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.
I was going to blog about the importance of my new book’s cover and particularly the spine, but never finished it.
Today is a major event for me personally and hopefully for others with an interest.
125 years ago today a bridge was opened in London, the capital of Victorian Britain and its empire.
The challenge was to cross a busy River Thames without blocking ships with tall masts. The answer was a bascule bridge which could open and shut to allow river and road traffic through.
The men who answered the challenge were the City of London’s Architect and two civil engineers. Sadly the former died early in the construction phase so responsibility rested on the shoulders of the senior engineer.
His name was John Wolfe Barry and his famous father Sir Charles Barry had already built the new Houses of Parliament in London. His engineering partner for the bridge was Henry Brunel, the younger son of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the second greatest Briton after Churchill according to a poll.
Together the two engineers, with the help of many others, built an amazing bridge which still works today. Tower Bridge (NOT London Bridge!) is a tribute to all their efforts. It is a technical wonder, whose architecture was designed to fit with the neighbouring Tower of London.
My forthcoming book #buildingpassions (the title is longer!) will tell you more about Tower Bridge and the Brunel and Barry families of Victorian engineers and architects. It is due out by end September and follow this website to see how it progresses.
The last time I ran a countdown on this website was for the 100th anniversary of John Wolfe Barry’s death in January 2018.
This one is for the 125th anniversary of the first opening of Tower Bridge to the London public on 30 June, only eighteen days away.
I was hoping to publish my forthcoming book about JWB, his family and close friend Henry Brunel, son of IKB, by now. It will happen by the end of September latest.
The good news is that I have had more time to adjust my text to address a broader readership and write more about the famous Brunel family. While the Barrys rightly got the credit for Tower Bridge and the Houses of Parliament, they couldn’t have achieved this without the legacy and contribution of others.
In addition to the Brunels the book covers Augustus Pugin and a little on his father, from whom he inherited his incredible gothic drawing talents. It also looks at William Arrol’s contribution to the building of Tower Bridge and the more structurally impressive Forth Railway Bridge.
Which shows that there are stories behind stories behind stories. Meeting recently with former work colleagues, providing the ‘back story’ to key issues was one area we felt had been part of our career learning.
The trick is to find the key stories, dig up enough relevant detail and communicate this to your intended audiences.
On 30 June 2019 London and possibly the world will celebrate a day that commemorates 125 years since the opening of a well-known bridge.
No, not the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, opened in 1883, nor the Forth Railway Bridge in Scotland opened in 1890, though both deserve special mention for their uniqueness as huge structures, still in use, which employed steel in a ground-breaking way.
This bridge is of course Tower Bridge.
Not everyone knows that the two famous towers which encapsulate the bridge are also made from steel. It is the same Scottish steel used to build the Forth Bridge first, and then almost immediately shipped down to London for the next big project.
In the case of Tower Bridge, the steel framework was clad in stone, which while acting to protect it from corrosion, was also needed to meet the architectural requirement that the bridge blend with the medieval Tower of London next to it. There was much controversy at the time about this.
The enormous bascule leaves, which still open and shut for river traffic, were a wonder to behold for the royals and public who attended the opening ceremony and were only surpassed in length a few decades later in the United States. I write about them in my forthcoming book on Sir John Wolfe Barry and Henry Brunel (the civil engineers for the bridge), which will also cover their famous fathers Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Sir Charles Barry.
Footnote: Dan Cruikshank, the TV broadcaster specialising in architectural history, has presented programmes on Tower Bridge which are sadly no longer available via broadcast networks. But for an intro to the history of London’s bridges see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8n15w-s1qIM. Tower Bridge itself start from 47:30 minutes in.
I decided a while back that I would self-publish my forthcoming book on the Brunel and Barry families.
This has meant foregoing current earnings to spend time writing and there is no guarantee how I will do with my first (and possibly only!) book.
I have also spent money on an editorial assessment and buying image rights, plus I am committed to further payments for editing, proofreading and design and marketing costs. Since I don’t know what sales will be like, it’s difficult to estimate future income from publication. This also depends on the cover price and whether I market it only as an e-print or also as a hard- or softback.
That being said, the people I am writing about were very familiar with the concept of risk. Isambard K Brunel’s father Marc was thrown into debtors’ prison as poor cashflow held up his ground-breaking projects. It was only the threat of him returning to the old enemy France that precipitated action at the highest levels to release Government funds. Sir Charles Barry and his son Edward Middleton Barry were consistently at loggerheads with Parliament over delayed payments for building the New Palace of Westminster.
So, it would help me greatly to know what interest there might be out there for this book. The current favoured title is “Barry, Brunel and sons:
Builders to the British Empire”. My only concern is there is too much alliteration going on in it. What do you think? Tell me in a comment below.
To get a flavour of the book please look at the content of this website – it develops from the main focus here on John Wolfe Barry, to a wider scope looking at his father, brothers and close relationship with Henry Brunel, hence brings in the latter’s famous father IK and grandfather Marc. It also makes connections between Victorian architecture and engineering and modern day structures such as the world’s tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa in the UAE.
P.S. The illustration of Big Ben is made from a photo I took of it at night time before the current renovation works. Another Barry structure!
I’ve written half my target number of words for my book on the 19th Century Barrys. The rest needs to be completed by mid-June latest.
One thing that changes as I add words to the draft is the title and structure of the book. It has now moved on from a central focus on Sir Charles Barry and his three architect/civil engineer sons, to a wider scope including the great Isambard K Brunel and his son Henry Brunel.
This makes for a better connection with the themes of family, recognition and building that run through the book, as well as allowing me to look even more closely at the relationship between architecture and civil engineering.
What, you might ask, is the connection between the Barrys and the Brunels?
John Wolfe Barry and Henry Brunel were close friends and business partners who lived and worked in the Brunel family home and offices in London for the first years of their civil engineering collaboration. Once John was married and children started arriving, Henry had to leave his parents’ house as a lifelong bachelor and hand it over completely to his friend. This can’t have been easy for him!
The fathers of each son knew each other and were both Fellows of the Royal Society. They had also worked together on designing a venue for the 1851 Great Exhibition in London which became known as the famous Crystal Palace. There is no evidence of any close personal or business relationship between them and this could be said to typify the traditional space between British architects and civil engineers.
The book will expand on the above and is currently due for publication by end September 2019. Fingers crossed!