Clerk of works

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The clerk of works (or clerk of the works), often abbreviated CoW, is employed by an architect or a client on a construction site. The role is primarily to represent the interests of the client in regard to ensuring that the quality of both materials and workmanship are in accordance with the design information such as specification and engineering drawings, in addition to recognized quality standards. The role is defined in standard forms of contract such as those published by the Joint Contracts Tribunal. "Clerks of works" are also the most highly qualified non-commissioned tradesmen in the Royal Engineers. The qualification can be held in three specialisations: electrical, mechanical and construction.

Historically the clerk of works was employed by the architect on behalf of a client, or by local authorities to oversee public works. The CoW can also be employed by the client (state body/local authority/private client) to monitor design and build projects where the traditional role of the architect is within the design and build project team.

Maître d'oeuvre (master of work) is a term used in many Francophone jurisdictions for the office that carries out this job in major projects; the Channel Tunnel project had such an office. In Italy, the term used is direttore dei lavori (manager of the works).

Origins of the title[edit]

The job title is believed to derive from the thirteenth century when monks and priests (i.e. "clerics" or "clerks") were accepted as being more literate than the builders of the age and took on the responsibility of supervising the works associated with the erection of churches and other religious property.[1] As craftsmen and masons became more educated they in turn took on the role, but the title did not change. By the nineteenth century the role had expanded to cover the majority of building works, and the clerk of works was drawn from experienced tradesmen who had wide knowledge and understanding of the building process.

The role[edit]

The role, to this day, is based on the impartiality of the clerk of works in ensuring that value for money for the client - rather than the contractor - is achieved through rigorous and detailed inspection of materials and workmanship throughout the building process. In many cases, the traditional title has been discarded to comply with modern trends, such as site inspector, architectural inspector and quality inspector, but the requirement for the role remains unchanged since the origins of the title.

The clerk of works is a very isolated profession on site. He/she is the person that must ensure quality of both materials and workmanship and, to this end, must be absolutely impartial and independent in decisions and judgements. He/she cannot normally, by virtue of the quality role, be employed by the contractor - only the client, normally by the architect on behalf of the client. His/her role is not to judge, but simply to report all occurrences that are relevant to the role.

Clerks of works are either on site all the time or make regular visits. They must be vigilant in their inspections of a large range of technical aspects of the work. This involves:

Notable clerks of works[edit]

The Institute of Clerks of Works and Construction Inspectorate of Great Britain Incorporated[edit]

The ICWCI - motto: Potestate, Probitate et Vigilantia (Ability, Integrity and Vigilance) - is the professional body that supports quality construction through inspection. As a membership organisation, it provides a support network of meeting centres, technical advice, publications and events to help keep members up to date with the ever-changing construction industry.

Post-nominals for members are FICWCI (Fellow), MICWCI (Member) and LICWCI (Licentiate).


The Institute was founded in 1882 as the Clerk of Works Association, becoming the Incorporated Clerk of Works Association of Great Britain in 1903. In 1947, its name was amended again to the Institute of Clerks of Works of Great Britain Incorporated, a title it retained until 2009 when it was expanded to the Institute of Clerks of Works and Construction Inspectorate of Great Britain Incorporated.

The organisation was originally founded to allow those who were required to operate in isolation on site, a central organisation to look after the interests of their chosen profession, be it through association with other professional bodies, educational means or simply through social intercourse amongst their own peers and contemporaries. Essential to this, as the Institute developed, was the development of a central body that could lobby Parliament in relation to their profession, and the quality issues that it stands for.

Though the means of construction, training of individuals, and the way individuals are employed have changed dramatically over the years, the principles the Institute originally formed for remain sacrosanct. Experience in the many facets of the building trade is essential and, in general terms, most practitioners have come from the tools, though further third level education in the built environment is essential.

'Building on Quality' Awards[edit]

The Institute of Clerks of Works and Construction Inspectorate hold the biannual Building on Quality Awards, and nominations are accepted from all involved in quality site inspection regardless of whether they are members of the institute. Categories include New Build, Civil Engineering and Refurbishment/Mechanical and Electrical. Judging is based on the clerk of works' ability, his/her contribution to the projects he/she is involved with, his/her record keeping and reports, and his/her commitment to the role of clerk of works.

Awards given in each category are Winner, Highly Commended and Commended. The Overall Winner is chosen from all categories and is widely considered the highest accolade that can be awarded to a clerk of works in recognition of his work.

2013 Award Winners

2011 Award Winners:

2009 Award Winners:

ICWCI meeting centres[edit]

Cumbria and North Lancs, Deeside, Dublin, East Anglia, East Midlands, East of Scotland, Gibraltar, Home Counties North, Hong Kong, Isle of Man, London, Merseyside, North Cheshire, North East, Northern, Northern Ireland, Nottingham, Scotland, South Wales, Southern, Staffordshire and District & Western Counties

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "History of ICWCI". Institute of Clerks of Work. Retrieved 5 August 2011. 

External links[edit]