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Unlocking Artistry: Inverkeithing Heritage Regeneration Project Stone Carving Competition

By November 10, 2023No Comments

Left to right: Ruaridh, Fife Council; Paul and Karen from Historic Environment Scotland; Jessica, Doug, Kierin, Callum, Fife Council; Cameron, Ashwood Scotland Ltd.

A stone carving competition was held in late September, at Inverkeithing High School. The competition was open to eight apprentice or recently qualified stone masons. The purpose was to create a rare opportunity for early career stone masons to showcase their creative talents and technical skills. The competition brought together not just the apprentice and recently qualified masons, but their colleagues, supervisors, tutors, and related professionals.


There is currently great demand for stone masons to carry out much needed maintenance and repairs, as well as fulfil new commissions, and opportunities to undertake training become ever more scarce. The competition was a great opportunity to simply focus on craft skill, and the individuals’ approach to a design commission.

There was a really good response to the competition, in terms of gender, geographic and career stage diversity. There were masons from two private sector masonry contractors, Ashwood Scotland Ltd, and Laing Traditional Masonry.  Three of the competition entrants had just begun their apprenticeships in August, two with Historic Environment Scotland and one with Fife Council.  One competitor had travelled from near Milton Keynes, and another from Arbroath on the morning of the competition. Two women entered the competition. Without exception, the participants were talented, enthusiastic and charming.

All were given a design in advance, to carve, or to further interpret as they wished. They knew they’d be working on a Portland limestone slab, 600mm x 600mm. Limestone was chosen because it has a very low silica content, so is very low risk to work. The competitors kept their competition entries, so they could continue to work up their designs, or they could create another design on the reverse side of the limestone blocks.

The inspiration for their carving was a simple graphic representation of the ship which appears on Inverkeithing’s town crest, and in the Inverkeithing Heritage Regeneration project logo.


As the competition organiser, it was absolutely fascinating to observe throughout the day, as inert slabs of limestone began to be transformed.

The yellow wheeled support in the picture, with one of the slabs on it, was one of eight needed for the competition. These incredibly useful and strong pieces of equipment are known as mason’s bankers, and were very kindly loaned by Fife Council’s heritage squad, and Historic Environment Scotland. Essential for the competition, and providing much appreciated support, in every sense.


This picture shows the competitors all hard at work.

There had been traditional skills activities on the preceding four days at Inverkeithing High School. For S3 pupils who had trialled masonry earlier in the week, and others hadn’t, seeing the competition take place in real time, in their school, was very inspiring. The diverse participants were literally showcasing a rewarding, traditional skills career, in front of the pupils. The outdoor location was visible from corridors, close to the lunch hall, and on routes to and from classrooms across the school campus. The competition piqued the interest of school staff as well as pupils.


Jess interpreted the logo design with a perspective-based ship emerging from stylised waves, with individual planks on the hull, and the folds of the reefed sail brought out in the detail. This picture is mid-stage.







Kierin’s interpretation set the ship within a rectangle, with a really clean, crispness of detail and neat finish in his very accomplished work.







Three very experienced stone masons judged the entries, awarding points for setting out, interpretation and quality/accuracy. David Lindsay, Adam Innes and Scott McGibbon have decades of stone carving, tutoring masonry apprentices, heritage masonry and traditional buildings between them.  They also gave consideration to the competitors’ experience: some had begun their masonry studies one month before the competition, while others had recently qualified, completing a four year apprenticeship.



The two runners up were the two women candidates, impressively, as both are at early stages in their apprenticeships. Jess, Karen and Doug, the winning trio


The overall winner was Douglas Stevens. His interpretation set the ship in a circle, and created depth in the sails and masts, adding a sense of motion to his carving. His design adaptations also meant that the stylised waves lapped the hull, rather than float above it, increasing the sense of motion.

The competition, and the week of activities preceding it, were all enabled due to the Inverkeithing Heritage Regeneration project funders: Fife Council, Historic Environment Scotland and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Article provided by our network member: Fife Historic Buildings Trust

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