Of Buildings, Repairs, &c.


The farmer being often neceſſitated to build as well as to repair his Houſes, Barns, Stables, &c. and that not only upon the Account of Decays, but of damages done by Storms and other accidents; I thought it might be of uſe to give him ſome ſhort general Rules about Building and Repairs, and likewiſe of the Coſt and Charges of Buildings, and of ſuch Materials as are uſeful upon ſuch Occaſions, that he may the better compute his Coſt and Charges himſelf, and not wholly truſt to workmen to do it, (who often are very deceitful in ſuch Calculations,) and know how to Let his Work to them, which is much the beſt way, where the Owner underſtands it; provided he minds one Caution, which is not to change or vary from his firſt Contract, which Workmen are very apt to perſwade Men to do, if they have undertaken the Work at a low rate, or with deſign to ingage them in Building.

Not that I ſhall here pretend to give a full account of all the particulars relating to Building, and the ſeveral prices thereof, which would require a Volume of it ſelf; but what I propoſe, is only ſo much as may give an inſight unto thoſe that underſtand any thing of common Arithmetick, to compute the ordinary prices of Buildings and Repairs by, and to inſtruct them in the moſt material Rules of Architecture, ſo far as it may fit them for their common Occaſions, without committing thoſe very groſs Faults that many Builders run into.

I ſhall adviſe thoſe that are deſirous to build either out of neceſſity or choice, firſt to ſit down and consider of the whole Deſign they intend to undertake, both as to the manner and method of it, as well as the Charge and Expence; Premeditation being a very neceſſary Preliminary to Building.

In order to which, I would perſwade all Builders to take the Advice of ſuch Surveyors or Workmen, as underſtand what they go about before they begin their Work, and that can make a good Draught and lay the Deſign well out, that they adviſe to; that ſo when ’tis erected, it may in all things anſwer the End propoſed, according to such Qualifications as may make it a compleat Structure, in order to which, it ought to be contriv’d ſo as to have Accommodation, Proportion, Uniformity and Strength, and to be durable and laſting, all which particulars, they that raiſe a new Houſe are very much to blame in, if they do not take care of; for Method and Confuſion are both of a price in this Caſe, except only in that the latter may be deareſt.

Now in Building, we ought to conſider five Particulars, its Situation, Contrivance, Gracefulneſs, Uſefulneſs and Beauty.

The Rules for Situation are, that it ſtand in a healthy Air, and not near Marſhes, Fenns or boggy Grounds, nor Rivers, except it ſtand on riſing Ground on the North or Weſt ſide of them; neither let it be deſtitute of Breezes to fan and purge the Air, nor want the influence of the Sun-beams, according to Rapin’s advice;

If on thy native Soil thou doſt prepare
T’ erect a Villa, thou muſt place it there
Where a free Proſpect does it ſelf extend
Into a Garden, where the Sun may lend
His influence from the Eaſt; his radiant heat
Should on your Houſe thro’ various Windows beat:
But on that ſide which chiefly open lies
To the North-wind, whence Storms and Show’rs ariſe,
There plant a Wood, for without that defence,
Nothing reſiſts the Northern violence.

And Cato ſaith, that a Country Houſe ſhould have a good Air, and not be open to Tempeſts, and be ſeated in a good Soil, &c. But I ſhall adviſe the planting of ſhelter on the Weſt and South Weſt, as well as the North; and that you take care alſo, that it be well water’d and wooded, that it have a good aſcent to it, which makes a Houſe wholeſome, and gives opportunity for good cellaridge, and likewiſe a good proſpect is very pleaſant according to the variety it affords.

As for the Contrivance which is a thing of great moment in Building, I would perſwade every one that begins this Work, to be well adviſed in what he doth, becauſe there will be no alteration of things afterwards without a great deal of Charge; and good Contrivance doth not only make things handſome and convenient, but often ſaves a great deal of Charges too; and therefore get a Workman that is able to make a good Draught of your Building, as I ſaid before, if your Building is ſuch, as requires no great Curioſity; but if it doth, a Model will be the moſt certain way of preventing miſtakes in Buildings that require any great Nicety or Exactneſs; and as for a Draught, there ought to be in it the Ichnography of each Floor, and alſo the Orthography of each Face of the Building, as of the Front, Rear and Flanks; and if the Workman be ſkilled in Perſpective, more than one Face may be repreſented in one Diagram Scenographically.

