Tag Archives: Bricklayers

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.

The Bricklayers Labours

In 1734 and 1735, Robert Tatersal of Kingston-upon-Thames, spurred on by the success of Stephen Duck, produced two slim volumes of poetry, titled The Bricklayer’s Miscellany. The poems are on diverse subjects, but in “The Bricklayers Labours” he spoke uniquely of the daily life of the artisan.

At length the soft Nocturnal Minutes fly,
And crimson Blushes paint the orient Sky;
When by a kind of drowsy Stretch and Yawn,
I ope my Eyes, and view the Scarlet Dawn;
But stealing Sleep my Vitals still surprise,
And with a slumb’ring Softness seal my Eyes,
Till open Light corroborates the Day,
And through the Casement darts his signal Ray;
When up I start, and view the eastern Sky,
And by my Mark find Six o’Clock is nigh:
Then hanging on my Thread-Bare Coat and Hose,
My Hat, my Cap, my Breeches, and my Shoes;
With Sheep-skin Apron girt about my Waste,
Down Stairs I go to visit my Repast;
Which rarely doth consist of more than these,
A Quartern Loaf, and half a Pound of Cheese;
Then in a Linnen Bag, on purpose made,
My Day’s allowance o’re my Shoulder’s laid:
And first, to keep the Fog from coming in,
I whet my Whistle with a Dram of Gin;
So thus equip’d, my Trowel in my Hand,
I haste to Work, and join the ragged Band:
And now each one his different Post assign’d,
And three to three in Ranks completely join’d;
When Bricks and Mortar eccho’s from on high,
Mortar and Bricks, the common, constant Cry;
Each sturdy Slave their different Labours share,
Some Brickmen call’d, and some for Mortar are:
With sultry Sweat and blow without Allay,
Travel the Standard up and down all Day;
And now the Sun with more exalted Ray,
With glowing Beams distributes riper Day,
When amidst Dust and Smoke, and Sweat and Noise,
A Line, a Line, the Foreman crys, my Boys;
When Tuck and Pat with Flemish bound they run,
Till the whole Course is struck, compleat, and done:
Then on again, while two exalts the Quoin,
And draws the midmost Men another Line.
The Course laid out, when thro’ the fleeting Air,
A solemn Sound salutes the willing Ear;
When universal Yo-ho’s echo strait,
Our constant Signal to the Hour of Eight.
And now precipitant away we steer,
To eat our Viands, and to get some Beer;
Where midst the Clamour, Noise and smoky Din
of Dust, Tobacco, Chaws, and drinking gin,
The short Half-hour we merrily do spin.
When for Desert some with their Sun-burnt Fists,
Cram in a Chaw of Half an Ounce at least,
And then to sweep the Passage clean within,
Wash down their Throats a Quartern full of Gin.
And now again the Signal greets our Ear,
We’re called to Book, must at the Bar appear:
When the grim Host examines what we’ve done,
And scores sometimes devoutly two for one;
And now refresh’d again we mount on high,
While on calls Mortar, others Bricks do cry;
And then a Line, a Line’s the constant Sound,
By Line and Rule our daily Labour’s crown’d.
While to divert the sult’ry Hours along,
One tells a Tale, another sings a Song:
And now the Sun with full Meridian Ray,
With scorching Beams confirms the perfect Day.
Full Twelve a Clock the Labourers cry Yo-ho,
When some to Sleep, and some to Dinner go:
Some that have Victuals eat; others who’ve none,
Supply the Place with Drink and Gin alone.
Mod’rate in Food, but in good Beer profuse,
Which for the Heat we modestly excuse.
And now the gliding Minutes almost gone,
And a loud Noise proclaims the Hour of One;
Again we re-assume the dusty Stage,
The Mortar chas’d again we do engage.
This the most tedious Part of all the Day,
Full five Hours Space to toil without Allay:
Now parch’d with Hear, and almost chok’d with Dust,
We join our Pence to satiate our Thirst:
At length the Western Breezes gently play,
And Sol declining moderates his Ray;
Now the approaching welcome Hour draws near,
And now again the Signal glads our Ear;
The happy Hour we waited for all Day,
At length arrives our Labours to repay.
And now the Tools reposited with Care,
Until the morning Rays again appear;
Some homewards bend, some to the Alehouse steer,
Others more sober feast on better Cheer.
But when the Days contract an dwint’ry Hours rise,
And sable Clouds and Fogs invest the Skies,
When Frost and Cold congeals the Atmosphere,
And Trees disrob’d and hoary Fields appear;
When all the Earth in Ice and Snow is bound,
And nought but Desolation all around,
Then haples me! I wander up and down,
With half an Apron, wond’rous greasy grown!
With anxious Looks my Countenance is clad,
And all my Thoughts are like the Winter, sad!
This scene of Life corrodes y troubled Mind,
I seek for Work; but none, alas! can find;
Sometimes, by Chance, I have a Grate to set,
To hang a Copper, or a Hole repleat;
A Day or two to exercise my Skill,
But seldom more reluctant to my Will:
And this I pass the tedious Winter on,
Sometimes Repast I have, and sometimes none;
Till cheerful Phoebus with a grateful Ray,
Thro’ vernal Airs explores his will Way;
Dispells all Cares, and gladdens every Vein,
And all the joyous Scene revolves again.

