This section is from the book "Modern Buildings, Their Planning, Construction And Equipment Vol5", by G. A. T. Middleton. Also available from Amazon: Modern Buildings.
(Reprinted from The Building News)
There are few more difficult positions to fill in connection with buildings than that of a Clerk of Works, yet there are none about which so little information is to be obtained, either in books or in articles contributed to our own columns or to those of our contemporaries. To a certain extent the position is more important even than that of the Architect, as it is the Clerk of Works who is directly responsible for good materials and good workmanship. He is, in fact, the direct descendant of the Architect, or chief builder, of former days, who doubtless designed and controlled a building himself from commencement to completion, scarcely ever leaving it, but following it day by day, and seeing that its every detail was to his perfect satisfaction. At the present time he occupies a midway position between Architect, employer, and Contractor, and, as buildings become more complex, so do his duties become more difficult of performance.
Generally selected by the Architect, and responsible immediately to him, he is paid by the building owner, sometimes directly, sometimes through the Architect. In the case of municipal work, or that undertaken by any incorporated body, it is usually the building owner who pays direct; but the private individual rarely cares to be troubled with small weekly disbursements. With such a building owner the Architect hands the Clerk of Works his salary, and again charges it against the owner from time to time as it accumulates, say, for one month, or for three. Under this peculiar arrangement of joint appointment, or rather of appointment by one man and payment by another, it is not always easy, in the absence of special arrangement, to say to whom the Clerk of Works is most responsible, the Architect or the employer, or from whom in case of need he must accept notice of dismissal. At the outset of his employment there ought to be a clear understanding upon these points; but even at best the position becomes an exceedingly difficult one under some circumstances. So long as all is above board, as it is in the vast majority of cases, no trouble arises. The Architect, as the owner's agent, stands in his place and possesses full power. But it has occasionally been known for a Clerk of Works to condemn bad work, and for the Architect subsequently to disallow his action - not once, but again and again, where large sums are involved, until the Clerk of Works seriously doubts the Architect's action being bona fide, - for until such a doubt arises the Architect's decision is undoubtedly final. In such a case it has - rarely, but now and again - been the Clerk of Works' duty to report the matter to the employer by whom he has been paid, and trouble has naturally followed. Without advocating the adoption of this course except as an extreme measure under very serious circumstances, enough has been said to show how delicate the position may become.
Except in such a rare case as has just been referred to the Clerk of Works' position is legally that of the Architect's representative on the works. The clause in which it is defined in the R.I.B.A. Conditions of Contract is as follows: - "The Clerk of Works shall be considered to act solely as inspector and under the Architect, and the Contractor shall afford him every facility for examining the works and materials." This does not give him the right to so far trade upon his position as to actually interfere, on his own responsibility, with the planning aud design of the building committed to his charge. It is, in fact, his duty to see that the drawings and specification are complied with in every possible respect, and to report to the Architect whenever compliance is not possible, acting on his own initiative, however, when emergencies arise, as they sometimes do in the most unexpected way. Within these limits he has authority to order necessary extras, and at all times towards the Builder he occupies the place of overlooker, against whose decision there is little appeal on matters of construction, workmanship, and quality of goods supplied. With the individual workmen employed he has not much to do, his dealings being much more with the Foreman, to whom alone he should make his complaints and enforce his orders, though as the Architect's agent he has the power, if necessary, of insisting upon the dismissal of any particular workman, either for incapacity or misbehaviour.
If will be seen that these powers and responsible duties involve the close attention of a capable man, if a building of even a moderate size is to be thoroughly overlooked. He must be on the works when the men arrive in the morning, if only to check such practices as the using up of stale mortar, and he must be there almost constantly, watching every cartload of material as it is brought upon the site, inspccting it and rejecting it immediately if unsuitable, and seeing in such a case that it is removed at once. He must watch the workmen throughout the day, seeing that everything is performed in a thoroughly sound manner; and he must occasionally visit the Contractor's workshop, so as to supervise the joinery which is there being prepared long in advance of the time when it will be required to be put into position. Where deviations occur from the original intention as expressed in drawings and specification he must make careful notes of these, taking measurements in all instances where the work is subsequently to be hidden. He must keep regular diaries and records of everything that occurs, and must report regularly (preferably on forms supplied for the purpose) as to what is happening, calling attention in good time to any probable difficulties which he may foresee. He must, moreover, have the power of insistence, to ensure that defects really are remedied, and not merely hidden up and forgotten.
The class of man suited for such work as this is somewhat exceptional. Above all things, a Clerk of Works must have a most intimate knowledge of building operations. He must be a practical man among practical men; but beyond this he should have studied sufficiently to know a good deal more than the majority of those placed under him. Too young a man has not sufficient authority for such a post, nor would he probably have sufficient knowledge. Absolute honesty is, of course, essential; but this, one is glad to say, is not difficult to find, and the Clerk of Works who will accept bribes from the builder or the manufacturer to induce him to pass imperfect work is decidedly the exception. Possibly the best fitted for such a post is the man who has been trained at one of the principal building trades, such as that of carpenter or mason, and who has attended good technical schools and kept his eyes open on the works, so as to obtain good working knowledge of all the other trades connected with building operations. Such a man has probably, in a Builder's employment, been raised to the position of Foreman, first in his own trade, and subsequently over all the work connected with a building. Knowing in this capacity everything from the Builder's standpoint, he is often perfectly fitted to supervise from the Architect's standpoint. He needs to be self-contained, able to speak his mind, and also able to control himself, perfectly firm, sober, and consistent; but perhaps his greatest qualification is that of method, so that he may have records of all that occurs available for production whenever they may be needed.