Streatham Bay returned

Square Bay Window

Streatham is a huge suburban area of South London which has become very desirable. The houses are mainly Victorian, Edwardian and early 20th Century. I was asked to turn this modest bay back to its former glory. However, the owners wanted to paint the stone and retain the pebble dash, which to remove properly is an arduous and expensive process.

1980s style treatment to a Victorian bay

Design and Build

We had to take into account the alterations made to the bay and as with all these things you never know what lies underneath. I was expecting the stone lintels to be still there, but instead we had a  concrete lintel and bricks above. All this had to come out. The roof was self supporting as is often the case, but old and slightly sagging, but the sides would keep it up anyway. Our new stonework would prop it up.

One of the freshly worked capitals in my workshop

Rush before Christmas

The owner who has a young family, was very keen to have the works completed before Christmas, for obvious reasons. Normally I would put the window in and the window maker would come and measure the reveals and go off and make the windows. In this case however, he and I had to work together so the windows would go in immediately after.

Any builder is trained to make everything perpendicular and horizontal, but when you are dealing with old buildings there is barely a right angle to be had, so adding new work you have to go with the building and meet it half-way. As my old tutor used to say, ‘if it looks right it IS right’. This is the reason I could not give exact dimensions of the reveals before they were made. The walls were leaning back into the house and in to the centre.

The joiner and myself agreed on the dimensions of the whole reveal and the box frame was manufactured and installed, then my pillars went up immediately later that morning.

Bay as naked stone having just been completed with wooden boarding inside.

The Finished Bay

We used bricks to fill in the sides and then the sashes were installed by the joiner, and the builders restored the pebble dashing and the whole was painted. While I wouldn’t recommend painting or pebble dash for stonework, everyone has done a good job. I was impressed with the window maker who was an easy person to work with (not everyone is!). All completed before Xmas. From the demolition of the bay to the installation of the stone, took 3 days.


Memorial stone in slate

Welsh Slate

I was commissioned by family friends to inscribe a memorial for their daughter. Stone used was Welsh slate (the best to letter-carve).

I received the slab from Wincilate based in North West Wales, known for providing for the finest letter carvers in the UK. It is incredibly fine relatively soft and unlike other slates which can pluck, Welsh slate doesn’t pluck quite so much.

Design Process

Although the end design was relatively simple, the process was quite painstaking. The clients were very particular about the shape which was a Drop Arch (where the radial points of the arch sit outside the opposite springing points) which was then repeated as a moulding around the edge.

The typeface was Trajan Roman and the type would be justified.

The final design

Starting the masonry

I designed the type by hand and transferred it to the slate using carbon paper. The vertical lines are guides for me when carving.

I started the carving tentatively.

Below, the (almost) finished lettering

I then gilded the slate with 24ct gold leaf using a 3 hour size.

The stone was installed in Cambridge by myself and my stepson Ben.



Ball Finials

What is a Ball Finial?

Ball finials. They’re everywhere. Usually on gate piers – but a masonry feature that provides a function – as they all do – of compression or weight being applied to a wall or pier to stabilise the structure. Over time, these functional features were increasingly decorated and became the crocketted spires on churches and cathedrals or as in this case ball finials.

Rust Makes Work for Masons

I was called in February to a lovely house in leafy East Sheen where during a storm one of the balls had fallen off its stand or base and smashed a stone bench. What had happened was the mild steel pin attaching the ball to the base had rusted and burst the stand. Quite a weight with these balls: around 50kgs falling from a height of 3 meters. That’s going to do some damage.

Remnants of the stone bench smashed by the ball

Cracked and patched up bases. The repairs have failed and the balls are loose on top. A precarious and dangerous situation.

What was weird was the bases were comprised of several parts (see below).

Close up of one of the bases with the rusted pin attached to the ball (it’s upside down), Note the roundel is a separate piece to the neck of the base.

Construction of New Bases

I wanted to make a proper base out of one piece of stone. It would be better structurally and aesthetically. In fact, as we took the bases down they had a separate base plate, bottle neck and roundel. Altogether 4 parts. An absolute mystery to Fyfe and myself.

So here’s how we make a new one:

All masonry starts with a block of stone ‘sawn 6 sides’ – nice and square. We apply templates and remove stone in geometrical blocks

This is the top of the roundel and also provides a point of contact for the middle of the neck


Quite a bit later and the basic form is being revealed.


A finished finial base. 2 more to go!

How to lift a ball into position

With a square object, lifting straps can be wrapped round which bite and will not slip as it is raised off the ground. A smooth round object presents new problems where the straps have zero opportunity to bite and will therefore slip off. The solution was a hooped rope around the base of the sphere with 3 looped straps wrapped around the ball to the shackle on top, and we used a block and tackle to patiently lift and then lower it into position. The use of 3 straps and no less ensures that the ball cannot pop out of its harness.

The ball, heavily-strapped and being raised into position by block and tackle


We cleaned the ball sections with a poultice and water and placed the new bases on top of the brick gate piers, bedded on lime mortar. The balls were carefully lowered into position  with use of the block and tackle, which gave us a gentle and sure movement, and great precision.

Afterwards, in order to give the impression of antiquity, we washed both the ball and the new bases in pond water and dirt which will, over time, attract bacteria, algae and lichen in order for them to blend in with the rest of the historical architectural features.

The newly restored bull finials

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