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The position of clerk of works demands many qualifications. The ideal clerk of works must be practical, possessed of wide experience, with a complete knowledge of all the ordinary trades employed in building, and a respectable acquaintance with many others; added to which he needs infinite tact to steer an even course. Needless to say, the highest integrity is a sine qua non. One reason why good clerks of works are scarce is, that men possessing all these qualifications in time usually find themselves engaged in contracting on their own account, this being the only direction in which a clerk of works or builder's foreman can look for advancement in life.
No amount of precaution will safeguard against a dishonest contractor. It is far cheaper to avoid him, and to pay an honest builder a trifle more.
One hears a great deal about the builders who do dishonest work, but very little about the many who honourably fulfil contracts at loss to themselves. If a builder is determined to be dishonest, no amount of watchfulness on the part of either architect or clerk of works will entirely prevent him, though it may do much to circumvent him.
In every work of importance, over a few thousands in value, a clerk of works should be employed. He can save his employer his pay in many ways, other than by detecting actual dishonesty on the part of the builder,
· Bills of Quantities are an essential part of every building contract of any magnitude. They are the ground work of the contract system, and are prepared by quantity surveyors, a special branch of the building world, whose function is to take the architect's drawings, and usually his specification, if it is written before the quantities or detailed form of estimates are made out, and to set forth in detail therefrom the whole of the quantities of work required for the due execution of the works. These quantities take the form of a detailed estimate, unpriced, to which the competing builders attach their prices, and so frame their tenders. In the majority of cases, they do not examine the architect's drawings, they 'may look over them, and they rarely read the specification. Hence they rely absolutely upon the accuracy and fairness of the quantities. The reason for this procedure is the convenience of builders, as plainly it would be unreasonable to ask, say twelve builders, to measure a whole work on the chance of one of their number securing it.
I should not recommend an amateur to waste his time
seeking to acquire an expert knowledge of building construction or of materials. It can only be attained at the cost of many years of study. Few architects or builders have gained it without the expenditure of much time, or by dearly bought experience.
It may be laid down that all construction should be sound and honest, the best procurable materials alone being used. In church work sham and cheap construction should be shunned. Sound, honest materials and workmanship, , howsoever plain the design may be, are infinitely to be preferred to cheap or showy deception, secured at the expense of good construction, a too common fault, sometimes due to the client's exacting demands, which cannot be realized for the sum available, sometimes to want of courage on the part of the architect, or perhaps to his inability to design a structure, plain, but at the same time artistic, a high test of skill in his calling.
The aesthetic aspect of building stands on a different plane. Time was when every man, aspiring to the culture of a gentleman, possessed a certain knowledge of the arts as part of his ordinary education. Since the eighteenth century this has unhappily ceased, and a study of art come to be considered a purely professional accomplishment, peculiar to those who practise the arts.
The standard of art has, as a consequence, fallen in these countries, and, moreover, many people who have never studied the subject deem themselves competent judges, and impose their taste in architecture, instead of being guided by the advice of those competent to judge.
A study of the writings of such authors as Ruskin and Pugin will be found very helpful in forming a correct taste. Pugin deals in much detail with the principles that should govern architectural detail, and the more one studies him the more clearly does one apprehend the vitality with which he seized upon medieval principles, extravagant as his language often is. His own designs, noble as they mostly are, are somewhat wanting in life,' and he was surpassed in the true assimilation of the medieval art by some of those who followed in England. The later school has got closer to the spirit of Gothic than he did, still he was a long way ahead of those who essayed to follow in his footsteps in Ireland. It was pioneer work, and his writings are worthy of all respect. Nothing better has been written on the subject.
Ruskin has enunciated some of the truest principles of art, but is not to be commended to the beginner without a word of caution. He was extravagant both in his denunciation and in his praise, and was not a practical architect. No one has however written better on the art of architecture. Some of the more modern publications on church architecture and furnishing, such as ‘American Churches,' and the fine series of works by Mr. F. E. Bond and Dr. Cox on Church Furniture,' are valuable and instructive.
