Tag Archives: Office of Works

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.

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.

Thomas Worsley’s Letters Patent

The warrant appointing Joshua Kirby and his son William joint Clerk of the Works at Richmond and Kew was a comparatively modest affair. The more senior the position, the fancier the document. The Hogarth Trust has a copy of the Letters Patent appointing William Hogarth Sergeant Painter, and has published a transcription of the text. Soon after his accession to the throne George III began his reorganization of the Office of Works with the appointment of Thomas Worsley to Surveyor General, the senior position in the department. The text granting his appointment on December 15 1760 was suitably florid:

George the third by the Grace of God of Great Britain France & Ireland King, Defender of the Faith &c. To all to whom these Presents shall come Greeting. Whereas Our late Royal Grandfather George the Second of Glorious and happy Memory did by his Letters Patent under his Great Seal of Great Britain bearing the date at Westmr. 30th day of December in the 17th Year of his Reign; Give and Grant unto his trusty and wellbeloved Henry Finch Esqr. the Office of Surveyor of his Works within his Tower of London and in all and singular his Honours Castles Lordships and Manors which his said late Majesty usually reserved for his Repair and abode or which he should in time then to come Appoint for his Repair and Abode. To hold the same by himself or his sufficient Deputy or Deputys, such Deputy or Deputys to be first Approved of by the Commissioners of his said late Majesty’s Treasury or High Treasurer for the time being together with the Wages & Fee of 2s. by the day for himself and sixpence by the day for the Wages and fee of one Clerk and also 4s by the day for the diet Boathire & Riding Charges of the said Henry Finch & of his Deputys & Assigns for every day which he or his Deputy or Deputys should be actually Employ’d in the said Service and likewise an Additional yearly fee or Salary of £400. And all other Rights, Powers, Priviledges, Profits and Advantages whatsoever thereunto belonging during his said late Majesty’s Pleasure as by the said recited Letters Patent (relation being thereunto had) may more at large Appear; In which said Office according to the Form of the Statute in such Case made and provided he is continued for the Space of 6 mo.ths from the time of the demise of his said late Majesty unless he shall by Us be sooner Removed & Discharged from the said Office Now know ye that We have revoked & determined and by these Presents do Revoke and Determine the said recited Letters Patent and every Clause Article & thing therein Contained, and him the said Henry Finch We do remove and discharge from the said Office by these Presents And further know ye that We of Our Especial Grace certain knowledge and meer Motion Have Given & Granted & by these Presents Do Give and Grant unto Our Trusty & Wellbeloved Thomas Worsley Esqr. the Office of Surveyor of Our Works within Our Tower of London and in all and singular Our Honours, Castles, Lordships and Manors which We usually reserve for Our Repair and Abode or which We in time to come shall Appoint for Our Repair and Abode; and him the said Thomas Worsley Surveyor of all and singular Our aforesaid Works We do make ordain & constitute by these Presents To have hold Exercise & Enjoy the said Office unto the said Thomas Worsley by himself or his sufficient Deputy or Deputys (such Deputy of Deputys to be first Approved of by the Commrs. of Our Treasury or Our High Treasurer for the time being) together with all & singular Rights Powers Priviledges, Profits Commodities Wages Fees Salaries and Advantages whatsoever to the said Office of Surveyor of the Works aforesaid belonging or on any wise Appertaining during Our Pleasure in as ample manner & form as he the said Henry Finch or any other Person or Persons have or hath held exercised or enjoy’d or ought to have held Exercised or Enjoyed the same And We do also by these Presents of Our further especial Grace, Give and Grant unto the said Thomas Worsley in and for Exercising the Office aforesaid the Wages & Fee of 2s. by the day for himself, and for the Wages & Fees of one Clerk to serve in the said under him the said Thomas Worsley sixpence by the day To have and Yearly receive & take the sd. Wages and Fee of 2s. by the day for himself and sixpence a day for his Clerk to the said Thomas Worsley or his Assigns during Our Pleasure out of the Treasure remaining or being from time to time in the Receipts of Our Exchequer applicable to the Uses of Our Civil Government by the hands of the Commrs. of Our Treasury or Our High Treasurer Chancr and under Treasurer of Our Exchequer now and for the time being at the four most usual Feasts or Terms in the Year that is to say the Feasts of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist; St Michael the Archangel; yhe birth of Our Lord Christ; And the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary: The first Payment thereof to commence & be Computed from the date of these Our Letters Patent unto and for the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary next ensuing & from thence the subsequent Payments to be made Quarterly at the Feasts Aforesaid during Our Pleasure. And We have also Given and Granted and by these Presents Do give and grant unto the said Thomas Worsley for the Diet Boathire & Riding Charges of him the said Thoms. Worsley his Deputies & Assigns as hath been accustomed four shillings of lawfull Money of Great Britain by the day for every day he or his Deputy or Deputies shall be actually Employed in the said Service To have hold and yearly receive the same unto the said Thomas Worsley his Deputy or Deputies or Assigns & to be Paid by the hands of the Paymaster for the time being that shall pay the Books of the Works during Our Pleasure And for the further Encouragement of the said Thomas Worsley diligently to attend the Execution of the said Office of Surveyor and to inspect regulate & reform the Business in Our Office of the Works for Our Profit and Advantage of Our further and especial Grace certain knowledge and meer Motion We have Given & Granted and by these Presents Do Give and Grant unto the said Thoms. Worsley the yearly Fee or Salary of £400 being the same as was Granted to the said henry Finch by the above recited Letters Patent in Addition to the several Wages, Fees, Salaries and the other Advantages which he is to have and receive; The said additional yearly Fee or Salary of £400 to be paid and payable unto hi by the hands of the Paymaster of Our Works for the time being during Our Pleasure & to be inserted and paid from the day of the date of these Our Letters patent in the monthly Books of the Expence of Our said Office of Works in like manner as other the Salaries to Officers of Our Works are in the said Books inserted and paid And Our further Will and Pleasure is and We do hereby direct Require & Demand the said Thomas Worsley from time to time to follow and obey such good Orders as are already made or as shall be thought meet hereafter to be Established by Us or the Commrs. of Our Treasury or Our High Treasurer for the time being for Reformation of Disorders and Surcharges in the Office of the said Works and for the Order of all other Our Officers appertaining to the said Works And lastly We do by these Presents Declare & Grant that these Our Lettters Patent or the Inrollment or Exemplification thereof shall be in and by all Things good firm valid and Sufficient and effectual in the Law according to the true intent and meaning thereof notwithstanding the not fully or truly reciting the said recited Letters Patent or the date thereof or any other Omission Imperfection Defect matter cause of thing whatsoever to the Contrary thereof in any wise notwithstanding. In Witness whereof We have caused these Our Letters to be made Patent Witness Our Self at Westminster 15th day of Decr. In the 1st Year of Our Reign.

