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.
In my last post I came across all excited about progress on my forthcoming book ‘Building Passions’.
Did I write too soon?
I did get EPub and mobi (for Kindle) electronic versions of the book this week, but they require some formatting amendments and the contractor is now off on leave for a fortnight! So my deadline for publishing by end September looks compromised currently …
Similarly for the hard copy, the original printers have just conceded (nicely) that I could get a much better price elsewhere, so I’m back to square one. However, I have more time to play with.
On the more positive side, I have now fixed a launch day, time and venue for the hard copy in mid-November.
The launch venue has a strong historical connection with the famous Regency architect Sir John Nash, about whom I write, and it is located a few hundred yards away from other early 19th-century buildings which feature in the book: the Travellers Club; the Reform Club; and Carlton House Terrace, where the Royal Society can be found, and of which Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Sir Charles Barry and Sir John Wolfe Barry were all Fellows.
I told a friend and his teenage son about my book today. It taught me that you can present the same story in many different ways.
I sat them down and literally explained the main characters and the built structures linked to them. This was a good test for my own memory and would help my comms skills when handling larger audiences.
I literally went with the flow, without any planning except my own knowledge of the book.
My main focus was on the two fathers, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Sir Charles Barry, and their sons Sir John Wolfe Barry and Henry Marc Brunel. I mentally pictured the small tree I have drawn showing their relationships, and those with Sir Marc Brunel, father of IKB, and Sir Charles’ other sons and grandsons covered in the book.
I also covered broader issues such as the development of architectural styles and the link between ‘modernism’, Art Nouveau and the Crystal Palace.
I thought, as I spoke, of what would keep a teenager interested in the story. I tried as much interaction as I could, asking questions and then providing answers where he or his father couldn’t do so. It was all about nudging them along, but trying to avoid any topic which might appear too technical for a layperson.
It would be great if I could write books easily this way (think perhaps ‘Sophie’s World’ or ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’), but I have not quite mastered such an approach to non-fiction. May be fiction will be easier?
You can always teach an old dog new tricks …
I kind of feel I’m almost there!
A pre-pub proof is now ready of my forthcoming book, short title ‘Building Passions’.
All I need to do now is typeset it, arrange the c. 70 illustrations properly, and finish off the index and all page references. Then I will know the exact spine width based on the number and thickness of the pages and so can complete the last stage of the book cover.
I’m still on schedule for an e-version published by end September and a hard copy by end November.
My only slight frustration is finding the right book launch venue in London which won’t break the bank but also fits with the book and invitees. I now understand why events planning requires help from venue finders! I’ve often had the good luck of working for organisations that have their own events spaces and teams, but no longer sadly …
In terms of printing the book I’ve decided to seek advice from a local publisher and printer. I just know that I don’t want to fell hundreds of trees in the process! Also, that a printed book needs to have a good feel about it when handled. I may be a bit weird, but I also like the smell of new (and old) books …
I should remind you of why it’s worth buying the book once available.
If you are above age 18 and have even the slightest interest in the history of the built environment e.g. why buildings, bridges and other structures have been put up in a certain way, then ‘Building Passions’ is a must for you. It does focus on Victorian/Edwardian Britain and its ‘Empire’, so hopefully you weren’t put off too much at school (I loved it!).
I’m afraid it doesn’t mention many women at all, and certainly not as architects, engineers or contractors. I’m afraid that was the way of the world at that time, and while clearly things have changed since then for the better, there is still a lot to do to increase diversity in the built environment workforce in the UK and abroad.
I’m travelling to a family reunion in London to celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday.
Families are important.
I write about two of them in my forthcoming book on the 19th-century Brunels and Barrys. The full title is “Brunel, Barry and ‘modern’ Victorian architecture”. The short title is ‘Building Passions’.
In the book, the two famous families of engineers and architects connect through John Wolfe Barry and his close friend and business partner Henry Marc Brunel. Their fathers were the great Victorians Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Charles Barry, who were both Fellows of the Royal Society like their outstanding contemporary Charles Darwin. They also co-designed the 1851 Great Exhibition and Crystal Palace with Prince Albert, Joseph Paxton and others.
Families have roots and branches.
They come from somewhere and in most cases continue on, even if there are name changes along the way. Personalities appear, disappear and reappear through new generations.
This is all part of evolution and completely natural, in whatever way it may have first started.
The best families strive to work cooperatively with others for the wider good. This despite the temptation to care for their immediate lineage only.
In this way the world progresses and, we hope, avoids the pitfalls of personal greed and avarice that have become so visible today.
I had a small victory yesterday in the process of self-publishing my forthcoming book.
After many weeks of email correspondence and occasional calls in the direction of the Gulf States I finally got a result.
Let’s start at the beginning.
The new book is about the Brunel and Barry families of Victorian architects and engineers. It starts with Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the most famous of all the subjects, voted second greatest Briton of all time after Churchill.
IKB’s first major project was working with his father to build a passenger tunnel under the River Thames in London. This was literally a ground-breaking exercise!
Roma Agrawal has covered the tunnel story excellently in her brilliant book ‘BUILT’ for which a children’s version is due to be published in 2020.
In my book I make the link between that early 19th-century underground structure and the world’s tallest skyscraper. Do you know where it is? Hint: the Gulf States.
The connection comes through the story of Brunel’s son Henry and the son of Sir Charles Barry, the architect of the Houses of Parliament (for which the name of this website is a huge clue!). It goes on via Tower Bridge, which the two sons built, to their expanding civil engineering consultancy in the early 20th Century.
Ultimately, the legacy organisation from their partnership was involved in the construction of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE, at the time of writing the highest skyscraper on the globe, but please check with the official database.
You need permission to publish a photo of the Burj Khalifa (worth remembering if you go to Dubai!), hence I have it for my book but not for this website yet.