Several years ago during a visit to Scotland I took my daughter to see Doune Castle, which was built in the late 1300s during the reign of Robert II. Although well preserved, there are parts where some walls have collapsed. It was on one of these walls, close to the foundation, that we spotted what looked as though a bird with splay feet had landed in wet concrete, then again, we thought the marks looked more like ancient hieroglyphics or, perhaps the aliens had landed. No one we spoke to seemed to know the answer.
A couple of months ago while reading a copy of the “The Highlander” magazine, I found an article entitled “The Mark of the Mason” written by Bob Jones. There, right before my eyes, was a very familiar photo of what was described as” a very clear geometric mark that can be spotted by even a casual visitor”—the mark of the mason.
There’s surprisingly very little published about this very important component of social history and, based on my research, the purpose of these marks is open to debate. It does, however, appear to be the general consensus that this type of mark has the moniker Bankers Mark to identify who cut the stone and ensure payment for completed work.
In 1598 King James VI of Scotland (King James VI of Scotland did not become King James I of England until 1603) commissioned William Schaw to pen “The Scottish Schaw Statues of 1598”, which issued a code of rules governing the activities of Operative Masons, one of which was a mandate that masons must register their own mark. If you’d like to read some interesting language, click on the link below. http://www.themasonictrowel.com/Articles/Manuscripts/manuscripts/shaw_statutes/shaw_statutes.htm
Stonemasons were evidently a nomadic group who traveled to where work was available, each carrying his own unique mark with him. Mason marks do go back go back as far as 2500 BC, but it wasn’t until the Late Middle Ages (1300-1500) and Early Modern Period (1500-1800) that marks can be confidently associated with named masons. George Bell was the master mason who built Midmar Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland and the proprietary marks of his sons Ian and David Bell, can be found at five famous Scottish castles in the 14th and 15th centuries, namely, Craigivar, Crathes, Drum, Fraser, and Fyvie.
A source of considerable knowledge on the subject of Masons marks is Dr Jennifer Alexander of the University of Warwick’s History of Art DepartmentHer research is focused on the architectural history of the great churches and cathedrals of medieval Europe, particularly the way they were constructed, how they were designed, and how masons were trained. I gleaned from her published work that there are actually two types of marks. The first is the Bankers mark, already mentioned above. The second is type of mark is the assembly mark that enabled builders to join sectional masonry without written instructions. You’ll find the process similar to self-assembly purchases on the market today, which are designed to transcend language barriers. Dr Alexander has been given funding to look at Mason’s Marks in the Santiago de Compostela cathedral in Spain, known to be rich in traditional history, as well as, a great deal of what is known today as alternate history.
I’ve included an interesting You Tube video where Dr. Alexander discusses masons assembly marks.