The final countdown #breakingpassions

It’s 38 days until I launch the hard copy version of my first book ‘Building Passions‘.

Between then and now we will have Diwali, Halloween/Brexit Day and Guy Fawkes Day in the UK. The lead up to Christmas has already started with cards and adverts.

The draft has gone off to the printers and once a proof is returned and corrected for any errors then that’s it, until delivery of the final soft backs in time for the 20 November launch.

I am firming up plans with English Heritage to promote a Blue Plaque for Sir John Wolfe Barry, which will hopefully be unveiled in London on the same day as the launch.

In some sense I will be relieved once the hard copy is out as it is the final piece in the lengthy jigsaw of self-publishing non-fiction. The e-book is already available on www.kobo.com and a temporary sale will start tomorrow for about a fortnight – if you have never registered on Kobo before then the book will be free for UK purchasers, as you will get an introductory discount of the same amount (in other countries this will depend on exchange rates).

Fiction looks easier to me … which is why I need to get more words down for my next book to be published in 2020 about an amazing story based on my grandfather’s ‘fantasy’ life.

At last! A Blue Plaque for the man who built Tower Bridge #buildingpassions

After almost four years since applying for one, it seems that we will finally have an English Heritage Blue Plaque for Sir John Wolfe Barry!

I often say patience is a virtue. In this case it really is.

I remember completing the application thinking that it may well be rejected due to the sheer numbers of competing ones. But it was worth a try. The process is deliberately slow and careful to ensure that literally everyone is happy with the decision.

Why does JWB deserve this commemoration, given that he already has a window in Westminster Abbey, and the iconic Tower Bridge he built with his business partner and close friend Henry Marc Brunel is a global landmark?

I could give many reasons, but I think foremost is a tribute to the great metropolis of London where he was born, raised, worked and died. He wasn’t just there all the time, but it clearly was a very significant city for him.

My book ‘Building Passions’ not only covers the story of John Wolfe Barry, but also of his father Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament (who already has a Blue Plaque at his former home), as well as other members of the Barry and Brunel families. Not least the ‘2nd Greatest Briton’, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, starts it all off.

The location of the Blue Plaque will be adjoining Chelsea Embankment on the Thames, on the outside of the house where John Wolfe Barry died in 1918 aged 81 years. While it has just missed the centenary of his death, I’m hoping it can still mark 125 years of Tower Bridge.

His life was a great innings, to use a cricketing metaphor, and its legacy continued through the organisations and structures associated with him, the Brunels and ‘modern’ Victorian architecture.

Once I know more about the exact details of the unveiling I will publicise it on this blog.

A ‘Building Passions’ website now exists #buildingpassions

So, I’ve finally managed to launch a website about my forthcoming book ‘Building Passions’.

It provides a bit of background for those who know nothing about the book. Once it is published electronically and then in hard copy, I will add links to the retailers who will hopefully sell it for me. I’m expecting an e-book will be out soon, but definitely by the end of September.

One thing I am missing is images. As I’ve blogged before this is a tricky area in self-publishing due to image rights. I will try to add in free images and links to ones you would need to pay to use (which I have done for the book!), but of course you will be able to see them all in the book, with appropriate text linked to the story of the Brunels, the Barrys and ‘modern’ Victorian architecture.

I will continue to use this website for blogs about the book and related news, including progress on an English Heritage Blue Plaque for Sir John Wolfe Barry. With luck everything will coincide …

I will also continue to use the #buildingpassions tag to promote the built environment to wider audiences through its history and the individuals involved.

Architectural styles and communities (Part 1)

I’ve been doing some background research for a possible project I’d like to do. It’s about the impact of a specific architectural style on the local communities where it developed and whether we can apply any modern day lessons from this. This first of a series of blogs will reveal more as my thinking develops.

The idea was sparked from my long-term interest in the architectural style, as well as watching a programme last week about building a community centre for those impacted by the shocking Grenfell Tower disaster which happened last year in London.

The initial investigation into the tower block fire has raised a number of issues and recommendations for Government action. However the TV programme highlighted the fact that this was about a local community coming to grips with the design and planning of structures built within it. This is what I want to explore more in my project.

