The building site

Often, the developer was responsible for setting out and draining the site before contracts and associated leases could be signed. With theodolites and chains, the plot, with its common sewers, water pipes, etc., would be set out, levelled and prepared for the building process. Water services were commonly run by gravity through reamed elm pipes, caulked with rope and tar and feathered into lead supply pipes built into the foundations and connected to basement cisterns.

Above: Sewer development in the 1840s

Sites were subject to some legislation in terms of dimensions, taxes and materials. For example, the London building Act of 1744 which set four domestic buildings rates, by cubic capacity, was used in Brighton when referring to the Brunswick Square houses, (all of which were categorised as being in the first rate and valued at over £850). Other legislation was nationally based and defined such matters as brick sizes.

In contrast to the old way, when the master builder constructed property drawing solely upon his ‘knowledge’, an architect designed a house that would be described by dimensioned and measured drawings that accompanied the lease or the agreed costed construction contract.

Men from all trades; masons, carpenters, joiners, turners, carvers, plasterers, paviours, painters, tilers, plumbers and glaziers, were employed on site, each having separate contracts and rates of pay. Architects, surveyors and clerks might each measure, evaluate and pay the tradesmen.

Above: Men using a windlass on a building site.

Setting up the site would also involve the provision of lifting and access equipment for hauling the building materials. Each trade’s group might be responsible for providing their own receptacles; carts, sacks, barrows, hods, panniers and baskets.

Scaffolding, and the production of derricks, were trades in themselves. Windlasses in timber, toothed wheels and pulleys of cast and wrought iron were commonly known and available. Rope of flax and hemp, the same as used in boat rigging locally, would be used for bundling, lifting and loading.