“No man is better known in Cloisterham” than Durdles, or “Stony” as he is known to children on the streets. A stonemason by trade, and “the chartered libertine of the place”, Durdles is “a wonderful sot” who is “as seldom drunk as sober”. Always dressed in the same flannel suit, yellow neckerchief and russet-coloured hat, Durdles carries with him dinner in a small bundle, a ruler and hammer, and a set of keys for the tombs in the Cathedral crypt. The hammer is used to tap the sides of the crypt walls, and to detect from the resonance of the sound whether any bodies lie within.
Years of working in the cold of the crypts has given him “a touch of the Tombatism”, but nothing that a bottle cannot cure. Gruff and taciturn, he has a habit of speaking in the third-person, and has a great respect for his own opinion rather than those around him; he is highly conscious of his dignity, and “prone to take offence,” especially when provoked by the likes of Mr Sapsea who take it upon themselves to instruct Durdles in how to do his job.
And yet Durdles has taken it upon himself to give “an object in life” to the ragged child Deputy – quite literally in fact as he employs the creature to pelt him with stones should Durdles ever be out too late, and even stepped forward to protect the young monster when John Jasper threatened violence against him. This last event occurred after Durdles had taken Jasper around the crypt, a curious night on which Durdles not only observed “a sense of destructive power” in the choirmaster’s face, but moreover when the wine kindly provided by Jasper had a strong sedative effect upon the stonemason, causing him to nap in the tombs, disturbed only by strange dreams of Jasper walking off into the distance with Durdles’s keys. Nor does it appear that this is the end of Durdles’s midnight tours, as the newcomer to Cloisterham, Dick Datchery, has echoed Jasper’s request to see Durdles’s works.
Durdles is a man of many talents, and as such was employed the night after the storm to survey the Cathedral for damage, and in such capacity he was among the crowds who witnessed the extraordinary scene of Jasper’s frantic search for his nephew.