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Heritage Skills


Blacksmithing is the art of manipulating steel or iron to make objects by a process known as forging where the metal is heated up and then hit with a hammer to shape it. This can range from something as small as a nail or arrowhead up to large gates or agricultural items.

Dry Stone Walling

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Dry stone walling is a traditional method of constructing walls without using any mortar to bind the stones together. Dry stone walling in Britain stretches back to the Neolithic Period around 3,500 years ago. This type of wall is found where large quantities of rock and stone lie above the soil, and especially where trees and hedges do not grow easily because of the climate, elevation, strong winds or thin soils. This is why they are most prominent in northern and western Britain, and often at higher altitudes.

Above you can view a dry stone walling demonstration from the Heritage Skills Initiative's highly successful Heritage Skills Fair at Gibside in 2008.

Lime Harling

Rendering a building involves applying and external coating of lime mortar to a structure, which is the most effective method of weatherproofing solid masonry walls as it forms a permeable coating that holds up water and prevents wind-driven water penetration. The permeability (or breathability) of lime-based materials allows moisture to evaporate from the masonry, reducing problems of condensation and aiding the conservation of historic structures. Harling is a form of rendering which is particularly rough, giving a larger surface area for evaporation.

Lime Plastering

Lime plaster is usually comprised of hydrated lime, fine sand and water, as well as a binder such as horse hair. Using lime instead of Gypsum plaster allows for the substrate underneath to breath and creates healthier buildings.

Lime Pointing

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Pointing with lime mortar (mortar which is lime-based as opposed to being cement-based) involves a three stage process of cleaning and preparing joints, pointing, and ‘knocking back’ with a churn brush to finish off.

View the demonstration of lime pointing above, by English Heritage Technical Manager North East Roy Stockdale.

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Above you can view a demonstration of the lime-slaking process, given by the National Trust Building Team at our 2008 Heritage Skills Fair.

Pole Lathe Turning

This traditional heritage skill is a form of green woodworking. It involves the use of a pole lathe, operated by foot which spins a piece of wood as the craftsperson moves a chisel along the surface of the wood. Different tools are available to create different effects.

Sash and Box Windows

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This traditional window construction is particular popular in Georgian and Victorian houses, is widely used in properties of both earlier and later construction. Made out of wood and given the ability to slide by a simple system of weights tied to cords which are attached to the widows these widows are often seen as a hindrance during modern refurbishments. However, with proper maintenance they are far cheaper to repair than replace and have a long working life.

Above is a short clip of a demonstration of sash and box window making, which the National Trust Building Team gave at our 2008 Heritage Skills Fair at Gibside.


Stonemasonry is a heritage skill which includes everything from fine letter carving through to large scale construction with stone. Traditional stonemasonry involves using predominantly hand tools to dress and repair historic stonework as well as working on new buildings.

Traditional Roofing

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Roofing is also a traditional heritage skill - techniques include slate, tile and lead work. Lead work can be either the use of lead sheet which is beaten into place and may then be welded together (although hot works are rarely permitted on historic properties) or may involve making hopper heads or guttering.

Above you can see a demonstration of lead work by Teamforce at the Gibside Heritage Skills Fair.