building trades

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Skilled Hands, Strong Spirits: A Century of Building Trades History

COPPOCK, Richard (1885 - 1971), retired as General Secretary, National Federation of Building Trades Operatives, 1961

Affirmative Action from Below: Civil Rights, the Building Trades, and the Politics of Racial Equality in the Urban North, 1945–1969

WILSON, William Tyson (1855 - 1921), JP; MP (Lab) West Houghton Division of Lancashire, since 1906; one of the founders of Bolton Building Trades Federation

GRAFTON, Martin John (1919 - 1991), DL; Director-General, National Federation of Building Trades Employers, 1964–79, retired

Reilly, Paul (1912 - 1990), Director: Conran Design Group; The Building Trades Exhibition Ltd; Director, Design Council (formerly Council of Industrial Design), 1960–77

Grace Palladino. Skilled Hands, Strong Spirits: A Century of Building Trades History. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. 2005. Pp. xii, 274. $35.00

WILLIAMS, Albert (1927 - 2007), General Secretary, Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, 1985–92; President, European Federation of Building and Woodworkers, 1988–92

SMITH, George (1914 - 1978), General Secretary, Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (formerly Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers and Painters), since 1959; Operatives Secretary, National Joint Council for Building Industry

FLETCHER, Banister (1833 - 1899), JP, DL; architect and surveyor; Professor of Architecture and Building Construction at, and Fellow of, King’s College London; Colonel Tower Hamlets Rifle Brigade; received Queen Victoria’s decoration; District Surveyor of West Newington and part of Lambeth from 1875; one of the Surveyors to the Board of Trade; Chairman of the Trades Training School Committee


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The fortunes of the building industry have usually provided a sound indication of the health of both the national and the local economy. The medieval masons were often itinerant workers whose trade was controlled through a system of lodges (see masons’ marks). However, the most important medieval towns had various craftsmen's guilds which regulated the building trades. The characteristic unit long remained that of the small master, with perhaps a man or two and a lad, who had contacts with other skilled craftsmen, e.g. glaziers, plasterers, and plumbers. See Donald Woodward, Men at Work: Labourers and Building Craftsmen in the Towns of Northern England, 1450–1750 (1994). In the 1840s and 1850s carpenters and masons were affected by competition with machine‐made products, but most work was carried on as before. The building industry was little affected by technological change before the 20th century. Large employers were a rarity before the 1960s.

Because of the small scale of business units the history of the building trades in the 19th century is not well recorded. See, however, H. J. Dyos, Victorian Suburb: A Study of the Growth of Camberwell (1961), which notes the numerous small variations in house type in this south London suburb because so many different builders were at work. Between 1878 and 1880, at the height of the building boom, some 416 firms or individual builders erected 5 670 houses in Camberwell. Over half the builders constructed no more than six houses during these three years, and nearly three‐quarters built no more than twelve. Many of these small firms went bankrupt. On the other hand, nearly one‐third of the houses were built by the fifteen largest firms, each of which constructed between 75 and 230 buildings. Some attempt at planning control was made by local authorities under powers obtained from national legislation. See Martin Gaskell, Building Control: National Legislation and the Introduction of Local Bye‐Laws in England (1983).

Subjects: History.

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