The place where they do the annual Xmas lectures #buildingpassions

When I used to work at the UK Academy of Sciences, we often got calls asking us about our Christmas Lecture, particularly as the Autumn days began to darken.

We would politely reply: “I’m sorry, you want the Royal Institution. We are the Royal Society.”

In some cases this led to a follow on conversation about the difference between the two organisation’s titles. We would explain that the Royal Society was one of the world’s oldest science academies founded in 1660, whereas the Royal Institution had been set up in the 19th Century by science communicators with the purpose of educating the public about science. Michael Faraday’s famous lectures on electricity morphed into the annual Xmas events broadcast on the BBC.

I am giving a Christmas lecture in Canterbury on 17 December with the same title as my book ‘Building Passions’. It may not be on the same level as the RI ones, but it is about communicating on the STEM subjects, as we now group them. Mine will focus on engineering and architecture as part of our built environment’s history.

I will talk about the Brunel and Barry families of engineers and architects. Sir John Wolfe Barry and Henry Brunel, sons of famous fathers, worked together on building Tower Bridge in London. I will cover other well-known and interesting structures and there will be a live demonstration of simple bridge building.

Do please come along! Whether you manage or not you can still buy the book and/or donate to my favourite charity campaign Time to Change.

They thought it was all over … #buildingpassions

‘They think it’s all over … it is now’ was an expression from 1966 that became famous in the UK at least (subsequently through an eponymous TV show).

This was the year the English soccer team won the World Cup at Wembley, the home of football. The commentator was explaining why English fans were already running onto the pitch before the final whistle – then the home team scored in mid-sentence to settle the match.

I kind of thought my research, writing and publishing project was all over this week, what with a new Blue Plaque for Sir John Wolfe Barry on the Tuesday, followed by the book launch for ‘Building Passions‘ on Wednesday.

Yet I realise today that in a way it’s only just begun (apologies to the Carpenters singing duo).

I still need to promote the book to potential audiences – there is no point even writing a book if it isn’t read by all those who might possibly be interested in it.

The next event is a lecture on the book in Canterbury, England on 17 December, only 8 days before Christmas. Signed copies will be available to buy as last minute Xmas gifts.

For those who don’t know it, Canterbury is a beautifully historic English city closely associated with the Monarchy and the Church. St Thomas Becket was martyred in the famous Cathedral on the implicit instructions of King Henry II. Pilgrims have visited ever since, and the famous ‘Canterbury Tales’ by Geoffrey Chaucer institutionalised this into English language and culture.

The crime took place because loyal servants to the highest authority in England thought this would please their master. Sounds familiar eh?

Today’s the day #buildingpassions

I’m launching the print copy of ‘Building Passions’ this evening Wednesday 20 November in Central London.

The e-book has been out since September on www.kobo.com . The full title is Brunel, Barry and ‘modern’ Victorian architecture .

English Heritage has just put up a Blue Plaque on the house in London where Sir John Wolfe Barry lived, no. 15 Chelsea Embankment. This is in the 125th year since he built Tower Bridge with Henry Marc Brunel and others. It is also a little over a century since Wolfe Barry died, at his home, in 1918.

I will continue to promote ‘Building Passions’ through the website and give talks about it to local audiences in and around Kent where I live.

The next one is on 17 December at Canterbury Christchurch University. It is being organised by the STEM Hub based there, which coordinates volunteers such as myself to speak to Kent school-age children about careers in science, technology, engineering and/or mathematics/medicine.

I will also be talking about the book at Ashford Library on 25 February 2020 and am happy to come to an easily-accessible venue in London and the South East to do the same. Please contact me at enquiries@buildingpassions.co.uk .

Just 3 days until the #buildingpassions book launch

I’m launching the print copy of ‘Building Passions’ on Wednesday 20 November in Central London. The e-book has been out since September on www.kobo.com . The full title is Brunel, Barry and ‘modern’ Victorian architecture .

The day before that, English Heritage will put up a Blue Plaque on the house in Chelsea where Sir John Wolfe Barry lived and died.

Both of these events will be a major personal milestone for me as an historian and author. But they also represent the first steps, I hope, in my shared efforts to expand our knowledge about the built environment. As I have recognised in my book, Roma Agrawal really started this for many of us with her fantastic book ‘BUILT’.

What happens after the book is launched?

Well, I’m writing my next one, an historical novel based on the life of my grandfather Baron Lex von Behr, who may have been a spy … I hope to publish it in 2020, a century after he escaped from the clutches of Soviet Red Guards in what is modern day Uzbekistan.

I will continue to promote ‘Building Passions’ through the website and give talks about it to local audiences in Kent where I live.

I’m also thinking about doing academic research linked to one of the themes in the book – what helped define architectural ‘modernity’ in the Victorian era, how does this link to our built environment legacy, and why is it important for the current process of quality design and build?

Or something along those lines …

Not just Tower Bridge on the #buildingpassions list of structures

I’ve produced a list of structures mentioned in the book ‘Building Passions‘.

I created the list for indexing purposes, as it naturally flowed out of my text for the book. Perhaps I should have done it the other way round?

All lists need choices to be made. The public voted Isambard Kingdom Brunel the second greatest Briton after Churchill. Does that make his structures the best British ones ever? Of course not!

This website focuses on the works of his son Henry Brunel in partnership with Sir John Wolfe Barry, who really gets the credit as project lead. His father Sir Charles Barry has many buildings on the list, including the Houses of Parliament, but no tunnels, bridges, docks or rail lines and stations. Sir Charles was an architect, unlike the previously named engineers.

Other architects and engineers are on the list, as well as unattributed structures such as the Acropolis or the Burj Khalifa.

Some might say it’s a bit of a dog’s breakfast. I disagree. There are connections between all these structures across and over time.

Which is my favourite structure on the list? No surprise to those who know me, it’s the Travellers Club in London by Charles Barry and his close friend John Lewis Wolfe. Apart from sheer admiration of form and function, my father used to be a member and often stayed there on trips from Switzerland to the UK.

I also appreciate the significance of John Wolfe.

Sir Charles’s fourth son was named after him, and in tribute to his memory and lineage, he continued with the ‘Wolfe’ title in a family name that is still alive today.

The final countdown #breakingpassions

It’s 38 days until I launch the hard copy version of my first book ‘Building Passions‘.

Between then and now we will have Diwali, Halloween/Brexit Day and Guy Fawkes Day in the UK. The lead up to Christmas has already started with cards and adverts.

The draft has gone off to the printers and once a proof is returned and corrected for any errors then that’s it, until delivery of the final soft backs in time for the 20 November launch.

I am firming up plans with English Heritage to promote a Blue Plaque for Sir John Wolfe Barry, which will hopefully be unveiled in London on the same day as the launch.

In some sense I will be relieved once the hard copy is out as it is the final piece in the lengthy jigsaw of self-publishing non-fiction. The e-book is already available on www.kobo.com and a temporary sale will start tomorrow for about a fortnight – if you have never registered on Kobo before then the book will be free for UK purchasers, as you will get an introductory discount of the same amount (in other countries this will depend on exchange rates).

Fiction looks easier to me … which is why I need to get more words down for my next book to be published in 2020 about an amazing story based on my grandfather’s ‘fantasy’ life.

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.