piece of Clarice Cliff pottery, which if marked appropriately may be worth a pound or two, and this is still common today across many other crafts.
Indeed within the Mark use is made of The Masonic Alphabet. While it is little used in today’s modern world, it is still used within Mark Lodges to construct a Mark for a new member. Want to know more? Join us and learn about Mark Masonry and yourself.
As an apprentice the young craftsman was taught and expected to learn………… as journeymen or fellows of their craft they were are expected to work their craft and gain such experience as to enable them to become a master craftsman……………once a master of their craft they could achieve their own individual Mark through their craft Guild depending on the Guild’s criteria.
As a Master Mason, you have proved proficiency in the skills necessary to attain that rank and as such you are now enabled to seek your own individual mark.