The Merry Month: Robert Merry is looking forward to the Natural Stone Show in London

Robert Merry

Robert Merry, MCIOB, is an independent Stone Consultant. He ran his own stone company for 17 years before becoming first an independent project manager and now a consultant. He is also an expert witness in disputes regarding stone and stone contracts. 0207 502 6353 / 07771 997621. robertmerry@

Independent stone consultant Robert Merry is looking forward to the Natural Stone Show and Hard Surfaces exhibitions in London.


It’s great to be returning to the Natural Stone Show and Hard Surfaces at ExCeL London. It’s good to see the diversity of organisations and companies spread across the natural stone and engineered surfaces divisions of our industry. I know mixing natural and man-made products in the same space is not to everyone’s liking, but it’s undeniable that our ever pragmatic wholesalers, fabricators and installers use all these products.

And why not? As is demonstrated by the conferences of both Shows at Excel, there is a lot to learn from each other. The Natural Stone Show conference has an Architects Day, Industry Day and a Conservation Day. The Hard Surfaces conference covers Design, Sustainability, a Fabricators Master Class and a discussion on large format slab installation.

The conferences are split into three chunks each day. I am particularly interested to hear how each section presents its environmental credentials. The Natural Stone conference has seminars ranging from explaining Environmental Product Directives on Tuesday morning to Thursday’s Conservation Day dedicated to Responsible Sourcing, Understanding Stone in relation to climate change and Sustainability. Hard Surfaces has Thursday afternoon dedicated to putting forward the environmental credentials in sessions entitled Environmental Edge and Sustainable Specifications.

The Natural Stone Industry Day on Wednesday sees the Stone Federation focus on its Women in Natural Stone (WINS) group, with a presentation by WINS co-Chair Becca Cranfield; the launch of the Federation’s Stone Academy in a new approach to training, presented by the President, Chris Kelsey; and the presentation of The Emerging Talent Awards, which follows a panel discussion on the challenges facing the next generation of stone industry leaders.

Separation within our industry, I discovered recently, is not new. The Worshipful Company of Masons, one of the  City of London’s Livery Companies, recently published a history of the Company. It is called Crafted in Stone. The Masons’ Company was founded by a Grant of Arms in 1472 and the book is in celebration of the 550th anniversary of that in 2022. It’s a beautifully bound and printed book and as a Liveryman I was lucky enough to receive a copy.

The writer, appropriately enough Dr Ian Stone, begins with one of  the earliest written references to stonemasonry in London. It sees a group of stonemasons appearing before the Mayor, Sheriff and Aldermen in the year 1356 to “account for quarrels and disputes which had broken out in the City between... mason hewers on the one hand and mason layers and setters on the other”.

In brief, hewers cut, shaped and worked the stone (banker masons) while the layers and setters fitted the stone (the installers). The dispute was over wages, with the hewers receiving more than the setters. The argument had broken out on a busy medieval construction site, where the layers and setters had started to work the stone as well as install it, reducing the amount of work available to the hewers. Maybe they were fixing faster than the hewers could produce and rather than stand around they got on with the job. Who knows?

The opposing sides were each represented by six masons. There was stalemate, so the Mayor ordered the 12 to provide “good and due information (as to) how their trade might be best ordered and ruled”. The 12 men came up with acts and articles under eight headings. I am sure this was not the end of the disputes between the two skill sets in the same industry, but it was a start.

I can’t help but reflect on the twin elements of our modern industry, represented at ExCeL by the two exhibitions with their separate conferences, discussing similar and complementary issues.

How much stronger might the industry be if we all joined together? It would certainly be worth exploring. It might even be of benefit to the members who pay the subscriptions that fund the organisations that represent us. Perhaps we could learn a thing or two from the dispute resolution of our 14th century ancestors.