During the past eighty years, Ireland has gone through a great church-building era, now almost drawn to a close. It may therefore be thought that this discussion is rather belated, but there will always remain a certain amount of work to be done; many of the churches still require furnishing and decoration, so it is well to profit by the mistakes of the past. The churches built during this period have been the subject of very adverse criticism, and it must be admitted that few of them reached a high or even moderate standard. The reasons for this are plain. History explains clearly why the tradition of good church building had become lost to a greater extent in Ireland than in England. When the Penal Laws were relaxed the most pressing need was to provide accommodation for the congregations. The country had been for centuries ravaged and its ancient fanes laid in ruins. Moreover, the parochial system had never obtained in Ireland to any great extent, the ruins are those of monastic establishments; the inspiration of the village church of the Middle Ages was not present in Ireland, an inspiration so fruitful of good architecture in England during the corresponding period. It is rather remarkable that some of the churches built in Ireland in the first half of the nineteenth century, in Dublin and elsewhere, while the classical tradition still held sway, such as the Pro-Cathedral, Dublin ; St. Nicholas of Myra ; the Jesuit Church ; St. Paul's, Arran Quay; the Franciscan Church, Merchant's Quay, etc., all reached a very respectable level in design, the old scholarly tradition lingering. Similar churches to these are to be found in Cork, and a few provincial cities and towns. In Dublin the Protestant Church of St. George, built very early in the century, ranks even higher as a design, the proportions and the detail are scholarly. St. Stephen's Protestant Church, Dublin, is also a good piece of design of its kind. All of these early nineteenth century churches are somewhat lacking in interest in the interiors.
When the 'Gothic taste,' as it was then called, first penetrated to Ireland, before the advent of the true Gothic revival, a desire to make the churches as imposing as possible. led to size and cheapness of ornamentation being preferred to quality. Later, in the Gothic revival proper, the high standard set by Pugin in his simple but impressive churches at Killarney and Enniscorthy was departed from. Those who followed were not content with his severe simplicity of detail and well-studied proportion, upon which he relied for effect when his resources were limited.
When Augustus Pugin the elder, father of the great Augustus Welby Pugin, started to revive the knowledge of Gothic, the art had been completely lost for centuries, and neither architects nor craftsmen had the slightest idea of how to handle it, their efforts in the ‘Gothic taste' were often ludicrous. When A. W. Pugin came to design churches he found himself without craftsmen to carry out his ideas and designs. It was only by interesting certain persons, like Mr. Minton of Stoke-upon-Trent, the tile-maker, his 'ever dear Minton,' that he was enabled to make any headway, and to gradually train up a school of carvers and other artificers.
One fruitful cause of inferior work was the inordinate haste with which many churches were designed, built, and completely equipped. Architects were often required to design a church and prepare the drawings and details in a wholly insufficient space of time; builders were put into com
; petition as to the shortest period in which they would erect the church, while the furnishing and equipment were hurried on, during the building, by various commercial firms, without any ideal or knowledge of architecture, individually or collectively, and without any sympathetic aim. This arrangement saved the architects time and thought, and was to the pecuniary advantage of those concerned, but not to the benefit of the building. Taking all into account, the wonder is not that so many churches are weak and even bad in design, but rather that so much sound building was done. It is said to be an invariable rule, that the demand creates the supply, so it is certain that the demand for rapid completion brought about inadequate study, hurried design, and careless building.
As a further result the architects, through want of practice and patronage, failed to gain that facility in the handling of the attendant arts, which constitute so necessary an adjunct to the artistic success of a building as a whole. In other words, much of this work was taken out of their hands, and as a result, when it did come to them, they ingloriously followed the simple expedient of entrusting the work of the furnishing of the church to the commercial firms, which saved them much trouble. Moreover, many buildings in Ireland were designed by persons entirely unqualified as architects-unqualified, not merely in the sense of not being qualified by membership of some architectural society, but lacking the necessary knowledge of design.
Taking them as a whole, the churches of this era are soundly and not badly built. Some of them, one is tempted to think, too much so, or to paraphrase Shakespeare, 'would that this too too solid stone would melt'!
Some of the churches designed by the late J.J. MacCarthy, such as the Dominican Church in Dublin, and in particular, his fine church at Tramore, are amongst the best work done by a native architect in Ireland during the Gothic revival. The Romanesque Cathedral of Sligo, the apse and the demolished central tower of the Vincentian Church at Phibsborough, Dublin, by Goldie of London, and some of the Protestant churches designed by Lynn, Drew etc., are quite good. But far and away the two best modern churches in Ireland are Killarney Cathedral, by Augustus Welby Pugin, and the Protestant Cathedral of St. Finn Barr, Cork, by William Burges.
William Butterfield designed a very nice little chapel for St. Columba's Protestant College at Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin. The Byzantine Chapel of the Catholic University in Stephen's Green, Dublin, designed by Pollen for his friend Dr., afterwards Cardinal, Newman, has a beautiful interior, and is an admirable example of the right use of materials and the gaining of a fine effect with very moderate resources.
It would have been an admirable thing if a short course of lectures on the principles of art, with special reference to architecture and decorative design, could have been included as a regular part of the ecclesiastical curriculum. An Ecclesiological Society-in which priests, artists, and others interested in art would meet, read papers, and discuss matters of taste in design-would also have great influence in producing a higher standard.
In the eighteenth century, every nobleman or gentleman of means acquired a certain knowledge of the arts, particularly of the renaissance architecture of the day, as part of