By Writt of Privy Seal – Cocks

Painters

While the list of costs for masons detailed by the Board of Works extends to over a hundred different jobs, that for painters is a bit simpler. Government rates were listed in “Contract Prices 1734—1774” (WORK 5/148). The page for painters has a number of additions and marginal notations added over the years; those are ignored here and I just reproduce the basic list of activities.

The list is interesting both for the prices the government was willing to pay for different jobs in the 1730s, but also as detailing what kinds of work they expected painters to do.  The Office of Works was in charge of the royal residences and the types of painting work that were used for a palace were not necessarily a reflection of everyday practices.

The most senior position to do with painting was the office of Sergeant Painter, held by William Hogarth from 1757 until his death in 1764. The office had a nominal salary of just £10 a year, but Hogarth himself claimed that he made more than £200 a year from it, and he had a deputy to oversee the actual work carried out.

s d
Pearl Colour three times done in Oyl per Yard 0.8
Ditto twice done per yard in Oyl 0.6
Wainscot Stone Lead & Cream Colour thrice done in Oyl per Yd 0.8
Ditto twice done per Yard 0.6
Green thrice done in Oyl per Yard 1.0
Ditto twice done Per Yard 0.9
Marble Wallnutt tree &c thrice done in Oyl per Yard 1.8
Varnishing Wainscot per Yard 0.9
Gilding per foot Superficial 4.0
Sash Treatment thrice done on one Side, Each 1.3
Sash Squares ditto on one Side, Each 0.1½
Window lights thrice done on one Side, Each 0.4
Sash Frames twice done on one Side Each 0.10
Sash Squares ditto on one Side, Each 0.1
Window Lights twice done on one Side, Each 0.3
Window Barrs Shutter Barrs &c per barr 0.1
Casements on both Sides Each 0.3½
Cleaning old Painting per Yard 0.1
Painting in Size per Yard 0.3

 

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

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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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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