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.
As mentioned elsewhere on this website, 2018 will be a big year for engineering in terms of the sector promoting itself to a wider audience. One strand will be the Institution of Civil Engineers’ 200th anniversary celebrations. Details are gradually emerging from the ICE’s website on activities linked to a 200 theme. I’ll try to update as I find out more. Separately the UK Government is promoting a Year of Engineering for 2018.
So how will the centenary of Sir John Wolfe Barry’s death feature on 22 January 2018?
To be honest I’m not really sure, but at least there’s this website and I will try to publish something special on the day and promote it via contacts and social media.
Watch this space.
I’ve finished some content covering John Wolfe Barry’s role in establishing and sustaining the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), the home of the atomic clock.
What matters when designing and planning a building: its aesthetic appeal or the nature of its form and materials? People will have different views about this depending on their tastes, which makes the built environment such a fascinating and sometimes controversial area of practice.
Debates have continued ever since humans first began to shape their environment and introduce the concept of ‘style’ to each other. Different generations may hold vastly differing views about why a particular structure appeals or not.
I’m happy to defend my appreciation of 19th Century architecture and engineering, based as it is on my background as an historian of the first Industrial Revolution, which happened to take place in my country of origin. I suppose when I first studied economic and social history at university I was fascinated by human ingenuity and organisation as an evolving complex system, less so by individual acts of creativity. As time has passed and I’ve moved along with my generation, clearly I’ve started to appreciate the aesthetical side more than I used to.
My challenge now is to address a general misunderstanding of how historical precedent can best be used to help pave the way forward for ‘modernity’, whichever way we may choose to interpret the future.
I believe looking back with hindsight at engineers such as John Wolfe Barry and his contemporaries aids us in this process.
I’ve just written a piece on John Wolfe Barry’s three elder brothers, two of whom were architects like their father, the third became Bishop of Sydney.
Another section is complete describing some of John Wolfe Barry’s other engineering projects in London and further afield. My personal favourite is the Connel Ferry Bridge over Loch Etive in Scotland.
Studying historical people and structures is an excellent way to learn about the present. Telling the story of John Wolfe Barry provides context for the value of technical and personal relationships which persist now and will continue into the future. It also allows us to engage as learners, looking as vicarious viewers into the experiences of others and drawing out our own lessons. So please use this website to expand your knowledge.
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