Home of the stone sculpture of Dragon Stone Carving.

“A stone carver now for nearly twenty years, I have had the opportunity to produce a wide variety of commissions both public and private ranging from 12 foot high art works towering out of parklands to tiny hand held miniatures. My early work was dominated by celtic knotwork and other tribal patterns whilst today my interest lies in human forms, both abstract and realistic.

There is still a tribal feel to recent work and one theme that follows right through is the contrast of polished and natural riven forms. My most enjoyable projects have involved working in schools getting kids designing and carving their own pieces. Big kids, too, have had the opportunity for some carving experience at various festivals and outdoor events. It’s always a pleasure watching someone gaining confidence with a new medium and new skills and producing something they’re really proud of. Being self-taught myself I have no hang-ups about who can or can’t make something beautiful. The only limits on what you can achieve are those you imagine.”

-Matthew Billington

Eastville Workhouse Memorial

A memorial dedicated to all those who lived and died in Eastville Workhouse.
Special thanks go to the pupils of May Park Primary School for creating designs for the standing stone.

‘Stone Mason and sculptor, Matthew Billington, DragonStone Carving has produced a poignant memorial which we hope will mark the site for centuries’ – Steve Mills, Bristol Radical History Group

In 2019 a second memorial was commissioned and created to be installed at Avon View Cemetery, Bristol. {3rd picture in slide show}
The stone was placed at the site of three mass graves, the final resting place of the remains from Rosemary Green, having been disinterred in 1972 when the workhouse was demolished.  There was a small ceremony attended by the history group, the Mayor of Bristol, the Archdeacon of Bristol and interested members of the public.
Shortly after the unveiling ceremony the heavens opened with a torrential downpour and ear shattering thunder and lightening.
The Archdeacon assured us it was not an omen, we were not convinced.

The Figure

In this picture you can see me looking very pleased with myself having nearly completed the latest commission.

The Figure was delivered this Tuesday to its’ new home where it was received by equally pleased customers.

“I have just got back from Miami and just seen the statue in real life. Awesome piece of work, I’m extremely pleased with it and thinks its the best example I’ve seen” – Duncan Ellis.


DragonStone Carving – Letter Cutting

In the Workshop

With this post I invite you to the workshop to see the works in progress, There’s always lots going on with many works in progress. For me this keeps the creative flow very positive and the different pieces feed and inform each other.

At the start of the week I’m much freer with starting new ideas, towards the end of the week I push for completion on something. That’s unless there is a commission on the go in which case deadlines take over and I focus in.

Behind the Scenes – Roses & Lilies

The piece was delivered and installed by myself
to become a garden focal point for happy customers.

Behind the Scenes – The Fairy

DragonStone Carving – The Clan – A memorial to an Artist

The Clan is my name for my finished piece executed in Welsh Slate. It was made as memorial to an artist, the father of friends, and based on a piece of work they found in one of his sketch books and originally called The Crowd.

We were living out of the van while Esther worked at Dorchester Hospital and so after dropping her off at work I would take the van to somewhere nice in the locality.

So the first morning I went to Maiden Castle, the biggest Iron Age Hill Fort in Britain and a fantastic setting to work in. You can see the Hill Fort behind by gridded transparency, although this pic does no justice to the castle at all.

This pic gives you a much better idea of what I was working beneath.

The pattern was transferred and work commenced!

My presence in the car-park was met with mixed reactions but I had some lovely chats with many a passer-by and with some of them taking photos of me working.

The next day saw me out at Puddletown Forest. When I arrived and was putting the stone on the back step a huge stag went bounding across the fire break you can see in the background. Above be me crows and buzzards fought out their territorial disputes.

And the next I was at Cerne Abbas, you can see the Giant on the hill behind me.

The following day was so grim I was working under a motorway bridge (no pics) but as the weather cleared the nearby travellers emerged to collect firewood and came to see what I was up to.

We went off for a weekend at the ICAN camp,in Devon, by which time things were really taking shape.

I could have got to this point a lot quicker in a workshop but it was really nice to go back to just the hand-tools for a bit. You can’t really chat to the public about your work whilst wielding a screaming angle-grinder and filling  the air with stone dust and it seemed really fitting to make it this way.

In all 30-40 people stopped for look and a natter and about half took cards so they would be able to come to the website and see the finished piece.

Back to Maiden Castle for a last day and everything is really taking shape. The figures in the montage have started to take on characters and the relationships seem to close for a crowd and so I named it The Clan.

Back in Bristol and I go and do my first few hours of work at the new workshop based in

and the final piece emerged.

