[This passage has been excerpted from Dale H. Porter's The Thames Embankment: Environment, Technology, and Society in Victorian London, which is reviewed eleswhere in the Victorian WebGPL.]

TYung engineering aspirants with more skills than money often ended up serving as clerk of the works. A clerk's on-site supervision of the construction process featured long hours, close attention to detail, confrontations with foremen and contractors, considerable responsibility without much authority, and a lack of job security. Clerks usually trained as apprentices in the building trades or surveying, and then worked their way through low-level jobs under a major contractor or in the Metropolitan Board of Works. Their duties, outlined by Bazalgette in an 1868 report, were to account for all the contract specifications, measure the contractor's work, regulate construction lines and levels, and assure the quality of materials used. The official workweek was forty-eight hours (about average for other sorts of derks), but overtime extensions were common. Clerks of works were usually hired on a temporary basis and shifted from site to site as senior engineers saw fit. Their families claimed that constant exposure to sewer gas and other pollutants led to a high rate of illness and early death.

Although engineers as a whole were winning the battle for respectability, only a minority held the coveted status of professional consultant. Most were employed by railway, mining, and building companies or involved in speculative ventures, and the line between professional and journeyman was still vague. [149-50]


Porter, Dale H. The Thames Embankment: Environment, Technology, and Society in Victorian London. Akron, Ohio: University of Akron Press, 1998.

Last modified 1999