Tag Archives: Kew

Kemble Whatley, Carpenter

When George Warren died, he was replaced as carpenter at Kew by Kemble Whatley. Their situations were quite different. The Warrens were a local family with extensive ties to the area and a modest carpentry business.  Kemble Whatley was a wealthy man, well-known to the Office of Works, and with a history of government employment stretching back decades.

Kemble Whatley’s early life is unknown and even his date of birth in unclear; it was somewhere in the 1714—1718 period. His father, Joseph Whatley was a Somerset man who married Elizabeth Kemble.  The Kembles had some money and could support the young family, especially Elizabeth’s uncle Richard Kemble, a prosperous lawyer who helped launch Kemble’s older brother George and died childless in 1734, leaving bequests to the brothers.

Kemble Whatley was apprenticed to James Dowding, a joiner in Trowbridge, a town not far away from the family home in Mells, Somerset. Thus began his career in carpentry. After serving his apprenticeship, Kemble made his way to London where he next appears, somewhat improbably, as a witness to the will of John Theophilus Desaguliers, grand master mason, cleric, and Fellow of the Royal Society.

By 1747, he was able to execute a substantial covenant in connection with his marriage to Elizabeth Marsh (1718—1748), a member of a prominent family of merchants in Salisbury and London. The couple were married in April, but sadly Elizabeth died the following January after giving birth to their son Richard Kemble Whatley (1748—1793). A year later, Kemble remarried to Elizabeth Dare (1730—1793), who, like himself, was from Somerset.  They had one son, George Kemble Whatley (1753—1833).

By this time Kemble had built up a substantial carpentry and timber-trading business based in Millbank. In 1750, he appears in the Richmond Lodge accounts for carpentry work. Meanwhile, his brother George became a governor of the Foundling Hospital and maintained a close connection with the institution for the rest of his life.

In 1756, Kemble Whatley was appointed Deputy Surveyor of Forests with responsibility for the Forests of Alice Holt and Woolmer. The deputy surveyor chose how many and which trees were to be felled each year with the wood sold at auction and much it, oak especially, destined for the Navy. While there is no suggestion Kemble Whatley abused his position during his four-year tenure, a later government commission decided that the practice of having timber merchants who made substantial purchases at the auctions also deciding the supply was perhaps unwise.

With his increasing success in business, Kemble Whatley acquired property in Westminster, Lambeth across the river and small estates at Hartfield in Sussex and Hingham and Binfield in Berkshire. In 1763 he was steward of Westminster Hospital and in 1767 steward for the Asylum for Female Orphans in Westminster. In 1765 he was admitted to the Freemasons, by this time styling himself as “Esquire”, and in 1773 he was High Sheriff of Sussex. No mere handyman, Kemble Whatley was at the height of his profession when the position of carpenter at Kew came open in 1774.

By the 1770s, his elder son Richard was set up with the life of a country gentleman in Sussex, while the younger son George went up to Cambridge and in due course became a clergyman, residing on the Berkshire property. Kemble Whatley died in 1780, having made a substantial success in his trade and leaving a good provision for his family.

Thomas Howlett, Bricklayer

The first George Warren, master carpenter at Kew, married local girl Elizabeth Howlett (1703—1766), daughter of a bricklayer. However, this description is a little misleading.

The Warrens and Howletts both owned land around Kew Green and as the royal family became more interested in Kew and Richmond and expanded their building works, the Howletts prospered.  Elizabeth’s father, Thomas Howlett (1678—1759) became bricklayer to the Prince of Wales and, in 1736, together with Joseph Pratt, he was appointed Master Bricklayer of His Majesty’s Works. Thomas Howlett and Joseph Pratt were thus in charge of all brickwork in the royal residences.

