The Barry family are an interesting case study because John was the only civil engineer amongst a father and two elder brothers who were all successful architects. It isn’t clear whether it was his choice to follow a different profession or his father’s decision. But we do know that he worked together with his brothers on a few projects.
One of these was the construction of railway stations with adjoining hotels at Charing Cross and Cannon Street in London during the early 1860s. Edward Middleton Barry was the architect for both hotels. John worked as a civil engineering assistant to Sir John Hawkshaw who had overall responsibility for the two extensions to the rail line from London Bridge Station.
Another project which linked brothers was the construction of a new HQ for the Institution of Civil Engineers at the time John was it’s President. His other brother Charles was asked to advise on the design from an architectural perspective. Sadly the building was demolished not long after it was completed to make way for the Government’s new Treasury offices in Westminster.
It would be interesting to know how the brothers discussed built environment issues together, whether informally or in a business context. How passionate did emotions get over the use of form as opposed to aesthetics or vice versa?
It is a must see for those millions of tourists who visit London every year for its history, together with the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and St Paul’s Cathedral.
Many people are fascinated by a bascule bridge which you don’t see very often and even if you have seen one, not on this scale. IK Brunel’s son Henry was closely involved in its design.
Tower Bridge spans the River Thames with many other famous bridges (including London Bridge, but not the original one) and is the furthest east of those to be found in Central London.
You can take a boat trip along the Thames and if you travel far enough eastwards towards Greenwich (where the Meridian is to be found) you will have to pass under Tower Bridge.
The Thames Footpath is a great walking and cycling route along England’s most famous river. If you continue west starting at Tower Bridge you will eventually pass Kew Gardens, Hampton Court Palace, Windsor Castle and Henley on Thames (where the summer regattas take place – John Wolfe Barry and Henry Brunel, the builders of Tower Bridge, loved rowing on the Thames).
Of course there are some die-hards like myself who actually love Tower Bridge as a working bridge built in the Victorian era.
Perhaps you’ve made the bridge with a Lego kit or using Meccano and want to compare your model with the real thing?
Or you’ve watched a movie/film/TV programme which has featured it, for example one from the James Bond series (www.007.com).
Then there’s the off chance that you might bump into a member of the Royal Family on the bridge on their way back to the Tower of London where they all live … 😉
Another section has been added to this website about the legacy of John Wolfe Barry’s civil engineering consultancy both in terms of partnerships and people. A link can be traced back to him from the construction of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest free-standing structure, as well as to other industries such as tobacco and automobiles.
The Institution of Civil Engineers has photographic archives of civil engineering structures and people over time. These include the below pictures of Tower Bridge under construction in the 1890s which should be attributed to ICE if used elsewhere.
I’ve added more content on John Wolfe Barry’s other projects and introduced three categories for these, railways, docks and other. I’ve also put in more links from a range of pages to other websites. Hopefully some of them will reciprocate.
A fortnight after Sir John Wolfe Barry’s death on 22 January 1918, British adult women were finally given the vote by Act of Parliament. Not all of them mind you, as suffrage still depended on your seniority and was only reduced to 21 years of age in 1928.
Those were different times but they provided an important context for what happens in a male-dominated society. Saudi Arabian women only received the vote in 2015 and have recently been allowed to drive!
What does this mean for civil and structural engineers of today wherever they practice?
To my mind it presents a continual challenge for them to both respect different cultures, yet operate to the highest demands of their technical professionalism. I believe that John Wolfe Barry tried to do the same, though have little first-hand evidence of his personal thoughts about this.
There were many eulogies to the man once news of his demise was announced. The nearest to the truth, bearing in mind that personal tributes inevitably glow with positivity on the death of someone close, was by his close friend and son’s father-in-law John Strain. It was published in the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), the professional body to which Wolfe Barry had belonged for many decades of his life and of which he took a leadership role in his later years. Strain’s obituary goes into considerable detail about all the engineering and other achievements John had been involved with, but what is most striking is this personal tribute to his friend:
All this was good; it was the well-merited reward of useful and faithful work in and for the world, which honoured itself in the recognition it awarded him. But he had another and a still better reward – if that can properly be called reward which is less the result of what a man does than of what he is – in the wonderful personal feeling of esteem, touched with affection, with which he was so widely regarded. It was the appropriate response to the spontaneous human friendliness of his own outlook. Perhaps it was due no less to his extraordinary tact, which in itself was just the flower and essence of that same kindliness. He did not mason about such matters – he perceived instinctively the right and gracious thing to do, and, if one may put it so, it did itself. And in thinking over his many social gifts and aptitudes I am not sure but that these were the best of them all.