A British aficionado of American culture becomes an expat waller in Tennessee
Martin Beevers is a Level 2 DSWA-certified dry stone waller who lives in the Nashville area. He joined the Stone Trust Board of Directors in 2021 and also serves on the Programs Committee. He runs a professional dry stone walling business in the Nashville area, calling himself Old England Rock Walls LLC.
Martin is a British expat who grew up near the city of Sheffield in the north of England, not far from the beautiful Peak District National Park in Derbyshire (pronounced: Dar-bi-sure). By the time he left high school for Uni (university), he had acquired a keen interest in US history and culture. He settled on “reading” and earning a degree in American Studies at the University of Warwick [sidebar trivia– Warwick has a fabulous mediaeval castle with a world class dungeon and torture chamber! Through the ages the British have always enjoyed displaying neighborly hospitality while entertaining guests]. Gaining this understanding of American culture ultimately served Martin well when he later decided to emigrate to the States, where he engages in the craft of dry stone walling. The craft, however, was not what initially drew Martin to the US. More on that further on.
As with many new college graduates, at twenty-two years old Martin couldn’t decide what to do with his life and career. By then he was an accomplished musician on the guitar and he was persuaded by a friend to go travelling around Europe as a street musician. After a few years, Martin returned to England and took on a series of odd jobs including working in his father’s refractories business. Refractories are kaolin clay ceramic and brick products used for high temperature applications like boiler linings.
Dry stone walls are a still a ubiquitous and integral element of the farming scene in the region that Martin roamed, as well as all throughout Britain for that matter. He became curious about this craft and he attended a Walling Weekend sponsored by the DSWA–Derbyshire Branch. He then found a job opportunity to practice this new found craft, repairing farm walls under the mentorship of an old experienced farmer. After gaining sufficient skills Martin tested for his Level 1 certification and then later, Level 2.
In 2017, being an aficionado of American country music, Martin made a holiday trip to Nashville to check out that music scene. A return trip to Nashville in 2019 would prove to be a pivotal point in his life and career. While chatting to a bloke in a local bar, Martin shared his stone walling background. This chance encounter led him to building a stone wall for the guy. This led to Martin’s first venture outside the urban center of Nashville and into the surrounding rural areas. Unbeknownst to him, Martin discovered that the history and culture of the region has a very rich heritage of dry stone walls. An influx of Irish immigrants in the 19th Century influenced the dominant style of the historic stone walls in this region with walls commonly finished with traditional copes—just up his alley!
By then, Martin had been walling for over ten years. He began to believe he might be successful immigrating to the US and making a go of walling for a career in the Nashville area. The next couple of years were a whirlwind of trips to the US and research on how to obtain a green card to enter the US as a permanent resident. In January 2019, he interviewed with the American Consulate and was summarily denied a visa…Blast! Martin doubled down.
Cultivating relationships supports immigration
In the spring Martin introduced himself to the Stone Trust and spent time working with Brian Post and Jared Flynn. Returning to Nashville, Martin researched the dry stone wall trades and his potential competition. With the enormous numbers of historic dry stone walls throughout that region he realized that an insufficient number of skilled dry stone walling professionals exists to tackle the preservation work there. Martin’s verve in this topic led him to meet Dan Brown, Historic Sites Program Director for the state of Tennessee. Dan would prove invaluable in supporting Martin’s immigration process. In addition, as Dan learned about the art and craft of dry stone walling through Martin, he decided to engage with the Stone Trust as a contributing member of the Programs Committee.
One important requirement of Martin’s immigration process was the need to acquire a state license to demonstrate his serious intention of creating a supporting business. Martin soon discovered that a dry stone walling professional license category did not exist in Tennessee. Martin convinced the agencies to create one! With all these business plan check marks in hand, Martin was finally granted a permanent immigration visa in late 2019.
Trailblazing for the Stone Trust
Martin has a keen interest to “give back” after getting the opportunity to come to America and work in his craft. He wants to teach the craft to young people looking to dry stone walling as a viable career path. In 2019, Martin went for instructor training at the DSWA headquarters in Cumbria. In early 2020, he obtained instructor certification with the Stone Trust and began teaching workshops with Pete Ryder. He then began creating a Tennessee workshop venue, with his inaugural Stone Trust workshops commencing in 2021.
Having learned his dry stone walling skills in Britain, Martin sees some distinct differences in the approach that aspiring walling students learn the craft there versus here in America. In Britain and Ireland, successful sheep and cattle farmers depend on those old stone walls to remain functional to keep their livestock contained. Therefore, building and repairing old farm walls remains a dominant job role for wallers learning the craft. The construction of residential landscape stone walls has become more prevalent only in recent times.
The profit margin for agriculture wall building is quite low in Britain. Consequently, the walling student learns to build strong walls…fast, with minimal tool work shaping stones for aesthetics. The student in Britain gets more experience in the fundamentals of wall construction with applications to advanced walling techniques coming later. Here in America, with most walling work slanted towards landscape applications where product appearance is vitally important to please the customer, much more tool work is taught and applied during the process of learning the basics.
Martin’s belief in the merits of the Old World method of learning the fundaments is the driving force that led him to conceive and produce the upcoming Derbyshire American Training Program, to be held in September at the Eco Centre in the Peak District in England. Martin believes that those with the most to gain from this two-week educational opportunity in Britain are people looking toward dry stone walling as a career trade, people who want to learn strong fundamental walling skills in the Old World scheme. Several professional American wallers have independently sought opportunities to work alongside experienced British wallers to gain that Old World perspective to bring into their skills repertoire. This year’s Derbyshire American Training Program is currently sold out. Martin hopes that the success of this Old World—New World collaborative program will lead to its continuation in the future.
Other long term interests of Martin’s include the creation and development of an internship program of sorts to give young people the opportunity to work under the direction and mentorship of an advanced professional walling contractor for an extended period of time. A similar program has been working through the DSWA in Britain in recent years with great success. Developing funding sources is a big challenge for this type of program to succeed.
Another aspect of Martin’s interest in historic preservation work is with assisting governmental and non-profit historic preservation agencies with education about correct dry stone construction and restoration building techniques. Much restoration work in this field is conducted incorrectly or with non-dry stone techniques and thus, compromises the historic integrity of the structures. Martin is working with other Stone Trust advanced walling professionals to develop technical guidelines to help agencies in this regard.
Thanks, Martin, for joining us on this side of the big pond and fitting in your time contributing to the Stone Trust work!