Along with his daughter Elizabeth, Thomas Howlett also had a son, Thomas (1704—1737), but these are the only children of his that I know about.  Thomas junior was also a bricklayer, continuing the family line of work.  When Thomas died, he left a house “in the Occupation of Lady Judith Coote” to his father for life and then to his sister and his brother-in-law George Warren.  George Warren died in 1755 and the next year his father-in-law made a will with provisions for the children of his sister and for his grandchildren.  The eldest, George, was given £100 and three of his siblings £200 each.  However, George and Elizabeth had wisely named one of their children Thomas Howlett Warren (1733—1777); he got the bulk of the estate.  While the younger George was a carpenter, and his brother William a carpenter and wheelwright, Thomas Howlett became a gentleman.  By the time of his death in 1777 his estate included at least 15 buildings at Kew, including the Rose and Crown pub and, rather charmingly, “a large workshop adjoining the stable, occupied by his Majesty, now in the possession of Mrs. Warren”.

George Warren, Carpenter at Kew

Those who secured a craftsman position with the government typically had a position for life, and possibly for generations.  Such was the case with George Warren, carpenter at Kew.

The first of the Warren family to appear was George Warren (1698—1755). He married Elizabeth Howlett, daughter of a local bricklayer and became master carpenter at Kew. Little is known about his life, but he makes a brief appearance in the 1730s when Frederick, Prince of Wales, acquired the White House at Kew and began extensive renovations under the direction of architect William Kent. George Warren was the carpenter and his name appears in the accounts.


White House at Kew

George and Elizabeth had at least nine children, although five of them died young.  However, the second son, George (1731—1774) continued in the family line of work, and after his father died in 1755, he became carpenter and joiner at Kew. George Warren junior was thus the head carpenter at Kew when Kirby was appointed Clerk of the Works. The younger George Warren is best known nowadays for building the spiral staircase for the pagoda at Kew Gardens.

Pagoda (interior)

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

George Warren married Anne Stringer (1734—1784) of Richmond in 1759 and together they had four children at Kew, where he was also churchwarden. However, when George Warren died in 1774 (just a month after Kirby), his eldest son, George Thomas Warren (1765—1823) was not yet ten and too young to succeed the position. The Board of Works recorded in its laconic way:

August 5th 1774

The Board being acquainted that Mr. George Warren late Carpenter and Joiner at Kew House is dead

Order’d that Kemble Whatley do succeed him as Carpenter and James Arrow as Joiner at Kew House.

George’s widow Anne kept on the carpentry business in Kew Green and on her death in 1784 it passed down to her son George. George Thomas Warren appears in the Office of Works accounts as a joiner doing various work around Kew, including repairs to the Pagoda in 1811 and 1813.  George Thomas went into partnership with his brother Henry and they expanded as builders and carpenters based in Grosvenor Square as well as Kew, but it seems they expanded too much for they went bankrupt in 1815 and the case was still rumbling on in 1829, long after George’s death.


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.

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Eighteenth-Century Salaries

In 1761, Joshua Kirby and his son William were appointed joint Clerks of the Works and Storekeepers at Richmond and Kew. The two positions of Richmond and Kew always went together, with that of Richmond being considered the more important. Later in the 1760s and 1770s, there was more construction and redecoration at Kew and the pace of work picked up. The basic salary for Richmond was 2s 3d a day, while for Kew it was only 1s. This was not a great deal of money. The Labourer in Trust received 2s 2d, and a regular labourer could earn 2s a day.

Headline salaries are misleading, though. William Hogarth’s official payment as Serjeant painter to the King was only £10, but he boasted that the post was worth two or three hundred pounds a year to him. There were all sorts of perquisites and ways of generating additional income. The arcane system of allowances extended down as far as the Clerk of the Works. The details of the accounts for the period when Kirby was Clerk of the Works are no longer available, just the monthly summaries, but the accounts do exist for 1781 (in the volume WORK 5/69 at the National Archives). These accounts give the breakdown of payments to Kirby’s successor, Thomas Fülling. Given that Kirby’s income never changed over the period he held the position, and that Fülling received the same payment, we can be fairly sure that the same set of allowances were in force for Kirby. Here is the account for January 1781:

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Clerk of the Works at Richmond and Kew

The various palaces and estates of the royal household were managed by the Office of Works, headed by a Surveyor-General. Each location was supervised by a Clerk of the Works, usually with the assistance of a Labourer in Trust. The Clerk of the Works was responsible for construction, maintenance, decoration, and repair, and dealing with the various contractors who would do the actual work. The minutes of the weekly meeting of the Board of Works for February 24, 1761 note:

Order’d that Joshua and William Kirby be joint Clerks of the Works and Storekeepers at Richmond and Kew in the Room of John Smith Upon the Establish’d Salary and Allowances of the Clerkship at Kensington Palace

And John Smith to be Clerk of the Works at Kensington Palace in the Room of John Vardy, Upon the Established Salary and Allowances of Richmond and Kew.


