Guild of St. Stephen and St. George


Work with the guild is something Ishtar is very proud of. She has written several articles about her experience as a female stone mason. Below is an example.

From the outset we have been determined to do all we can to attract people from a diverse range of backgrounds to train with us. Although there are some qualified female stonemasons (including one trained by our Master Mason), regrettably the craft remains a predominantly male domain. However, things are beginning to change. Indeed, the Master’s ambition is to train the first ever female Master Mason. This is a piece written by one of our apprentices about her experience of beginning stonemasonry training with the Guild of St Stephen and St George… 
A chance encounter…
I discovered the Guild one afternoon while visiting St Clement’s Church with a friend. We had spent the day exploring the Anglia Square area with a mission to have all the fun there was to be had on a limited budget. We were greeted by the Clerk who introduced us to the concept of the apprenticeship and the guild and suggested we speak to the Master if we wanted to know more. As soon as the Clerk mentioned stonemasonry, I instantly felt intimidated because, lets face it, stonemasonry is not an occupation women have chosen historically. I have always been fascinated with the history of the stonemason’s craft. As a child I had on multiple occasions attempted to gain work experience in stonemason’s workshops but was often turned away. This looked like the perfect chance to finally hold a chisel and mallet. The Master was very encouraging while making sure I understood that it was physically demanding and no special treatment will be given for female apprentices.
Proving myself…
Armed with a water bottle and old clothes, I returned a few days later to try out. The Master wasted no time, he took me to a banker, handed me a chisel and mallet and gave me a task. Within minutes I found myself staring at a circle on a stone, holding heavy tools and once again I felt intimidated. To my left I saw a hard working apprentice carving and to my right a focused apprentice making tools. Seeing the two male apprentices at work made me feel like I had to try twice as hard. This is something many women who wish to do well in their occupation often find themselves doing. Working twice as hard helps them avoid being treated as if their gender is a barrier to success.
I hammered away and tried very hard to not break or chip anything. The Master saw that I was frantically trying to do more than my abilities permitted and reassured me that this was not an exam or a task designed to trip me. Not once was I made to feel that my attempt was inferior or that I did not belong working amongst men. Quite the contrary, I was encouraged to keep working and given tips on how to use the tools correctly. I felt supported and motivated by the Master whose tasks were tailored to my abilities. His lessons were many, but bite-sized. Later, he took me on a little walk to the cathedral talking about what it takes to become a stonemason and opened my eyes to details on the stone that once were invisible to me.
Carving out a career…
On my first day I walked back home with blistered palms, aching arms and shoulders, covered in dust but sporting the biggest smile. I came back every day since, learning new techniques and getting to know the stone. With every day I grew fonder and fonder of the dust and felt less intimidated by the tasks. I am not particularly strong and had no experience using the tools but the physical pain disappeared within days due to the Master’s advice on how to correctly hold the mallet and chisel. It is going to be a long and arduous journey to becoming a stonemason but with the support that I have been receiving to far, I am sure it will also be a pleasurable one.
A sense of pride and belonging…
I wasn’t made to feel less capable due to my gender and in fact, I felt a sense of loyalty towards the Guild. As time went by and I was finally accepted as an apprentice, I learned more about our Guild. I feel honored to have the opportunity to assist in re-establishing the Guild in Norwich and soon felt immense pride in wearing our hat. This is a unique apprenticeship with the potential to preserve ancient traditions and attract positive attention to Norwich and the world of the stonemasonry craft.

(originally from: Apprentice Stonemasonry – A Female Perspective)

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