Monthly Archives: October 2014

Structure of the Board of Ordnance

The Board of Ordnance was in charge of the military’s supply of guns and ammunition, as well as fortifications. As a result, the Ordnance retained a collection of patented craftsmen, although these were not part of the formal organizational structure as they were in the Office of Works. However, there was some overlap between the two groups of tradesmen, so it is necessary to examine the Board of Ordnance a little.

In the eighteenth century the organization of the Office of Ordnance was based on a detailed plan drawn up by Lord Dartmouth and attached to a royal warrant of July 25, 1683. The system changed remarkably little until the Board was abolished in 1855. The plan was called

Instructions for the Government of Our Office of Ordnance under Our Master-General thereof; committed to five Principal Officers, viz. Our Lieutenant-General of Our Ordnance, Surveyor-General of the Ordnance, Clerk of the Ordnance, Keeper of the Stores, Clerk of Deliveries.

The Instructions go on to give detailed guidance on the duties (and pay) of each member of the Board and supporting positions such as office clerks and messengers. The entire document is reproduced in Cleaveland’s Early History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, where it runs some 30 pages.

The position of Master-General was prestigious, and occupied by senior officers. In Kirby’s day it was Earl Ligonier until 1763, and then the Marquis of Granby. The Lieutenant-General acted as deputy to the Master-General. The remaining four members of the Board operated as a series of checks and balances against each other to assure quality of good and prevent corruption. The Surveyor-General was in charge of checking the quality of all goods purchased or works carried out by the Board; the Clerk of the Ordnance was responsible for purchasing the supplies; the Storekeeper was in charge of storage and maintenance (including large stores of gunpowder and ammunition), and the Clerk of the Deliveries was in charge of issuing supplies from storage. Any supplies that had been issued, but not used, had to be checked by the Surveyor before they could be re-entered into storage.

As mentioned above, the Instructions go into considerable detail about the responsibilities of each Board Member. Here is one sample paragraph from the section on the general duties of the Board Members:

To suffer no vagrant or suspicious person, or any foreigner or stranger (without knowledge of his quality, or some trusty person to attend them) to haunt or to have intercourse in the offices or storehouses, especially in the powder room, which, for more assurance, we will command to be kept under two locks with divers keys, whereof our Storekeeper may have one, and the rest of our Principal Officers the other, to be kept in their common chest, in the Office, whereof every one to have a key, so as there may be no access to the powder without the personal presence of two of them at least.

In later posts we will look at some of the construction and maintenance carried out by the master craftsmen associated to the Board.

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


Cleaveland, F.D. Notes on the Early History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery. Woolwich, 1892.

Hogg, O.F.G. The Royal Arsenal. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963.

Stephen Wright

Stephen Wright (d. 1780) was Deputy Surveyor and Master Mason to the Office of Works when Kirby was appointed as Clerk of the Works at Richmond and Kew. Wright was a protégé of William Kent, although exactly how and when they first came into contact is not known. Wright’s DNB article speculates that he is the ‘Stephen’ referred to in some of Kent’s letters from 1738, and he was certainly working for Kent by 1741. In the beginning he was chiefly employed as a `measurer’, gradually taking on more significant responsibilities. That Kent and Wright had a close personal as well as business relationship is clear. When making out his will in October 1743, Kent singled out Wright for a legacy of £50. This is the only monetary legacy Kent left outside of his family (there is a great long list of paintings and busts to be given to specific friends). Shortly before his death in 1748, Kent added a codicil giving more gifts to friends, including half a dozen members of the Office of Works, and the codicil was witnessed by Wright (PROB 11/761/245). Kent’s residual legatee was his nephew William Pearson who only outlived Kent by a few months. Pearson in turn left all Kent’s pictures and drawings to be disposed of by Wright (and John Ferrett), and Wright was named as one of Pearson’s pall bearers. Pearson also left £10 to, “Mrs. Wright the wife of the said Stephen Wright … to buy her Mourning and a ring” (PROB 11/762/373).

Wright’s first appointment in the Office of Works, presumably on the influence of Burlington, was as Clerk of the Works at Hampton Court in December 1746 in the place of John Vardy, who was promoted to Clerk of Works at Whitehall, St. James’s, and Westminster. Along with his government position, Wright began building a private practice. Late in his life, Kent was working on renovations to Henry Pelham’s London house, 22 Arlington Street. When Kent died in 1748, Wright took over the completion of the work.

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