But in the Contrivance of all theſe things, the Quality of the Perſon is to be conſider’d for whom the Building is erected, and accordingly let everything be deſign’d, and proportionable lengths, breadths and heighth allowed to each place, with proper and convenient Rooms for what occaſions and uſes the Owner ſhall need; only what Draught you make, let it be as large as you can, that ſo the Ichnography of all Chimneys, Hearths, Jambs, Bed-places, Stairs, and the Latitude of all Doors and Windows in each Floor may be repreſented; and if you agree by the great for the Workmanſhip, it will be neceſſary to inſert the length and thickneſs of the Ground-plates, Breaſt-ſummers, Girders, Trimmers, Joyſts, Raiſings and Wall-plates; and alſo the thickneſs of the Walls, Partitions, &c.

In the Orthographical Schemes there ſhould be a true delineation, and the juſt dimenſions of each Face, and of what things belong to it, as Doors, Windows, Balconies, Turrets, Chimney Shafts, Faciâs, Architraves, Cornices, and other Ornaments; and if it be a Timber Building, the ſeveral ſizes of the Ground-plates, Interduces, Breaſt-ſummers, Beams, principal Port-braces, Quarters, Window-poſts, Door-poſts, Cellar-beams, principal Rafters, &c. This care will prevent miſtakes and diſputes that may ariſe, eſpecially where you agree by the great. *

* “by the great” refers to piece work, whereby the workers were paid per task, rather than a fixed wage per day of labor. -Jeff

Having given theſe Caveats, I ſhall next proceed to conſider the diſpoſal of the ſeveral Rooms and Offices, according to the nature of the Building you deſign to erect.

In Building of Houſes long, the uſe of ſome Rooms will be loſt, in that the more room muſt be allowed for Entries and Paſſages, and it requires the more Doors; and if a Building conſiſt of a Geometrical Square, if the Houſe be large, the middle Rooms will want Light, and therefore many commend the form of the Roman Capital H, which form, they ſay, makes it ſtand the firmer againſt the Winds, and lets in both the Light and the Air, and diſpoſes every Room near to one another, except you will have a Court in the middle, which was the method of Building of great Houſes formerly; but for ſmall Houſes I think the Square the beſt form.

I muſt here commend the way of Building of Brick Houſes with ſtrong and firm Quoins or Columns at each corner, and where any of the principal Beams lie that ſhall come out half their thickneſs beyond the reſt of the Brick-work, by which means the reſt of the Walls between may be much thinner, and a great many Bricks ſaved; and beſides, it adds a handſome Gracefulneſs to the building: Brick-walls likewiſe built after the ſame manner in Pannels, are very handſome, and ſave a great many Materials.

But according to Sir H. Wotton’s definition of Contrivance, it conſiſts of theſe two Heads or Principles, Gracefulneſs and Uſefulneſs.

The Gracefulneſs or Decency of a Building, he ſays, conſiſts in two Things. Firſt, An Analogy or Correſpondency between the Parts and the Whole, whereby a great Fabrick ſhould have great Apartments, great Lights, great Doors, great Stair-caſes, and great Pillars or Pilaſters, all which ought to be proportioned to the bulk of the whole Building. And Secondly, An Analogy and Agreement between the Parts themſelves, as to the length, Breadth and Heighth of the Rooms, Windows and Doors, for all which no certain Rule can be given. Though ſome propoſe, that a Room ought to be in breadth two thirds of the length, and that it ſhould be as high as broad, and the heighth of a ſquare Room to be two thirds of it’s ſquare; but as to theſe things, you muſt be govern’d by the bulk, and the deſign of the whole Building, as I ſaid before.

Beſides which, the heighths of Rooms are various amongſt us, according to the Perſons they are built for; our ordinary Building being but about ſeven and a half or eight Foot high, the ſecond ſort of Houſes in the Country are about nine Foot, and the third ſort, which is fitteſt for Gentlemens Houſes, is from ten to fourteen Foot.

As for Sir Henry’s ſecond Point of Uſefulneſs, the Perſon, and the occaſion he hath for his Rooms are to be consider’d: but to determine what number of Rooms muſt be allowed to a Nobleman’s Seat, will require too many conſiderations to be inſerted here; yet for an ordinary Gentleman’s Family, a Hall, a great Parlour, with a Withdrawing Room by it, and a ſmaller Parlour for common Uſe, with a Kitchen, Butteries and other Conveniences, is ſufficient; and underneath where there is a deſcent that Drains may be made, I am for having of good Cellars and the Dairy; but for the Kitchen in the Country, where there is room enough, I think it better to join it to the Houſe, than either to have it in or underneath it, becauſe of the ſmells (eſpecially in hot weather) that it ſends into the Houſe: and as for the Farm-houſes, I think one large Room with a large Chimney in it, to do the chief of their Work in, with a good Parlour, a good Dairy, with good conveniences of Butteries, Cellars, and Out-houſes, enough for a Farmer; which ſeveral Rooms ſhould be bigger or ſmaller, according to the bigneſs of the Farm that belongs to it.

