Tag Archives: Board of Ordnance

Joseph Pratt, Bricklayer

When Thomas Howlett (1678—1759) was appointed master Bricklayer of His Majesty’s Works in 1736 in the place of Thomas Churchill, deceased, he shared the appointment with Joseph Pratt.  Thomas Howlett had been bricklayer to the Prince of Wales, and doubtless owed his new position to that patronage.  What of Joseph Pratt?

Joseph Pratt, junior, (1697—1768) was a well-respected bricklayer, being Master Bricklayer to the Office of Ordnance and was son to Joseph Pratt (d. 1750) also a bricklayer.  In fact both father and son in turn rose to become Masters of The Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers of the City of London, in 1721 and 1740 respectively.  Possibly of even more importance, Joseph Pratt had married Thomas Churchill’s only child, Elizabeth (1707-1768).

Joseph Pratt senior and his wife Elizabeth had (at least) nine children, but seven of them died in infancy, including the last four, all of whom died at less than 6 months of age. The survivors were James and Joseph.  James Pratt (1705—1740) also became a bricklayer “to his Majesty”, but died in 1740 apparently without leaving any wife or children.  Joseph Pratt junior and Elizabeth had four children who lived to adulthood, three girls and a boy.

The son, Thomas Pratt, also became a bricklayer, and, on the death of Thomas Howlett in 1759, succeeded in his place as joint Master Bricklayer to the Board of Works with his father. Thomas Pratt married on 23 June 1760 Mary Wright, daughter of Stephen Wright of the Office of Works, at that point Deputy Surveyor. Thomas and Mary had two children, Joseph and Charlotte before Thomas died in 1762. After his son’s death, Joseph Pratt held the office alone until his own passing in 1768, upon which the office was abolished.

Joseph Pratt and his son Thomas both married into the Office of Works. The daughters also married into similar circles. Sarah married James Morris, Master Carpenter of the Board of Ordnance, son of Roger Morris, Master Carpenter to the Board of Ordnance. Sarah died in 1760 without leaving any children. Elizabeth, who also sadly died young in 1759, married George Mercer, Master mason, and left several children.

The only one of Joseph Pratt’s children to outlive him was his daughter Ann.  She married outside of the craftsmen group, to a well-off tradesman, John Barrett, wax-chandler to His Majesty.

We shall have more to say of the interconnections of these families at the top of their trades in mid-eighteenth-century London.

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.