I gave a STEM engagement lecture yesterday at Canterbury Christchurch University in England about my book ‘Building Passions‘.
As part of the promotion for the lecture, I had run a week long Twitter poll on four structures mentioned in the book.
All of these were built in London during the reign of Queen Victoria but, more importantly, the ‘builders’ were the key architects and engineers covered by the book.
At the lecture an audience member asked me why I had chosen those four structures and I tried to explain, but ended up saying it was purely subjective.
In fact I will now produce a list of my top 10 structures from the book, including those four, and in subsequent blogs justify why I have selected them. I will also try to rank them and, who knows, may makes some changes along the way!
- Tower Bridge
- Houses of Parliament
- SS Great Eastern
- Thames Tunnel
- Reform Club
- Crystal Palace
- Connel Ferry Bridge
- Paddington Station
- Royal Opera House and Floral Hall
- Dulwich College
How did I produce this list?
The main rule applied was using enough different types of structures, associated with the main architects and engineers covered in the book. The commonality was that they were either a Brunel or a Barry, or both. I could have made it a longer list and changed every one of the structures, so that’s where the subjectivity comes in. The full list is available (with many hyperlinks) at: https://www.buildingpassions.co.uk/sway-of-structures.php
I will start the series of blogs with a less well-known structure, the Connel Ferry Bridge in Scotland. The first clue is that it was built by Sir John Wolfe Barry and Partners in 1903.
When I used to work at the UK Academy of Sciences, we often got calls asking us about our Christmas Lecture, particularly as the Autumn days began to darken.
We would politely reply: “I’m sorry, you want the Royal Institution. We are the Royal Society.”
In some cases this led to a follow on conversation about the difference between the two organisation’s titles. We would explain that the Royal Society was one of the world’s oldest science academies founded in 1660, whereas the Royal Institution had been set up in the 19th Century by science communicators with the purpose of educating the public about science. Michael Faraday’s famous lectures on electricity morphed into the annual Xmas events broadcast on the BBC.
I am giving a Christmas lecture in Canterbury on 17 December with the same title as my book ‘Building Passions’. It may not be on the same level as the RI ones, but it is about communicating on the STEM subjects, as we now group them. Mine will focus on engineering and architecture as part of our built environment’s history.
I will talk about the Brunel and Barry families of engineers and architects. Sir John Wolfe Barry and Henry Brunel, sons of famous fathers, worked together on building Tower Bridge in London. I will cover other well-known and interesting structures and there will be a live demonstration of simple bridge building.
Do please come along! Whether you manage or not you can still buy the book and/or donate to my favourite charity campaign Time to Change.
I blogged a while back that I’ve started writing a novel based on the life of my grandfather Baron Lex von Behr.
This fictional story connects with the non-fiction of ‘Building Passions’ and in deed this website, through the theme of families.
As I said at the book launch of ‘Building Passions’ last week, I’m fascinated with family relationships and legacy. My grandfather almost lived out a novel or even a series of short stories. These included his mother, brothers, sisters, cousins, life partners and children.
While I am more comfortable writing non-fiction, particularly linked to history or education or the built environment, I realise that fiction is the big one. You can mould your subjects and develop their stories in parallel with the flow of events around them.
The book will actually be a trilogy called ‘The Other Red Baron’, split between three phases of Lex’s life as there is so much to cover about him. However, the core story is on his spying career and his passionate love affairs in Tashkent, London, Berlin and Paris.
As things develop I will consider how best to communicate on my progress – currently I’m sharing my writing trials and tribulations as part of National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo.org), its Kent community forum on Facebook and in meet-ups with local authors in and around Canterbury.
‘They think it’s all over … it is now’ was an expression from 1966 that became famous in the UK at least (subsequently through an eponymous TV show).
This was the year the English soccer team won the World Cup at Wembley, the home of football. The commentator was explaining why English fans were already running onto the pitch before the final whistle – then the home team scored in mid-sentence to settle the match.
I kind of thought my research, writing and publishing project was all over this week, what with a new Blue Plaque for Sir John Wolfe Barry on the Tuesday, followed by the book launch for ‘Building Passions‘ on Wednesday.
Yet I realise today that in a way it’s only just begun (apologies to the Carpenters singing duo).
