Reference Entry

Clerk of Works

Phillip Lindley

in Oxford Art Online

Published online January 2003 | e-ISBN: 9781884446054 | DOI:

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  • Architecture
  • Art Techniques and Principles
  • Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400)


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Manager of the royal building works in later medieval England (see also Office of Works). In the 12th century royal building operations were usually initiated by a writ from the king to the sheriff of the county in which work was to be carried out, the sheriff bringing the writs to the Exchequer at Michaelmas as authority for his expenditure. Viewers also attended in order to verify the expenditure. During the 13th century, as financial control was progressively removed from the hands of the sheriff, individuals who supervised specific works as ‘keepers of the works’ (custodes operacionum) became increasingly common. By Henry III’s minority (1216–27), the keepers of major building operations generally submitted their accounts in writing. Under the reform of the Exchequer in 1236–7 a regulation required all works accounts to be audited by means of written accounts, and by the end of Henry’s reign rolls of particular expenses were being presented by sheriffs as well as keepers of works. Each passed account was usually enrolled, in a very condensed form, on the Pipe Roll. Although there is still evidence of major building operations for which no enrolled accounts were ever produced, the rendering of accounts in writing became increasingly common practice, and it was this reliance on the written record that necessitated the employment of paid officials as clerks of the works. In general, this move can be seen as part of the transition from an oral to a written culture. By the 14th century the management of the king’s works was entirely in the hands of professional clerks of the works, and the old title of ‘keepers of the works’ fell into disuse. The organization of the works increasingly tended towards specialization and centralization, with a separation of the administrative and technical sides....

Reference Entry.  986 words. 

Subjects: Architecture ; Art Techniques and Principles ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400)

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