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.

The problem, whatever it was, seems to have sorted itself out and no more is heard of trouble with Phillips for the rest of the 1760s. Then in August 1770, Kirby complained to the Board that Phillips was “behind hand” with paying the wages of labourers at Richmond and Kew. The Board summarily transferred the responsibility to Solomon Brown (a long-term contractor and, as bricklayer, used to employing teams of workers; he is best remembered now as the builder of William Chambers’ pagoda at Kew).

A year later, there was more trouble:

August 30th 1771

Mr. Kirby Clerk of the Works at Richmond & Kew complained to the Board that Joseph Phillips his Labourer in Trust absents himself without leave, orders work without the knowledge of Mr. Kirby and other irregularitys.

Order’d Mr. Robinson do Write to the said Joseph Phillips to acquaint him he must obey the Orders and directions of the Clerk of the Works so far as relates to His Majestys service.

By 1774, Kirby was ill and the Board was concerned that he could not keep up with the increased pace of work at Kew and Richmond:

February 4th 1774

The Board took into consideration the great Expense of Works done and still doing at Richmond and Kew, and likewise the ill state of Mr. Kirby’s (the Clerk of the Works there) health, which unfortunately disables him from superintending the Works.

Order’d that Mr. John Robinson (Clerk of the Works at Greenwich house) do immediately go to assist Mr. Kirby in his duty as Clerk of the Works at Richmond and Kew, And that Mr. Robinson the Secretary [of the Treasury] write to Mr. Kirby to acquaint him therewith.

Robinson, presumably, was not happy with the situation there and the next month the Board transferred Phillips to a less-onerous position:

March 4th 1774

The Board took into Consideration the great Duty required of the Labourer in Trust at Richmond and that Mr. Joseph Phillips the present Labourer in Trust there is grown old & infirm.

Order’d that the said Joseph Phillips be Labourer in Trust at the Tower of London where the Duty is not so great, and

Order’d that Robert Brown do succeed Joseph Phillips as Labourer in Trust at Richmond and that he do take care of the Fire Engines at Kew till farther Orders from this Board.

John Robinson then died on the 10th of May, and Kirby died the 21st of June. Phillips in turn died in October 1775.

It seems that “old and infirm” Joseph Phillips had no close family at the end of his life as in his will (PROB 11/1012/162) he leaves everything to his “friend and housekeeper” Ann Low.

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

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