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.

Brunel, Barry and ‘modern’ Victorian architecture eBook by Nick von Behr – 9781916225701 | Rakuten Kobo

The book cover image above should always be credited as follows: Arpingstone (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tower.bridge.7.basculecloseup.london.arp.jpg), size and alignment by Elisa Vernazza, https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/legalcode

The e-book is currently available to order at https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/brunel-barry-and-modern-victorian-architecture

Did I write too soon? #buildingpassions

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.

How to find a book launch venue #buildingpassions

So, I’ve been trying to nail down a venue for the official launch of my book ‘Building Passions’ in November.

I have a date/time and I want it to take place in the Westminster part of London. I also have a budget, an idea of numbers and the type of offering.

Fortunately, I have run many events in the past so am pretty familiar with the ins and outs of the process. My most stressful experience was organising a large conference on maths education, pretty much on my own, at a venue the Government officials funding it wouldn’t show me until the start of the event! They claimed this was best security practice for the Secretary of State for Education who was keynote speaking … oh and my wife was having an operation on the same day! It all went well thankfully.

I looked at two possible venues on Wednesday with my assistant, who is my daughter starting her English language and linguistics degree from this month. One was very nice and in a famous national art gallery, but over my budget. The alternative was more affordable but not in so respectable a location, though still pleasant. There are other options on the table.

I already have one sponsor for the event and am looking for others who would like to co-fund it with me. If you are interested please contact me at enquiries@buildingpassions.co.uk .

The e-book should be published soon via the usual channels and then I need to focus on finalising the print version in time for November.

The final steps towards publishing ‘Building Passions’ #buildingpassions

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.

Small victories matter #buildingpassions

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.

How wide is your spine? #buildingpassions

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.