The stepping stones to a happy and successful life

Witney Gazette: Fergus Wessel at work. Fergus Wessel at work.

FIND out what you enjoy doing. Learn how to do it well. Then persuade the world at large to pay you for doing it.

Someone who has managed to put this simple-sounding formula for a successful career into practice is Fergus Wessel.

Mr Wessel, 39, is a stone carver with a workshop in Milton-under-Wychwood, who loves his craft and believes in never hurrying his work – instead simply beavering away diligently until the job is done to the best of his ability.

He said: “It does not matter if it takes all day as long as it is perfect.”

Setting up his own business as a stonemason was not easy at the beginning.

He said: “The first two years were tough and I almost gave it up.”

The problem was that potential customers, wanting such things as memorials, headstones or finely-carved plaques, naturally went to stone carvers with a proven reputation rather than a complete unknown.

As a result, work was hard to find – until Mr Wessel had a brainwave.

He said: “I wrote to the College of Arms to find details of people who had been recently granted the right to have coats of arms or crests.

“Then I wrote to those people telling them: ‘I will carve it for you in return for using your name on my client list’.”

Slowly the commissions came in. Among those who responded were newly-elevated lords and some TV personalities, including gardening guru Alan Titchmarsh, a copy of whose heraldic device – consisting of a lion with a spade – adorns the walls of Mr Wessel’s workshop.

But how did Mr Wessel discover he had a talent for stone carving in the first place, and how did he develop it?

He said: “To some extent, art and design were in the blood because my father made harpsichords and flutes and my mother is a well-known typographer and wood engraver, Mary Macgregor.”

He added that after leaving St Edward’s School, Cheltenham, he became a potter, working for the Winchcombe Pottery.

He said: “Then I got tired of being wet, cold and skint and a guy there suggested letter cutting.

“I tried it and loved it. I applied for an apprenticeship at the Kindersley Workshop in Cambridge and worked there from 2001-2004.

“At the end of my apprenticeship they asked me to stay on, but I declined because I did not want to be doing stone cutting all the time. I also wanted to design and meet clients. I wanted to incorporate my work life into the home.”

He achieved that as only a garden separates his workshop from his house, where he and wife Hannah live with their five children, Evie, 11, Arthur, nine, Laurence, six, Ralph, four, and one-year-old Myrtle.

About 60 per cent of his work now comes from carving headstones but recent commissions in Oxford have included carving the Wadham College coat of arms over the restored Holywell Music Room, reputedly Europe’s oldest concert hall, dating from the 1740s.

He has also just completed a plaque for Charterhouse School marking its 400th anniversary and will shortly start work on a war memorial for the school.

And he has also recently completed carving new lettering at the entrance to the Royal Albert Hall, which the Queen and Prince Philip inspected at the Hall’s Festival of Remembrance last November.

Altogether, it seems there is still strong demand for the work of highly skilled craftsmen, even in this digital age.

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