Tag Archives: Board of Works

William Oram

William Oram (d. 1777) was Master Carpenter to the Office of Works when Kirby was appointed as Clerk of the Works at Richmond and Kew. Although he was well-known in artistic circles in his time, his star has faded. Horace Walpole, in his three-volume Anecdotes of Painting, accords Oram precisely one sentence: “William Oram was bred an architect, but taking to landscape-painting, arrived at great merit in that branch; and was made master-carpenter to the board of works, by the interest of Sir Edward Walpole, who has several of his pictures and drawings” [vol II, 711]. The DNB is a little more forthcoming, mentioning his painting of the staircase in Buckingham Palace, and his earliest known published work, an etching of Datchet Bridge printed in 1745.

Very little of his original work is known to have survived. He was popular with nobles having over-door and over-mantle pieces in country houses, as well as painting staircases. Such works have presumably all disappeared, or at least lost attribution. The DNB records his death in 1777, “leaving a widow and a son, Edward” and gives a brief mention of Edward’s own artistic productions from exhibition catalogs.

Against this rather sparse record comes a startling obituary:

On Monday last was interr’d at Hendon in Middlesex, the remains of William Oram, Esq; officer of his Majesty’s Board of Works. He was an affectionate husband, a tender and best of fathers, whose great abilities were universally known; and a sincere friend to his acquaintance. He labored under the most severe affliction for many years, from a hurt in his side. His loss is irreparable to his disconsolate widow and numerous family [Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, Friday, March 28, 1777].

This suggests there may be more to William Oram’s story. Continue reading

Henry Flitcroft

Henry Flitcroft (1697—1769), the architect, was Comptroller of the Board of Works at the time when Joshua Kirby was appointed Clerk of the Works at Richmond and Kew. Flitcroft had risen by talent and luck from humble beginnings. His father was a labourer at Hampton Court and Flitcroft was apprenticed as a joiner. He got his lucky `break’ when he fell off a ladder in 1719 while working on Burlington House, and came to the attention of the Earl of Burlington, who noticed his drawing ability. With Burlington’s patronage, Flitcroft’s rise was swift. While working for Burlington as a draughtsman, he also gained a place at the Office of Works, being appointed Clerk of the Works at Whitehall, Westminster, and St James’s palaces in May 1726. Flitcroft remained at the Office of Works for the rest of his life, becoming Master Carpenter in 1746, Master Mason and Deputy Surveyor in 1748, and Comptroller in 1758. According to Colvin, during his years of service, he attended ‘at least 1100 Board meetings’ (89).

Alongside his government position with associated draughtsmanship and architectural work, Flitcroft built up a successful private practice, largely following in the Palladian style endorsed by Burlington and his circle. One of his first commissions, in 1725, was to prepare a set of plans for Montagu House, then lived in by John, 2nd Duke of Montagu. The house later became the first location of the British Museum and the plans are now held by the BM. Continue reading

Thomas Worsley

When George III came to the throne, he and the Earl of Bute had a plan, and part of it involve installing the new King’s favoured people in the Office of Works, reflecting his (and Bute’s) interest in architecture. The first appointment was that of Thomas Worsley to Surveyor General. Although the official appointment was on 15 December 1760, it was obviously known to the participants earlier; Henry Finch, the previous incumbent, stopped attending Board meetings three weeks before, and, on 5 December 1760, Horace Walpole wrote to his friend Henry Mann that Worsley “is made Master of the Board of Works; he was this King’s equerry, and passes for having a taste for architecture, of which I told you the King was fond” (Correspondence, 26, 460).

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Namier on Finch

The man Thomas Worsley replaced as Surveyor General in 1760 was Henry Finch. Finch had been in the position for seventeen years, but was induced to give the post up in exchange for a secret service pension of £900 a year. Sadly, he only lived long enough to receive the first quarterly installment. Here is Namier’s elegant thumbnail sketch of Finch from Structure of Politics (p. 20—21). Finch is being used as an example of the use of place and patronage. Continue reading

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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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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