The Elizabethan Architect


Surveying with a quadrant from Leonard Digges, Pantometria (1571).

Architecture was not an occupation in 16th-century England. The word ‘architect’ was only just starting to be used, and a supervisor of masons, bricklayers and carpenters was more likely to be known as a surveyor. But even in the absence of the title, leading figures in building achieved a new prominence and practised a new role as designers.

John Symonds (d. 1597) was a successful craftsman who demonstrates the rising status of leading builders. He held posts in the royal Office of Works for 30 years, while also taking commissions from important private clients. Although primarily involved in architectural construction and decorative work, he often advised on technical matters in military and engineering projects and could supply surveys and maps as well as building plans. The bequests in his will show that he owned several mathematical instruments, which he appreciated for their practical utility and intellectual elevation.

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