Monthly Archives: August 2014

Personnel of the Office of Works

In the last post, I talked about the organizational structure of the Office of Works and we have seen the ripple effects of Kirby’s appointment as Clerk of the Works at Richmond and Kew. As all the Clerks of the Works attended a monthly meeting of the Board, Kirby would have become familiar with the members of the Board and with his Fellow Clerks. Here is a list of the people occupying those positions when Kirby was first appointed in 1761. This information is taken from Colvin’s History of the King’s Works, Volume 5.



Dates of Tenure

Surveyor General Thomas Worsley 1760—1778
Comptroller Henry Flitcroft 1758—1769
Deputy Surveyor and Master Mason Stephen Wright 1758—1780
Master Carpenter William Oram 1748—1777
Joint Architect William Chambers 1761—1769
Joint Architect Robert Adam 1761—1769
Paymaster George Augustus Selwyn 1756—1782
The Clerks of the Works
Mews at Charing Cross Kenton Couse 1750—1766
Greenwich Francis Bickerton 1754—1768
Hampton Court Palace William Rice 1758—1789
Kensington Palace John Smith 1761—1782
Kew and Richmond Joshua & William Kirby 1761—1774
Richmond New Park Lodge James Paine 1758—1780
Newmarket James Paine 1750—1780
Somerset House Thomas Kynaston 1720—1762
Tower of London Thomas Kynaston 1720—1762
Whitehall, Westminster, and St. James’s Palaces William Robinson 1754—1766
Winchester Palace Thomas Dubisson 1725—1775


For related posts, see the Office of Works and Kew category.

The Structure of the Office of Works

Between the reforms of 1719 and the Economical Reform of 1782, the Office of Works did not change in organization very much.

The Board was formed of the Surveyor General, the Comptroller, the Master Mason, and the Master Carpenter. The organization and regulation of the Office of Works depended on the sovereign and technically the rules of the organization did not outlive the king. When the king died all work came to a shuddering halt and the organization went into a sort of suspension until the new monarch promulgated new rules or revived the old ones. This limbo was more technical than real though. When George III became king it took five or six years before the new regulations were formulated. Meanwhile, work continued.

George III’s one innovation to the Board was the addition of two Architects and consequent adjustment of the quorum.

The Board held regular weekly meetings, usually on a Wednesday or Friday, with a week or two off after Christmas. They also had additional meetings as necessary and went on a number of site visits to check on work in progress.

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Walpole on Pitt on Shakespeare

Horace Walpole’s Memoirs of George II provides a detailed, if biased and not always accurate, view of politics in the 1750s. In his description of the debates in parliament on the treaties preparatory to the Seven Years’ War, Walpole records William Pitt as saying that he “would quote poetry, for truth in verse was as good as if delivered in the dullest prose—

Corruption’s gilded hand

May put by justice.” (Vol ii, 111)

In the text, this quote is glossed as being from Measure for Measure. Presumably, this reference is due to Walpole’s editorializing, rather than coming directly from Pitt (the quote, but not the reference, is in Thackeray’s History of the Right Hon. William Pitt). The Yale Edition of the Memoirs adds a footnote that, “No lines like these occur in Measure for Measure, nor in any other work by Shakespeare”.

While the quotation is abbreviated and somewhat mangled, and does not come from Measure for Measure, it did start life as Shakespeare, and in context is a fairly powerful indictment of the treaties’ authors.

The source is Claudius’ soliloquy in Act 3, Scene 3 of Hamlet. The standard text reads:

In the corrupted currents of this world
Offence’s gilded hand may shove by justice,
And oft ’tis seen the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law: but ’tis not so above;

What Pitt actually said can not be determined at this distance, but at least he can be absolved of manufacturing fictitious Shakespeare quotes.


Walpole, H. (1985). Memoirs of George II, 3 vols, John Brooke, ed. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Office of Works: Departmental Appointments

The Surveyor-General of the Office of Works was appointed by the King, but lesser departmental appointments, such as Joshua Kirby’s to Clerk of the Works at Richmond and Kew, were ordered by the Surveyor-General. The official record of these appointments or warrants in the period concerning Kirby is in the volume Warrants and Correspondence. Appointments. Surveyor General’s Warrants. 1733—1780. Departmental Appointments (WORK 6/9). While the names, dates and positions are all noted in Colvin’s History of the King’s Works, Volume 5, Appendix D, I thought it might be useful to list the contents of the book of Warrants. Most warrants are on separate pages, but occasionally there are two on a page. They proceed chronologically, except for occasional lapses. The pages have been lightly numbered in pencil, and I am following that pagination.

Seeing how the appointments group helps illustrate the ripple effect of promotions.


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Joseph Phillips

Joshua Kirby’s Labourer in Trust at Richmond and Kew was Joseph Phillips. They did not always get along. When Kirby was appointed Clerk of the Works in 1761, Phillips had already been Labourer in Trust for fifteen years. He was appointed to the post 01 December 1746, when Henry Stallard succeeded Henry Flitcroft as Clerk of the Works as part of a series of promotions and movements. Kirby was the fourth Clerk Phillips worked under.

The laconic minutes of the weekly meetings of the Board of Works do not give much background, but Kirby must have complained about Phillips’ performance because Phillips was summoned to a Board meeting in November 1761:

November 18 1761 (WORK 4/13)

Joseph Phillipps, Laborer in Trust at Richmond attended pursuant to Order and was directed to attend his Duty constantly on the Spot under the directions of Mr. Kirby, Clerk of the Works, And that Mr. Kirby find some Convenient Place for him to live in.

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Eighteenth-Century Salaries

In 1761, Joshua Kirby and his son William were appointed joint Clerks of the Works and Storekeepers at Richmond and Kew. The two positions of Richmond and Kew always went together, with that of Richmond being considered the more important. Later in the 1760s and 1770s, there was more construction and redecoration at Kew and the pace of work picked up. The basic salary for Richmond was 2s 3d a day, while for Kew it was only 1s. This was not a great deal of money. The Labourer in Trust received 2s 2d, and a regular labourer could earn 2s a day.

Headline salaries are misleading, though. William Hogarth’s official payment as Serjeant painter to the King was only £10, but he boasted that the post was worth two or three hundred pounds a year to him. There were all sorts of perquisites and ways of generating additional income. The arcane system of allowances extended down as far as the Clerk of the Works. The details of the accounts for the period when Kirby was Clerk of the Works are no longer available, just the monthly summaries, but the accounts do exist for 1781 (in the volume WORK 5/69 at the National Archives). These accounts give the breakdown of payments to Kirby’s successor, Thomas Fülling. Given that Kirby’s income never changed over the period he held the position, and that Fülling received the same payment, we can be fairly sure that the same set of allowances were in force for Kirby. Here is the account for January 1781:

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Clerk of the Works at Richmond and Kew

The various palaces and estates of the royal household were managed by the Office of Works, headed by a Surveyor-General. Each location was supervised by a Clerk of the Works, usually with the assistance of a Labourer in Trust. The Clerk of the Works was responsible for construction, maintenance, decoration, and repair, and dealing with the various contractors who would do the actual work. The minutes of the weekly meeting of the Board of Works for February 24, 1761 note:

Order’d that Joshua and William Kirby be joint Clerks of the Works and Storekeepers at Richmond and Kew in the Room of John Smith Upon the Establish’d Salary and Allowances of the Clerkship at Kensington Palace

And John Smith to be Clerk of the Works at Kensington Palace in the Room of John Vardy, Upon the Established Salary and Allowances of Richmond and Kew.


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