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construction industry

construction industry. The largest structures of the medieval and early modern periods were monasteries, churches, cathedrals, castles, and town walls. York, with its 13th-cent. motte and bailey castle, known as Clifford's Tower, the massive minster (the largest Gothic church in England, 13th–15th cent.), and complete city walls, provides a classic composite. The city boundaries at the height of the pre-Reformation period contained 40 churches, 9 chapels, 4 monasteries, 4 friaries, 16 hospitals, and 9 guildhalls for the various trades.

Most of these were built of stone, while dwellings and other functional buildings like farmsteads or mills, depending on local materials, were of timber, clay, or brick. Roofing materials were thatch, turf, timber, tiles, slates, and lead. While there were many local styles, construction, especially in stone, was everywhere dependent on the mason's skill, hence the traditional importance and high status of the trade.

The most important 16th- and 17th-cent. buildings were town and country houses for the nobility and gentry, and public buildings, such as churches and town halls. In 1514 Cardinal Wolsey began to build the largest house in England, Hampton Court, further extended by Henry VIII. More typical, though still on a grand scale, was Hardwick Hall (Derbys.), begun in 1591 by Elizabeth, countess of Shrewsbury. Considering its size it was constructed incredibly quickly, being finished and occupied by 1597. Nearer the close of this period, and following the Great Fire of 1666, St Paul's cathedral, designed by Wren, was begun in 1673.

During the 18th cent. rising population and sustained economic prosperity generated greatly increased activity in construction. The urban building boom of the Georgian era is best appreciated in the splendid architecture of Edinburgh, Bath, Stamford, and Dublin, but can be seen in many other towns and villages. In the countryside the modernization of agriculture led to the construction of new farm houses and buildings, walls, roads, and ditches. Quarrying, both for stone and slate, and brick and tile manufacture, expanded rapidly to meet demand.

The industrial revolution of the later 18th and early 19th cents. required major construction projects and a more functional architecture. The new factory buildings, such as the cotton-spinning mills still to be seen at Cromford, Styal, and New Lanark, were often large scale, and increased in size and complexity as industry expanded in centres like Manchester and Glasgow. The transport revolution, which accompanied industrialization, also engendered major canal, railway, bridge, and harbour building projects. The Iron Bridge over the Severn at Coalbrookdale (1777–9) was the first to use that great sinew of the industrial age in its construction. It was also put to good effect by Victorian engineers in the Crystal Palace (1851) and the great train sheds at major railway stations like Waverley (Edinburgh), Temple Meads (Bristol), and St Pancras (London). Subsequently, in the late 19th and early 20th cents., steel and concrete were extensively used in construction, the largest engineering structures, apart from buildings, being bridges, motorways, tunnels, and gas and oil rigs.

The construction industry has always been an important barometer of the economy, seen, for example, in the building boom which coincided with the era of late 19th-cent. prosperity, more modestly in parts of Britain during the recovery of the 1930s, and during the years of reconstruction following the Second World War.

Ian Donnachie

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