Meet the Derbyshire stonemason making beautiful animal carvings inspired by his Peak District surroundings

A Derbyshire stonemason is using his skills to encapsulate the beauty of nature after taking inspiration from his surroundings in the Peak District.

Friday, 20th August 2021, 9:52 am

Grindleford is just one of the picturesque villages in the Hope Valley, overlooked by both the wild moorland of Eyam Moor and the impressive escarpment of Froggatt Edge.

And it is from this beautiful landscape and its surroundings that stonemason Stephen Nicholson draws his inspiration – sculpting an array of wonderful, hand carved stone creatures with the finest detail that make them look almost like the real thing.

Since becoming a sole trader at the beginning of the year, he has created everything from a flying barn owl to a moon gazing hare and says he is always on the lookout for new commissions to allow him to explore his creative side even further.

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Derbyshire stonemason Stephen Nicholson is creating work inspired by his surroundings in the Peak District

He said: “Being from the Peak District, I was brought up going to friends houses and going to farms – my best friend, they had sheep and lambs in Hucklow and I’ve always just loved animals and nature.

"There’s also a very gothic style with stone that a lot of other stone carvers and stone masons try to achieve and, when I first started with my dad and my uncle, they were heavily into carving ugly things like gargoyles and I just think that animals are a lot more popular and beautiful.”

Stephen, who was born in Grindleford but now lives in Sheffield, is based in the pretty Peak District village at a workshop on New Eyam Road.

Stephen Nicholson has over 20 years experience working in the stone industry

He has more than 20 years experience within the industry having followed in the footsteps of his dad from a young age when he originally became a stonemason.

"I left school at 16. I didn’t do overly well and, at the time, my dad was self-employed and he was running his business from home in Rivelin and he took me on,” Stephen said.

"I started on part-time work and then picked it up quite quickly, making gargoyles and stone mushrooms and things like that.

"We used to go to Bakewell market where we had a stall. This went on for around four years then my uncle left the business that he’s now running again in Grindleford.

Derbyshire stonemason Stephen has captured a range of animals in his stone work includings owls, tigers and snakes

"He went into business with my dad and formed Capital Stonemasonry, where I worked up until last year until they closed.

"My uncle then went into business with another man in Grindleford and they’d got a unit on site which they said I could sublet off them so this is what I’m doing.”

Typically, stone masons cut and prepare stone to build or repair stone structures such as homes, historical buildings, monuments, headstones and statues.

But, Stephen is now what many would call a stone carver – using his previously learned skills to create beautiful works of art in stone.

Some of Stephen Nicholson's recent stone carvings

He added: “I’ve always carved stone but I didn’t get as much opportunity at Capital Stonemasonry but while I was there I set up a Facebook page and was getting a good following for when I eventually left.”

This groundwork to create a following has seen Stephen amass a whopping 21,000 followers on his Facebook page and over 3,400 on his Instagram so far.

His work has even been spotted by Wolds Wildlife Park, in Lincolnshire, for whom he recently created two large tiger sculptures, both of which were handcrafted out of Stoke Hall Derbyshire Gritstone – a material that is quarried from where Stephen is based.

He also uses Stanton Moor Gritstone, which is quarried from the Peak District as well.

Stephen said: “I take commissions but, if I’m waiting for stone to do commissions, then I’ll buy off cuts to carve items as stock to sell.

Derbyshire stonemason Stephen Nicholson working on recent commission for a primitive head

"I’m doing a really big commission at the moment for Wolds Wildlife Park. That started at Capital Stonemasonry, they’d seen some of the carvings that I’d got around the place and loved them so now I’m doing two carvings of animals for each enclosure, having just done the tigers.”

When asked how long a commission can take to make, Stephen said: “If somebody orders an owl off me, then generally I might have a piece of stone so I can get straight onto that and produce it within a few days.

"But, the bigger things take longer – I might be a week carving one thing.

"I just enjoy being creative and the artistic side of things, especially now as I spent a lot of years doing mundane work like putting shampers on a piece of stone and texturing things where you might be doing that for six months at a time.

And, when asked if there were any sculptures he’d love to make in the future, he added: "It’s difficult to plan too distant in the future because my work is generally people getting in touch with me for commissions.

"But I also like the pagan side of stone work as well, the mythical moon gazing hares and the green man – a symbol of health and fertility – which I’d love to create at some point.”

Stephen, who trades under the name Natural Stone Carved Creations, is encouraging people to follow his ‘stone carving adventure’ on his Facebook and Instagram pages, where he often posts pictures of his creations to a pleased audience.

You can also browse some of his work or enquire about a commission through the Natural Stone Carved Creations website.

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Some of Stephen Nicholson's recent stone work