Big Arts Week Wales

During the ‘Big Arts Week Wales’ several years ago I went into one of the local junior schools for several days of voluntary work. This was my first experience of working in a school and getting a large group of kids carving stone. I needn’t have worried as I was met by a very supportive and innovative head-teacher. I was introduced to whole school during assembly and then shown through to the classroom where I was to be working.

After an hour or so of looking at my work on the computer and a small exhibition I had brought to the school we had a look at all the tools I had brought in. Passing them around we talked about how they were used and what they could do.

At this point there were already several boys and girls who wanted to be a stone carver when they grew up. You can imagine their response when I told them they could all work on their own piece for the school grounds. Some of them started to wonder if there was a connection with the small standing stone that had appeared in the school garden over the weekend.

So next came the design process and to make it clear that this was very much a group activity, that is both the drawing and the decision making, they all worked together on two long sheets of paper.

After a couple of hours of drawing we made a great big circle out of all the work and spent some time going round looking at all the designs. It came quite naturally to them to look for what they wanted as group, rather than champion their own picture. Some ideas were too fiddly,others didn’t fit the theme they had chosen (this was very dragon and tree related, which was natural for a Welsh school named for the Oak).

With the end of the first day looming decisions were made and a frenzy of chalk ensued with the design continuing to evolve as they went. After the school was cleared I used an angle grinder to cut all the major lines and cross-hatch anywhere a lot of stone needed to be removed. It is this process that really makes the carving of stone accessible to any age and ability. The issue of accuracy is solved by the outline being cut and the cross-hatching means the bulk of stone to be removed is weakened and just needs bashing.

Of course with a bit of practice and a lot concentration they improved very rapidly. By day three they were tackling tricky bits themselves, instead of getting me to do them, and doing them well. It was a delight to watch them all improve and get so much out of it.

The inclusive nature of the school meant that the children with special needs were equally able to enjoy the activity and all the children benefited from the challenge. When you break the whole process down it becomes quite complex, you have to hit one end of the chisel with hammer whilst the end is on the right spot with consideration of angle and direction to take into account whilst keeping to artistic aim in mind. Whilst concentrating on all this you have to remain aware of your neighbours head (and hammer). Of course it was my job to make sure that everyone has got enough space and experimentation was kept sensible. Well I’m pleased to report that there were no injuries, there was a surprise or two though

Of course if you make a portal stone to Dragon World you shouldn’t be surprised when dragons start laying eggs in the school garden.

The next was for me, although you also shouldn’t be surprised when kids come up with innovative new ideas without trying

Can we colour it in now?

I had to come up with a new technique pretty quick but the result was one we can all be proud of. Chatting with the head-teacher afterwards she said that kids had had an experience they would remember for the rest of their lives and we had created a school legend. She only wished she’d had a camera to capture the look of wonder on the face of the girl who interrupted her class to show her the dragon’s egg they’d just found in the garden.

Porthcawl Wilderness Park

This project was my biggest and best to date. The brief was to install three groups of standing stones to draw people through the main entrances of a large lakeside park in Porthcawl, South Wales.

First off was a visit to the quarry to see if they had anything big enough, actually more a case of ‘not too big, not too small’. As it happened the day we went up they were taking apart the base of an old winding shed. The stones were being handled by the biggest of JCB’s. Alan (slate surfer seen above) pointed out that 150 years ago when that structure had been built the stone was all moved by manpower (probably some Welsh Cob – One Horse Power as well) but basically rollers and levers.

The stones were selected and the lorry driven back down to the workshop. Unfortunately the 1960 Manatou Forklift doesn’t always feel like doing anything so myself and Jamie (above) did a bit of ‘levers and rollers’ ourselves sending this lump off the back of the lorry onto a pile of stone. I’m betting the victorian quarrymen would have loved to lay their hands on some sections of scaffold bar!

Along with quarry visits there were several site visits, council meetings and public consultation sessions. Most of the public consultation took the form of school visits, giving a presentation on stone carving, tool handling and big a screen show of my portfolio. This was all for the purpose of inspiring the kids to produce their own designs for the work that was going to go up in their local park. The drawings I took away from those two days translated directly (and unedited) into about 80% of the final content.

Then it was full steam ahead ‘No rest for the wicked’

Due to scale of the work there was a lot angle-grinding, air-hammer and die-grinder work involved (the die-grinder is a high speed air-powered spinning piece of tungten – great for smoothing and tidying large sections of stone).

Despite all the power tools I still needed a few little helpers.

Fine detail was still carved by hand and it was very important to me to represent the original drawing as honestly as possible. Avoiding the temptation to ‘improve’ the work.

