John Wolfe Barry became a pupil of Sir John Hawkshaw in 1857 at the age of 21.
A recently published biography provides ample proof of Hawkshaw’s civil engineering credentials.* Hawkshaw’s offices were located next door to those of Charles Barry, John’s father, on Great George Street in Westminster. At the time he was working on a range of projects including the Bradford Wakefield & Leeds Railway, the Riga & Dunaberg Railway and Holyhead Harbour, but it’s not clear how Wolfe Barry would have been involved with any of these. Civil engineering pupils traditionally spent much of their time doing drawing up work for their masters, until they were sufficiently trusted to expand their skills on real work.
In 1861 a new project faced Sir John as Consulting Engineer to the South Eastern Railway (SER), connecting London Bridge railway station to new termini at Charing Cross and Cannon Street on the north side of the Thames. The hotel for the stations were designed and built by Edward Middleton Barry, John Wolfe Barry’s elder brother who had helped his father complete the New Palace of Westminster. There were mixed views about this project amongst Londoners, ranging from those who welcomed the ease of access directly into Westminster and the City of London, to those whose homes had been demolished or who simply resented the intrusion of functional steel and brick into their daily lives. At some stage during the project John Wolfe Barry began acting as a resident engineer for Hawkshaw.
It was at this time that he first met Henry Brunel, the youngest son of the renowned engineer Isambard K Brunel, who had started his own apprenticeship with Hawkshaw and was in effect working for John on the SER project. Over time the two young men developed a close friendship based on their mutual interests, which eventually included rowing the Thames, as well as sharing similar family circumstances.
From 1871 onward John and Henry also shared the same offices and living quarters at 18 Duke Street, Westminster, once the Brunel family residence and from whence IK’s chief assistant Robert Brereton continued to operate.
John would always be the senior partner with greater all-round experience and project management expertise. But Henry acquired his own knowledge of engineering techniques through a broader variety of routes than John and was capable of pushing the boundaries of design when guided by others. His close involvement with naval architecture and water dynamics starting with the Great Eastern and continuing with research for William Froude over many years was part of this repertoire.
Henry had also spent his first apprenticeship at the famous Elswick works with Sir George Armstrong, a close family friend, learning about mechanical engineering and the use of hydraulic power as a form of energy transmission. Finally, he would be employed by Hawkshaw and Brereton as a resident or consulting engineer on a number of projects to do with transportation infrastructure.**
*Sir John Hawkshaw 1811-1891. The Life and Work of an Eminent Victorian Engineer, Martin Beaumont, The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Society, 2015.
**See also: Marc Henry Brunel, History Research Archive, Derek Portman, 2004-5.