Trev Haysom, world authority on Purbeck stone who helped restore Britain’s greatest medieval buildings – obituary

Haysom at his museum, Isle of Purbeck, with a dinosaur footprint, 2020
Haysom at his museum, Isle of Purbeck, with a dinosaur footprint, 2020

Treleven “Trev” Haysom, who has died aged 81, quarried stone on the Isle of Purbeck for more than 60 years and in 2020 wrote the definitive book on the subject, Purbeck Stone.

Eleven generations of Haysom’s family have worked with Purbeck stone in Dorset, since 1698. Today, WJ Haysom & Son, at St Aldhelm’s Quarry, Langton Matravers, still provides the finest English stone for the repair of monuments, from Westminster Abbey to Windsor Castle.

A funny, diffident, highly intelligent man, Haysom was devoted to Purbeck stone and had his own museum of finds. In one of his Purbeck Marble quarries, he discovered blocks of stone that had been partially worked by medieval craftsmen. Together with other rare pieces of stone, fossils and old tools, these were placed in the museum, known locally as “Trev’s shed”.

Always interested in the fossil content of Purbeck stone, Haysom would carefully lift dinosaur footprints to preserve them, and he drew any interesting finds to geologists’ attention. As a result, he had a fossil, a cretaceous mammal, named after him: Dorsetodon haysomi. The museum wall is lined with the dinosaur footprints.

The Isle of Purbeck has long been prized for its rare “sandwich” of building stones. In the late Jurassic period, around 150 million years ago, the sea covered what is now south Dorset with beds of limestone.

Haysom carving the cross for an Anglo-Saxon base at Studland Church, Dorset, 1976
Haysom carving the cross for an Anglo-Saxon base at Studland Church, Dorset, 1976

First, Portland stone was laid down, followed by Purbeck stone, as the sea turned into a lagoon. The top bed was called Purbeck Marble.

In medieval England, Purbeck was synonymous with marble, in the same way that Carrara in Italy has been associated with marble since the Renaissance. In fact, strictly speaking, Purbeck Marble is not marble at all, since it is not metamorphic, but is so-called because it can be polished up to a fine sheen, like marble.

Britain’s greatest medieval buildings used Purbeck Marble, and Trev Haysom provided stone for the restoration of many of them. When the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries were opened at Westminster Abbey in 2018, his company provided the stone. He also produced the Purbeck Marble for the restoration of the Abbey’s Cosmati pavement.

Haysom installed Purbeck stone in an extraordinary roll call of hallowed buildings: St Paul’s, Windsor Castle, Hampton Court, Dover Castle, Knole, and the cathedrals at Ely, Canterbury, Rochester, Salisbury, St David’s, Chichester, Lincoln, Canterbury, Portsmouth, Peterborough and Exeter. At Portsmouth Cathedral, Haysom provided the Purbeck stone for the west end, font, altar and altar dais.

Before him, Haysom’s father Walter replaced the 12th-century Purbeck Marble columns at the Temple Church in London and renovated the tombs of the Knights Templar, which were damaged when the church’s ceiling collapsed in the Blitz.

Today, Trev Haysom’s state-of-the-art quarry uses diamond-tipped blades to cut the stone, but he could recall the old quarrymen of his youth talking of the days of hand-sawyers, men who “sat in a little, weatherproof, sentry-box-like shelter, pushing and pulling the saw to and fro all day, cutting blocks up to six or seven feet long.

“Water was fed into the cut from a barrel over corrugated roof sheets laid horizontally, which served to spread the trickle, flushing sharp sand down onto the blade to make cutting more effective. Their yard had a pub close by. It was said that, on one hot day, a sawyer managed 20 pints of bitter!”

Haysom pointing out historic Purbeck cliff quarry evidence, 1997
Haysom pointing out historic Purbeck cliff quarry evidence, 1997 - Courtesy of family

In the 19th century, one boy labourer at the Purbeck quarries went on to become the foreman of masons on Manchester Town Hall, the pinnacle of Victorian Gothic. Haysom’s father would say, with a twinkle in his eye: “They all went away and, if they were any good, they stayed away. If not, they came back.”

Walter Treleven Haysom was born in Langton Matravers on March 1 1942, the third of four children born to Walter, the stonemason, and his wife Emily.

Young Trev disliked school and left as soon as he could, but he still gained the most O-levels of any pupil in his year. He went straight to the family quarry; his masonry apprenticeship took him to Chichester Cathedral, where he helped to restore and rebuild the medieval screen, and then to Oxford, where he taught masonry at Oxford Polytechnic.

He returned to St Aldhelm’s Quarry and remained there for the rest of his working life, taking over from his father in the early 1980s.

In July 1976, a new cross carved by Haysom was erected near Studland Church in Purbeck, on the site of a Saxon base. Three sides consist of Saxon motifs. The fourth juxtaposes modern man’s technological advances with the natural world and the creative aspect of our lives, the images linked by a double helix.

Haysom carving a Purbeck Marble capital for Chichester Cathedral, 1996
Haysom carving a Purbeck Marble capital for Chichester Cathedral, 1996

Warden of the Company of Purbeck Marblers and Stonecutters. He kept alive the ancient tradition on Shrove Tuesday of paying a pound of pepper to keep the access to Poole Harbour open for the marble trade.

In 2014, Haysom was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Technology from Bournemouth University. His family thought it should have been for “medieval technology”, since he did not own a watch, bank card or mobile phone and could not turn on a computer.

That did not stop him writing his magnum opus, Purbeck Stone (2020). This was the culmination of many hours spent talking to the previous generation of Purbeck stonemasons and researching all aspects of the Purbeck stone industry over many years. The definitive work on Purbeck stone, it was glowingly reviewed on publication and has since sold out.

In 1976, he married Sue, a teacher who joined the family quarry company. Their three-day honeymoon in Devon was spent visiting South Hams churches and Exeter Cathedral, making notes on the medieval use of Purbeck Marble.

Haysom wrote the definitive book
Haysom wrote the definitive book

A natural broadcaster, Haysom featured on Countryfile and Coast, and on Radio 4’s Open Country. He frequently led birdwatching groups and was invited to give talks about Purbeck stone, including the Donovan Purcell Memorial Lecture for the Stone Federation of Great Britain, in London.

In his retirement he rewilded eight acres of land. He also planted fruit trees, created two ponds, formed a bat hibernaculum in an old underground quarry (which, to his constant excitement, hosts a greater horseshoe bat), and built an “owl tower”, successfully attracting a barn owl. One year, his land had seven different types of orchid growing. The morning before going to hospital in his final illness, he was thrilled to see two Dark Green Fritillary butterflies – the first of the year.

His son, Mark, started work at St Aldhelm’s Quarry soon after leaving school and completed his apprenticeship at Weymouth College, winning an award for his masonry. Mark Haysom now continues the business, which has expanded considerably, with modern machinery and five active Purbeck quarries. In the 1990s, WJ Haysom & Son bought Lander’s Quarries, adding a large new workshop and showroom.

Haysom is survived by his wife, Sue, and his three children, Juliet, an artist and teacher, Mark, and Alexia, a doctor.

Treleven “Trev” Haysom, born March 1 1942, died August 7 2023

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