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Conversation with Samuel - James Wilson

 

This is a different type of blog for me, as it is actually a conversation I had with Samuel-James Wilson who I first met on Twitter some months ago.

I first noticed Sam because he was Tweeting about a subject close to my heart – Brickwork. A couple of clicks later and I was reading Sams own Blog on www.Apprentice-Ship.com which I would recommend to anyone interested in our built environment.

 

“Sam, great to be able to have this chat today. I am really looking forward to sharing your insights with the readers.”

First, tell us a little about your background, where you were brought up etc.

It all began when I was 15. Myself and school never really had a great relationship, I liked being the center of attention and I only maybe enjoyed three of the classes I was being taught. The school(s) I attended much preferred to just teach me what they had to...this all eventually contributed to me being kicked out of two of them.

I was lucky enough to be given a chance working with a local plumber. Once this happened, which I grabbed with both hands. I spent three years working with him, achieving a Level 2 in the subject. I soon came to realise being under floors and touching toilets wasn't for me so I moved outside in the sunshine and rain and began my career as a labourer. It took me two years doing this before I picked up a trowel on a proper wall.

I am now 24 and I have never looked back.

 

Sounds much like a lot of guys. I was never academic - it was the opportunity of going to Tech that rescued me. What made you first consider brickwork as a way to make your living?

More than anything I think its the satisfaction at the end of the job. Standing back and thinking 'I have built that' and also when a fellow tradesman or customer compliment you on a good job. It has just make me strive to better my work throughout my career. I guess its the fact I know I can actually do something, and I am good at it. I didn't get that much confidence from being at school. 

 

So why not the usual site work? You know, get them down as quick as possible to make as much money as you can?

I have done my fair share of 'throwing them down' I worked on a HUGE warehouse where myself and another Bricklayer were laying over 1,000 bricks a day. This is all fine and yes you walk away with a great wage but at the end of the job I just wanted to drive away and forget about it all. I had no feeling for the job and I still don't. I want to be known as someone who takes care in their work and someone who isn't just in it for the money. I would much rather turn up to site with a smile on my face than walk away with a frown.

 

Its a shame that there are so few opportunities today to build using the old craft skills, but you are clearly continuing to look for opportunities to learn. What motivates you?

As a young bricklayer all I have to do is look up at some of the most amazing buildings around the world to realise I am know way good enough or up to the same standard as the craftsman of the past, this only motivates me to do better.

I am always looking to better myself, whether it is by reading a book in my spare time, walking around a town recognising old building techniques or simply picking up a trowel and practising.

Every day is an opportunity to learn something new.

 

I would have to agree. There is also a huge amout of satisfaction in knowing that you have built something that will be there generations after you have gone. Is that why you have focused on Heritage work. Is that the ultimate goal?

Absolutely. Over the past year I have come to realise that Heritage work really is the way forward for me. I have worked on enough new builds to realise it isn't that exciting. Working on protected buildings is different, from day to day you don't know what will happen. It only takes one mistake to happen and it completely changes so you have to be on the ball all the time, I enjoy it.

It also opens so many more doors for me, the chance to work on some of the most amazing buildings in the country, possibly the world.

It really isn’t something that should be ignored, so many historic buildings are falling into disrepair because there is a lack of knowledgable craftsman that can identify the problems that occur. Keeping the built environment history alive by doing my little bit is the least I can do for the craftsmen back in the day that have inspired me and my career.

 

In your travels you have met a lot of people in the industry. Of the people you have met so far, who has taught you the most valuable lesson? And what was it?

Dr. Gerard Lynch without a doubt. I spent just over two weeks with Gerard at his home and workshop learning about the history of my craft and also the techniques and materials that were used to create these amazing structures. 

Gerard takes a lot of time preparing the work for his students, wether is putting together a pack of notes for when you first arrive or organising a trip to a local brick makers yard so you can see the process in action. 

I found Gerard himself to be inspiring, once a bricklayer that has taken it upon himself to keep the history alive by teaching a younger generation. It is great to know there are people out there who really care about bricklaying. I have never met someone so focussed. If anyone ever has the chance to spend some time learning with him I really cannot recommend it enough! 

 

Ok, obviously forget the warehouse job, but which has been the most interesting project you have worked on?

This year I got the chance to work on Marsh Court. A house designed by Edwin Lutyens one of the greatest architects of this country, he is deffinatly up there with Wren for me.

The current owners had taken it upon themselves to restore the hardscape gardens surrounding the house. It was HUGE job. I had never seen conservation on this scale, every brick or stone that was taken up to be replaced or restored had a picture taken, was numbered and lettered and stored. Once the area was ready everything was put back EXACTLY as it was. This was a little bit better than building a garage.

 

So any young guy, reading your blogs and seeing the many and varied places you have been and worked, will be wondering how do you get into doing all that? Are there still opportunities for people to learn the skills and get that good?

There are organisations offering skilled people to learn more traditional methods including - The Prince's Foundation, Building Skill in Craft Programme - which I was lucky enough to take part in and is the reason why I have been lucky enough to work on some of the most impressive buildings and structures in the UK. SPAB also have a similar programme, both are great opportunities for those already in the building trade to further their knowledge into more traditional trades. If you have a passion and are driven enough to better yourself and learn how it was done 'back in the day' you will be able to get on these courses. 

 

Thats good to know. Personally I would love to have done something like that and would recommend it to anyone. We need more proper craftsmen and they will always be in demand. We have a built heritage in this country that needs and deserves the best preservation we can give it. 

In your own blogs, you use a lot of photos to illustrate your posts. If you had to pick just one to enter a photographic competition, which photo would you enter? 

It would have to be this one. I took this at the beginning of a big barn myself and other builders built just outside of Harrogate on a early spring morning.

 

Great photo Sam. And a pleasure to talk to you. I hope that just a few people reading this will be inspired to make the effort and do something as worthwhile.