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!

 

The road to a blue plaque

I applied for an English Heritage Blue Plaque for Sir John Wolfe Barry in December 2015. The plan would be to commemorate the centenary of his death in January 2018 by having English Heritage put up a plaque on the building in Chelsea where he died. The process can take a long time due to the high demand for these in London where the scheme operates, and of course the current inhabitants need to be happy with a plaque.

I am sure there are many more worthy historical figures and you could argue that Tower Bridge is a commemoration of its own, plus there is special window in Westminster Abbey above the resting place of John’s famous father Sir Charles Barry, architect of the New Palace of Westminster.

I still remain optimistic that the plaque will be granted in 2018 even if not in time for the centenary which is only 3 months away now. It was short-listed in 2016 and it just seems too good an opportunity to miss.

Structural engineering in Victorian London

I’m reading a fascinating book about the use of iron and steel in buildings in Victorian London. One of these structures was Tower Bridge which John Wolfe Barry built with his partner Henry Brunel.

You could argue it was more than just a bridge as the two steel towers were clad in stone to provide sympathetic context with the Tower of London.

This stirred up great architectural debate at the time.

Author Jonathan Clarke of the English Heritage monograph  ‘Early Structural Steel in London Buildings: A discreet revolution’ explains the basis behind these disagreements on aesthetics and use of materials, which you might say characterised the professional divide between traditional architects and futuristic structural engineers at the time.

Plans to January 2018

The author of this website about Sir John Wolfe Barry is Nick von Behr. I am indebted particularly to research and writing by the late James Sutherland.

I have been populating this website as time permitted until hopefully it is now as complete as I can make it for 22 January 2018, the centenary of John Wolfe Barry’s death.

Originally I wanted to have some kind of commemoration in Westminster Abbey where a window can be found in his honour and his father is interred. I think this is very unlikely to happen. I’m also hoping an English Heritage Blue Plaque may be put up on the house where he died in London, but again this is a slow burner, having applied in December 2015.

Finally, since 2018 is the official UK Year of Engineering and the bicentenary of the Institution of Civil Engineers and the year structural engineer Roma Agrawal is publishing her new book ‘Built’, perhaps other opportunities may arise to get the message out about him to a wider audience.