Man has been creating using stone since the dawn of time. In the Neolithic period (c 8000 B.C. to the start of the Bronze age c. 3750 B.C) he learned how to use fire to create quicklime. plaster, and mortar.
After the fall of the Roman Empire in Europe the need for dressed stone decreased with the increase in timber based construction, possibly in part due
to the delivery lines being cut so the materials that had come from across Europe were at least temporarily not as readily available.
With the resurgence in the 9th and 10th centuries and then the religious fervour by the 12th century and the building of ever more impressive and elaborate churches and cathedrals, and the need for defensive castles as Europe and indeed Britain found itself in an almost constant state of unrest, and the improved weaponry meant that a wooden fortified structure was no longer good enough when the opposition could throw fire at you or fire cannon balls. The stone masons skills were highly sought after.
Stone masons had and still have their own guild. There were three classes of stone mason, apprentice, journeyman, and master mason.
Apprentices were indentured to their master for a period of seven years, that is they worked for their master without pay, just somewhere to sleep and their food, at the end of this period, if they had completed their apprenticeship satisfactorily they were considered a journeyman. A journeyman was a mason with superior skills to an apprentice, and could travel – or journey – with his master in order to assist with his masters work. Master masons were freemen who could travel as and where they wished and were employed by patrons for specific jobs. Those working on a great cathedral for example could spend his lifetime on that one building project and see his sons and grand-sons follow him on the same project.
A medieval stone mason would carve his symbol onto the block of stone they worked to differentiate their work from that of other masons, and it also acted as a rudimentary quality control system. In Scotland from 1598 on admission to the guild every mason had to enter his name and his mark in a register.
During the renaissance the stone masons guild admitted members who were not stone masons, this evolved in the Society of Freemasons which is why although the now have nothing to do with construction the symbols and paraphernalia are still stylised versions of the tools of the stone masons trade.
The stone mason is still highly regarded today and together with new buildings masons are still required that have the old skills and can still use the traditional tools of the trade in conserving the buildings constructed by their forbears maybe a thousand years ago.