To which Obſervations, I ſhall add ſome general Maxims for Contrivance in Building, as follows,

1. Let not common Rooms be private, as Halls, Galleries, Stair-caſes, &c. and let not private Rooms lie open and common, as private Parlours, Chambers, Cloſets, &c.

2. Light alſo is a principal Beauty in Building, and the Rooms that reſpect each particular Coaſt, ought as near as you can to be accommodated to it, as thoſe Rooms next the South for Winter Rooms, and thoſe that regard the Eaſt for Summer Rooms, the North Windows are beſt for Cellars, Butteries, &c. Rooms that have thorough Lights for Entertainment, and thoſe that have Windows on one ſide for Dormitories.

3. As for the ſize of your Houſe, you had better build it too little, than too big, for a large Houſe brings Company and Entertainment, occaſions the keeping of a great many Servants, and often requires a larger Purſe than is laid up for it.

4. As to the ſtrength of a Building; Country Houſes ought to be ſubſtantial, and able to encounter all the ſhocks of the Wind, and not to be above three Stories high, including the Garrets; and obſerve in working up the Walls, that no ſide of the Houſe, nor any part of the Walls be wrought up three Foot above the other, before the next adjoining Wall be wrought up to it, that ſo they may be all join’d together and make a good Bond, or elſe what is done firſt will be dry, ſo that when they come to ſettle, one part being moiſt and the other dry, it will occaſion it’s ſettling more in one place than another, which cauſes cracks and ſettlings in the Wall, and much weakens the Buildings. The Materials alſo ought to be ſubſtantial, and be ſure if you build a Brick-building to take care of a good Foundation, and not be ſcanty in allowing Mortar, taking care that all your Brick-work be cover’d with the Tiling, according to the new way of Building, without Gable-ends, which are very heavy, and very apt to let the Water into the Brick-work; the want of obſerving of which three Things is the common decay of Brick-Buildings.

5. Upon a good Foundation two Bricks or eighteen Inches thick for the heading Coure is ſufficient for the Ground-work of any common Structure, and ſix or ſeven Courſes above the Earth to the Water-table, where the thickneſs of the Walls are abated, or taken in on either ſide the thickneſs of a Brick, which is two Inches and a Quarter.

6. But for large high Houſes of three, four or five Stories high, the Walls of ſuch Edifices ought to be from the Foundation to the firſt Water-table, three heading Courſe of Brick, or twenty eight Inches thick at the leaſt, and at every Story a Water-table, or taking in on the inſide for the Summers, Girders or Joyſts to reſt upon, laid into the Middle or one fourth part of the Wall at leaſt, for the better Bond; but as for the Innermoſt or Partition-walls, a Brick and a half will be enough, and for the upper Stories nine Inches (or a Brick in length) Wall will be ſufficient.

The Beauty of a Building conſiſts much in a regular Form and a graceful Entrance, for Regularity and Proportion pleaſeth the Eye; and I think a fair well wrought Front of Brick, pleaſanter than one of Stone, which ſoon loſeth its Colour and turns black. The being let through a double Grove of Trees to a Houſe, and to have fine Walks and Gardens behind, and on as many ſides of it as you can, is very ornamental.

And let your Offices, Barns, Stables, &c. neither join to, nor be too near your Houſe, eſpecially your Stable, which ought always to be a Building by it ſelf, becauſe of the Danger of Fire, upon the Account of the looking after Horſes, and the Uſe of Candles in it.

To which Maxims, I ſhall add ſome general Rules to be obſerved in Building, as order’d by Act of Parliament for the Building of London.