Finally the big day came and for a few brief moments the huge immovable slabs, that had strained the forklift and blocked up the area outside my workshop for months, looked small as they dangled from the Hi-Ab. To our surprise the Hi-Ab operator was able to assure us that they were all less then a tonne.

All loaded and secured, I waved goodbye to four months work and wasn’t to see them again until they had become a towering part of the landscape.

Of course I hadn’t seen them standing until I got down their to clean and oil them and was pretty blown away by the experience. The only way to get the top areas done was to climb up the side of the stones using the knotwork borders for finger and toe holds.

Twelve months on the birds and the dogs had left their ‘marks’ but that was about it.

The whole project was about regenerating the park which had deteriorated with graffiti, arson and vandalism running in an escalating cycle. The more this happened, the less families and dog walkers came into the park and the worse it got.

On the last visit I made I found only two pieces of graffiti, one placed carefully and centrally in a panel I’d left blank (was decorative) the other was on the back and read “BOSS” which I took as a complement.

I put this down to the fact that many of the regular vandals would have had younger brothers and sisters involved in the project and some whose work was now permanently engraved on these 12 foot monoliths.

The work is above all accessible and (dare I say it) aesthetically pleasing, something which often seems to have been deemed unnecessary in public art these days. People are rightly upset by huge sums of money being spent on public art that is ‘bold and and challenging’ because it is actually ‘ugly and an eyesore’.

Footfall is now up, the public are venturing deeper into the park again and as a result vandalism etc is down. I met a mother with her two year old daughter who was pleased that she could now get her walk around the entire park, rather than  visiting just the swings and slide on the far edge, because she wanted to see the dragons and mermaids. Art really can be good for your health.


A Woodland Teaching Area.

I thought for my first proper post it would be interesting to follow a piece from start to finish.

This is where it all starts at the Llechwedd Quarry (pron. cleckwuth) in North Wales. A place to make you feel very small. Still actively pulling new slate out of the ground, I select my material from the waste not suitable for roof slates. As such all the slate I use is deemed recycled (even by the Revenue who don’t tax it).

Having got back to the workshop the fun begins. The foreman at quarry, Glyn, split out a piece just over a metre sq and about two inches thick. I then scribed out a circle a metre in diameter and cut it out with the big grinder. The design was decided,

and drawn onto the stone. Time to make some mess and noise!

Bit by bit

the stone is removed. In this case, a bass-relief, the surrounding stone is removed leaving the design standing proud.

The tool marks are all polished off and after a good clean the stone is oiled to really bring out the depth of colour.

Here’s the finished piece in situ, the centre piece to a woodland teaching area in Porthcawl. The circle was extended out to five metres in six spiral arms of three different stones around which the seven ‘henge-like’ benches were installed. Some of the benches were engraved with Viking motifs, remembering their activities in the area.

Collossal Dry Stone Walls

I’ve been busy building some pretty big walls recently. Although the walls have been big it’s been the stones going into them that have been truly huge. The biggest used so far is an estimated five tonnes. Obviously way beyond my lifting power I have had to learn how use wheeled digger (great fun, if a little nerve racking at times). Not a JCB but you know what I mean. Below are series of pictures – before, during and after.

Above is the excavator (even bigger than beast I got to grips with)  it had to clear back what was a loose bank of soil and rubbish to give a solid foundation.

Below sees me hopping out of the digger to see what I’ve just placed.

Although we didn’t dig down for the foundations, the land there is overflowing with gigantic stones and I thought a great way to use them would be to stand some of them upright. So two ropes were laid out and a series of monsters were buried roughly a quarter into the ground.

Being West Wales it started raining before too long. You’ll notice the chickens have made themselves scarce.

Having set out the line of standing stones I filled in the gaps with the biggest blocks around. Hammering them into the mud with the digger bucket. The stone there is Quartzite and sparks like crazy when you whack it.

The process from there is one of stacking them up, overlapping in the way brickwork does. Wedging the stones on the inside of the wall until they don’t wobble then packing the space with loose stone and soil so that the wedges can’t move.

For most of the building process you’re making two ‘skins’ with packing in the middle. To finish the wall you must use ‘Coping Stones’. These are stones big enough to span the width of the wall thereby holding together the two sides. On most walls the top would be a foot wide or less but this one was three foot and so even the coping stones had to be lifted up with the digger.

This is a different wall on the same land, most of the stones in sight are heavier than me, with the bottom layer being heavier than a small car. In might look unpleasant but I’d rather build a wall in the cold than the blazing sun!

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