The Rochdale Canal: Masons' Marks

This is an extract from an article produced by Steven Beasley

Along the Rochdale Canal, there are many masons' marks on the blockwork that were quite distinct below what would normally be the low water line – the marks above this line are less distinct as a result of being eroded away by boats scraping against the lock walls but some are discernible.

The variation was quite remarkable as there appeared to be as many as 23, or maybe more, different marks that are repeated throughout the blockwork, both in the walls and in the floor. It showed that there had been a goodly number of masons employed on the project and an intense effort put into completing it at the very earliest opportunity. It is unusual for masons' marks to employ a curve in their formation, since the mark would be inscribed using the straight bladed chisel that they had fashioned the stone with, and time did not allow for intricate carving, so all marks are usually simple and made up of straight lines and each is the hallmark of one individual craftsman. At Lock No 2 there could be found, diamonds, triangles, spade shapes, T, H and N marks, diamonds with a tail, squares, cross of Lorraine and one that resembled a true mason's mark, that of the square and compass.

Three particular marks drew my personal attention – one was a pure +, another was a +I and yet another was +II. It would be nice to think that these marks signified that a family group of masons had been involved in the manufacture of the blocks here on the RC and that + was that of the father, that +I was son number one and that +II was son number two – sadly, we may never know.

The masons' marks served two purposes: firstly, they were used as an early form of quality control and secondly, for remuneration for work done. The stone with its individual mason's mark would be inspected by the foreman to ensure that it fully complied with the required specification and that, if it didn't, then the stone was either returned to the mason responsible, for rectification or it would be rejected. Secondly, the foreman having accepted the stone, would measure the extent of the work (by yard or cubic volume of stone) and this would be recorded in a Tally book against the corresponding mason's mark, so that the mason would then receive his payment at the end of the week

© Malcolm Bull 2022
Revised 13:12 / 19th January 2022 / 4453

Page Ref: R551_3

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