Since I’m a historian by background and have spent time developing a website about an historical figure in civil engineering, it makes sense that I try and apply some of this to the real world. Also, the architectural style I’m interested is called ‘Secessionist’ and was developed during the life of Sir John Wolfe Barry. He never applied it himself as far as I can ascertain, but then it was considered the work of a new generation of younger architects.

However there is a connection.

John’s father Sir Charles Barry had worked closely with Augustus Pugin on the gothic revival details of the New Palace of Westminster. Pugin was a remarkable man who believed in authenticity rather than imitation, hence was somewhat conflicted by working with a classic architect who had made his name through Italianate style buildings such as the Reform and Travellers Clubs in London.

Pugin had developed his thinking on the value of medieval architecture by studying it intensively as part of sustaining his catholic religious and cultural beliefs. This in turn was to impact on Ruskin, Morris and Webb (the architect of the three) as leaders of what became the ‘Arts and Crafts’ Movement in Victorian England. For them it was a return to ancient practices which reflected the real needs of communities.

The break from tradition was encapsulated in the 1860 Red House in Bexleyheath where William Morris and family lived and is now under the protection of English Heritage.

The second post in this series.

Plaque news: latest update

So, I contacted English Heritage last week to see how things are progressing with my Blue Plaque application for Sir John Wolfe Barry.

It seems that the owner of the building where Sir John died is fine in principle so once planning permission is given then hopefully we will have our plaque.

It looks more and more as if this will only happen in 2019, hence we may well miss the centenary year of JWB’s death. However I’ve already blogged in anticipation of this highlighting 125 years of Tower Bridge next year.

Once I get a date for the actual unveiling of the plaque I will spread the message as it would be good to have a few people there to witness it. In preparation I’ve found this website where you can order your own blue plaque: perhaps one day I’ll get one for myself in anticipation of my passing into history. Just need to persuade someone to fix it up when I’m gone …

A blue plaque by the end of the year?

I applied for an English Heritage Blue Plaque for Sir John Wolfe Barry at the end of 2015. It’s a long process which requires evidence and research on the individual concerned and the buildings linked to them.

I get occasional updates from English Heritage as to progress and am still optimistic that something will happen by the end of 2018, the centenary year of Wolfe Barry’s death. If I hear any news I’ll blog about it of course.

If the plaque has to wait until 2019, that’s not too bad as Tower Bridge will be celebrating 125 years since its completion in 1894. I believe there’s at least one book in the offing to commemorate this and I assume it will give due coverage to Sir John as the lead engineer.

As mentioned before, there has been plenty of celebration of engineering in this bicentenary year of the Institution of Civil Engineers which is also the UK Government’s Year of Engineering. There’s also been a great video campaign by the Royal Academy of Engineering to promote careers in the sector to young people. Finally, Roma Agrawal’s book BUILT is doing well and she is planning a version for young children, to help explain the stories behind structures and point out that while architects often get the credit for designing buildings, there are many others involved.

16 days and counting

It’s sixteen days until the 22 January when we commemorate the centenary of Sir John Wolfe Barry’s death.

In a small gesture I will visit his window in Westminster Abbey which looks down on the grave of his father, Sir Charles Barry, the architect of the Palace of Westminster.

Sir John himself was buried in Brookwood Cemetery near Woking, Surrey. I once tried to find his grave but failed so will have another go, even though the cemetery’s website doesn’t list it at all. I hope it’s not been removed!

ICE’s bicentenary celebrations have kicked off as has the Year of Engineering. Roma Agrawal, a chartered structural engineer, is launching her new book BUILT in early February and we’re just waiting to hear about the launch of ‘This is Engineering’, a campaign to promote the engineering profession to wider audiences of young people and their parents. I’m also hoping for a Blue Plaque on the house where Sir John died in Chelsea.

If after all this activity you still can’t work out why engineering and construction are important sectors of the global economy, which require an ongoing supply of diverse, creative and pragmatic new talent, then perhaps we will all have failed!