I still need to promote the book to potential audiences – there is no point even writing a book if it isn’t read by all those who might possibly be interested in it.
The next event is a lecture on the book in Canterbury, England on 17 December, only 8 days before Christmas. Signed copies will be available to buy as last minute Xmas gifts.
For those who don’t know it, Canterbury is a beautifully historic English city closely associated with the Monarchy and the Church. St Thomas Becket was martyred in the famous Cathedral on the implicit instructions of King Henry II. Pilgrims have visited ever since, and the famous ‘Canterbury Tales’ by Geoffrey Chaucer institutionalised this into English language and culture.
The crime took place because loyal servants to the highest authority in England thought this would please their master. Sounds familiar eh?
I’m launching the print copy of ‘Building Passions’ this evening Wednesday 20 November in Central London.
The e-book has been out since September on www.kobo.com . The full title is Brunel, Barry and ‘modern’ Victorian architecture .
English Heritage has just put up a Blue Plaque on the house in London where Sir John Wolfe Barry lived, no. 15 Chelsea Embankment. This is in the 125th year since he built Tower Bridge with Henry Marc Brunel and others. It is also a little over a century since Wolfe Barry died, at his home, in 1918.
I will continue to promote ‘Building Passions’ through the website and give talks about it to local audiences in and around Kent where I live.
The next one is on 17 December at Canterbury Christchurch University. It is being organised by the STEM Hub based there, which coordinates volunteers such as myself to speak to Kent school-age children about careers in science, technology, engineering and/or mathematics/medicine.
I will also be talking about the book at Ashford Library on 25 February 2020 and am happy to come to an easily-accessible venue in London and the South East to do the same. Please contact me at email@example.com .
I’m launching the print copy of ‘Building Passions’ on Wednesday 20 November in Central London. The e-book has been out since September on www.kobo.com . The full title is Brunel, Barry and ‘modern’ Victorian architecture .
The day before that, English Heritage will put up a Blue Plaque on the house in Chelsea where Sir John Wolfe Barry lived and died.
Both of these events will be a major personal milestone for me as an historian and author. But they also represent the first steps, I hope, in my shared efforts to expand our knowledge about the built environment. As I have recognised in my book, Roma Agrawal really started this for many of us with her fantastic book ‘BUILT’.
What happens after the book is launched?
Well, I’m writing my next one, an historical novel based on the life of my grandfather Baron Lex von Behr, who may have been a spy … I hope to publish it in 2020, a century after he escaped from the clutches of Soviet Red Guards in what is modern day Uzbekistan.
I will continue to promote ‘Building Passions’ through the website and give talks about it to local audiences in Kent where I live.
I’m also thinking about doing academic research linked to one of the themes in the book – what helped define architectural ‘modernity’ in the Victorian era, how does this link to our built environment legacy, and why is it important for the current process of quality design and build?
Or something along those lines …
I’ve produced a list of structures mentioned in the book ‘Building Passions‘.
I created the list for indexing purposes, as it naturally flowed out of my text for the book. Perhaps I should have done it the other way round?
All lists need choices to be made. The public voted Isambard Kingdom Brunel the second greatest Briton after Churchill. Does that make his structures the best British ones ever? Of course not!
This website focuses on the works of his son Henry Brunel in partnership with Sir John Wolfe Barry, who really gets the credit as project lead. His father Sir Charles Barry has many buildings on the list, including the Houses of Parliament, but no tunnels, bridges, docks or rail lines and stations. Sir Charles was an architect, unlike the previously named engineers.
Other architects and engineers are on the list, as well as unattributed structures such as the Acropolis or the Burj Khalifa.
Some might say it’s a bit of a dog’s breakfast. I disagree. There are connections between all these structures across and over time.
Which is my favourite structure on the list? No surprise to those who know me, it’s the Travellers Club in London by Charles Barry and his close friend John Lewis Wolfe. Apart from sheer admiration of form and function, my father used to be a member and often stayed there on trips from Switzerland to the UK.
I also appreciate the significance of John Wolfe.
Sir Charles’s fourth son was named after him, and in tribute to his memory and lineage, he continued with the ‘Wolfe’ title in a family name that is still alive today.