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John Smeaton

John Smeaton (1724—1792) was the first to use ‘Civil Engineer’ as a title. He is now most famous for his rebuilding of the Eddystone Ligthhouse after it burned down in 1755. However, Smeaton was an incredibly industrious man, racking up a huge number of projects of a bewildering variety. It is exhausting just reading about his activities.

John Smeaton was born in 1724 at Austhorpe, near Leeds, in Yorkshire. His father was a lawyer and intended John, his eldest son, to follow in his path. At a young age John Smeaton found a great mechanical aptitude and interest, making his own tools as necessary for his work. While still a teenager, he met and formed a close friendship with nearby clockmaker Henry Hindley (1701—1771). Smeaton’s father sent him to London to study for the law, but it did not last, although Smeaton retained a careful and precise way of writing reports and memos for his clients that lasted his whole career.

Abandoning formal legal training, Smeaton returned to Austhorpe and, presumably taught by Henry Hindley, trained as a philosophical instrument maker. By his mid-twenties he had set up shop in London, started moving in scientific circles in the capital, and soon began publishing papers in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Around 1752 he began his investigations into water- and wind-mill power, studying efficiency of under- and over-shot water-wheels and the effects of varying the shape and angle of windmill sails. On the strength of his work in philosophical instruments he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1753, and when he finally published his paper on wind and water power to great acclaim in 1759, he was awarded the Society’s prestigious Copley Medal.

His first mill was built in 1753. In 1755 he went on a tour of the Low Countries for five weeks, closely observing mills, locks, canals, and harbors. His diary records his detailed observations of hydraulic works, but matters not directly related to engineering get short shrift. I don’t think he ever mentions what he ate, for example. Smeaton was an excellent engineering draughtsman, and hundreds of his careful drawings survive, but he was less interested in non-practical art. His diary for June 22, in Bruges, records:

I see the 2 Great churches for the service of the town, in which were such a numbers of Altars, Crucifixes, Priests, Painting &c., as it would be endless to describe: among the paintings I see many that pleased me, but none that struck me sufficiently to make me remember them. (Diary, 15)

The Eddystone Lighthouse burned down in December 1755 and in February 1756, Smeaton was appointed to rebuild it, a task which occupied much of his time until October 1759. He married Ann Jenkinson in June 1756, but she can’t have seen much of him in the early years of their marriage. They had two daughters who reached adulthood, Ann and Mary; Mary married Jeremiah Dixon.

After the completion of the lighthouse, he moved his base to Austhorpe, making trips to London and wherever his commissions took him as necessary. In the early 1760s, he designed and built the Calder navigation, involving 26 locks in 24 miles. He consulted on several large drainage projects, designed pumping engines, and planned the Forth and Clyde Canal. He also designed the lovely Coldstream Bridge.

All this was the work of just five years or so, and he kept up this pace including a steady flow of technical innovations for the rest of his working life.

He was painted several times, including this portrait from around 1759, now in the collection of the Royal Society.

Another of Smeaton’s commissions was a water pump for Kew in 1761 which raised water from a deep well for the lake. It is presumably this project that brought him into contact with Joshua Kirby, then Clerk of the Works at Kew, and probably explains Smeaton’s support for Kirby’s FRS candidacy.



Skempton, A.W., ed. John Smeaton, FRS. London: Thomas Telford Limited, 1981.

Smeaton’s DNB entry.

Smeaton, J. John Smeaton’s Diary of his Journey to the Low Countries 1755. Leamington Spa: The Newcomen Society, 1938.