His poems do not seem to have been successful.

Campbell on Bricklayers

In his London Tradesman, Campbell works through the building trades in Chapter 31, beginning with the architect and the stone mason, continuing:

The Bricklayer comes next under our Consideration. He differs from the Stone-Mason as much as his Materials; his Skill consists, considering him as a mere Bricklayer, only in ranging his Brick even upon the Top of one another, and giving them their proper Beds of Cements; for it is suppos’d, the Architect directs him in every thing related to Dimensions. But a Master-Bricklayer thinks himself capable to raise a Brick-House without the Tuition of an Architect: And in Town they generally know the just Proportion of Doors and Windows, the Manner of carrying up Vents, and the other common Articles in a City-House, where the Carpenter, by the Strength of Wood, contributes more to the standing of the House than all the Bricklayer’s Labour. He works by the Yard; that is, is paid by the Employer so much for every Yard of Brick-Work, either with or without the Materials, and is a very profitable Business; especially if they confine themselves to work for others, and do not launch out into Building-Projects of their own, which frequently ruin them: It is no new Thing in London, for those Master-Builders to build themselves out of their own Houses, and fix themselves in Jail with their own Materials. A Journeyman-Bricklayer has commonly Half a Crown a Day, and the Foreman of the Work may have Three Shillings, or perhaps a Guinea a week: But they are out of Business for five, if not six Months in the Year; and, in and about London, drink more than one third of the other Six.

Campbell is not wrong to warn of the dangers of speculation. During the rapid expansion of London and Westminster in the eighteenth century, a successful bricklayer may set himself up as a builder and build a row of houses speculatively.  Such projects did not always end well.

Mortimer, in the Universal Director, while not warning of bankruptcy, does illustrate the recent (in 1763) changes in funding house construction:

But of late years the capital Masters of the two branches of House and Ship Carpentry, have assumed the name of Builders, and Ship-Builders; for this reason, because they make an estimate of the total expence of a House or a Ship, and contract for the execution of the whole for the amount of their estimate; so that they take upon themselves the providing of all materials, and employ their own Masons, Plumbers, Smiths, &c. whereas formerly it was the custom form gentlemen and merchants to apply to the several masters in each branch, and employ them in executing their plans: this indeed is sometimes the case at present, but very rarely, particularly with regard to Houses, whole streets having lately been erected by Builders.

Related Posts:

Thomas Howlett, Bricklayer

Campbell on Painting

Campbell on Education

Campbell on Mathematical Instrument Makers