1. In every Foundation within the Ground, add one Brick in thickneſs to the thickneſs of the Wall, next above the Foundation, to be ſet off in three Courſes equally on both ſides.
2. That no Timber be laid within twelve Inches of the fore-ſide of the Chimney-Jambs, and that all Joyſts on the back of any Chimney be laid with a Trimmer ſix Inches diſtant from the back.
3. That no Timber be laid within the Funnel of any Chimney, upon penalty to the Workmen for every Default ten Shillings, and ten Shillings a Week for every Week it continues unreformed.
4. That no Joyſt or Rafters be laid at greater Diſtances from one another, than twelve Inches, And no Quarters at greater Diſtance than fourteen Inches.
5. That no Joyſt bear at larger lengths than ten Foot, and no ſingle Rafters at more in length than nine Foot.
6. That all Roofs, Window-frames, and Cellar-floors be of Oak.
7. That the Tile-pins be of Oak.
8. That no Summers or Girders do lie leſs than ten Inches into the Wall, nor Joyſt than eight Inches, to be laid in Loam, becauſe Mortar is apt to rot all Timber, and therefore ſome Workmen pitch the End of ſuch Timbers as they lay in Walls.
9. That no Summers or Girders do lie over the Head of Doors or Windows.
10. That good Oak Timber be laid over Doors and Windows, and that good Arches be turned over them.

Where a Houſe is ſet upon moiſt Ground, dig the Earth two Foot deep, and after beating of it well, lay a Bed of Mortar, or Cement from either ſide to the Channel, and then lay a Bed of Cinders upon the Mortar, beat it well, and cover it with another Cement of Lime, Sand and Aſhes, this will drink up the Moiſture and make it dry. But if the Earth you build on be very ſoft, as in Mooriſh-ground, then you muſt get good pieces of Oak, whoſe length muſt be the breadth of the Trench, or about two Foot longer than the breadth of the Wall, theſe muſt be laid croſs the Foundation about two Foot aſunder, and being well rammed down, lay long Planks upon them, which Planks need not lie ſo broad as the pieces are long, but only about four Inches of a ſide wider than the Baſis or Foot of the Wall, and to be well pinned or ſpiked down to the pieces of Oak, on which they lie; but if the Ground is ſo very bad that this will not do, you muſt provide good Piles of Oak, of ſuch a length as will reach the good Ground, and whoſe Diameter muſt be about one twelfth Part of their Length, which muſt be well drove down with an Engine, and then lay long Planks upon them, ſpiking or pinning of them down fast.

But if the Earth is only faulty in ſome places and good in others, you may turn Arches over thoſe looſe places, which will diſcharge them of the weight. Note alſo, that you muſt place your Pile not only under your Out-walls, but under your Partition-walls too, that divide the Building, for if they ſink, it will crack and damage the Outer-walls too.

And that you may know the proper Sizes of Timber for your ordinary Buildings; I ſhall to what hath been ſaid already, add a Scheme of the Proportion of Timber, as agreed to by Act of Parliament for rebuilding of the City, that your Timber may in ſtrength be anſwerable to the reſt of your Building.


Having given you general Directions and Cautions about Buildings: I ſhall in the next place, give you ſome general Rules about the valuing of Buildings, and the Materials belonging to them, that you may know how to make ſome eſtimate of things of this Nature, without being wholly impoſed upon by Workman, who are in theſe Caſes very apt to abuſe whoſoever they have to do with, as I ſaid before.

Carpenter’s Work is meaſured by the Square, that is ten Foot each Way, or one hundred ſquare Feet; at London they will build a Houſe four Story high for forty Pound a Square, if built with Oak-Timber, and thirty Pound a Square for Fir; that is, to find all the Materials, and all the Carpenters, Bricklayers, Plaiſterers and Glaſiers Work; and conſidering the Price of Timber, and Workmanſhip in the Country, and that the Houſes are but three Stories high, and that they have all their Materials laid in, that is, carted for them; I cannot think, but a good Houſe may be built for twenty five Pound a Square in moſt places, and in ſome, cheaper.

The Carpenter’s Work to frame a Houſe in the Country, where you find Timber, is ſeven or eight Shillings a Square, if the Carpenter pays the Sawing; if not, ’tis four Shillings and Six-pence a Square.

The Carpenter’s Work to build a Barn in the Country that hath one ſingle Stud, or one heighth of Studs to the Roof, is two Shillings a Foot, but if it have a double Stud and a Girt, ’tis worth two Shillings and Six-pence; that is, to meaſure one ſide and one end; as ſuppose, a Barn ſixty Foot long, and twenty Foot broad, that is, eighty Foot; this, the Carpenter’s Work to hew the Timber, ſaw it out, frame it and ſet it together, will come to at two Shillings and Six-pence a Foot, ten Pound, you finding of the Timber…

John Mortimer

The Whole Art of Husbandry – 1708 (image)

—Jeff Burks

This entry was posted in Historical Images. Bookmark the permalink.