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Archive for the ‘People’ Category

A guest post by LH Member Martin Thompson.

Sir Henry Cole (1808 – 1882), Founder of the Victoria and Albert Museum
Address in Hampstead: 3 Elm Row (1879 – 1880)

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The first commercially produced Christmas card, 1843.

Life and Times
henry coleSir Henry Cole was instrumental in the development of the Victoria and Albert Museum of which he was the first director. He introduced the world’s first commercial Christmas card in 1843 and played a key role in the introduction of the Penny Post. He is sometimes credited with the design of the world’s first postage stamp, the Penny Black.

He was born in Bath on 15 July, 1808 into a middle-class family, the son of Henry Robert Cole and his wife Leticia and educated at Christ’s Hospital in London. With little chance of going to university he took a job, aged 15, as a clerk in the Public Record Office. Whilst working there he met and married Marian Fairman Bond on 28th December, 1833 with whom he had nine children. Cole lost his job there in 1835. However, his criticisms of the Commission’s activities enabled him to win back his lost post and led to the eventual establishment of a new Public Record Office, of which Cole was appointed an Assistant Keeper. From there he was recruited by Rowland Hill to work as an assistant between 1837 and 1840 and with whom he helped introduce the penny post.

In 1850 he secured the backing of Queen Victoria to establish, under the Presidency of Prince Albert, the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations which was held in The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, from 1 May to 15 October 1851. This was enormously popular and a great financial success. He was also instrumental in the decision that the £186,000 surplus from the Great Exhibition would be used for improving science and art education in the United Kingdom. Land was purchased in the South Kensington area and developed as the centre for a number of educational and cultural institutions eventually becoming the Victoria and Albert Museum.

In 1843 Cole commissioned John Callcott Horsley to design a greeting card that he could send to all his friends as, at the time, it was the custom to laboriously handwrite greeting cards individually. It showed a happy family enjoying the holiday with side panels depicting the charitable side of Christmas and the Christmas card was born. One of these first Christmas cards which he had sent to his grandmother, sold at auction for £22,500.

Cole eventually retired with a knighthood bestowed upon him by Queen Victoria in 1875 and sought a home in Hampstead which he found in Elm Row. It is not exactly a busy thoroughfare, just a tiny turning off Heath Street. Yet it has a special significance at Christmas that few will appreciate – unless they take a look at the black plaque on the wall of 3 Elm Row which states: Sir Henry Cole lived here 1879-1880. He originated the custom of sending Christmas Cards and was largely responsible for the founding of the Kensington Museum. He was also a great postal reformer. Whilst living in Hampstead, the Heath became one of his new passions. He also built up a group of local friends in the area amongst them Gerard Manley Hopkins and George du Maurier. Unfortunately, Hampstead did not suit him. Cole himself wrote in his diary “the 400 feet ascent to Hampstead was a great obstacle.” As a result, he left Hampstead and moved to South Kensington, in 1880.

Cole had a known heart condition, but did not slow down as he aged. At the end of 1881, he started writing his memoir highlighting his half century of public service. On Monday, April 17, 1882 Cole sat for a portrait with the famous painter Whistler. That night his condition worsened, and he died in his home the following evening at the age of 74. He was buried in Brompton cemetery.

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roger williams 3We were deeply dismayed recently to hear that London Historians Member Roger Williams had passed away, on 23 August following a heart attack.

Roger had been a Member of long-standing, having joined us early on, in 2012. He was an enthusiastic supporter of London Historians as a group but also of our members individually. A regular fixture at LH monthly pub meet-ups, he was marvellous company and kindness personified. Many of our members have experienced ready advice, suggestions, the loan (or often gift) of a book or magazine, or myriad other acts of kindness.

Roger was, first and foremost, a writer. A professional journalist for most of his career, he also wrote many books, the ones in recent years focusing on London and in particular, the Thames. Roger was also an active member of the Docklands History Group which, like us, benefited from his support and wisdom.

As for Roger’s background before we met him, his wife Pam kindly sent us both the picture you see above, taken in Genoa only last June, and these words:

Roger was born in Wimbledon in 1947 and grew up and went to school there. He had (has) two sisters. He left school at 17 and went straight into journalism, working initially on a trade magazine. I met him when he was 23 and we spent a few years roaming around Europe, teaching English in Italy for a while and working in a bar in Spain. He then worked on Mayfair magazine (I know!!) and Titbits (I’m a bit vague on the chronology). We bought our first home, a flat in Fulham, where our daughter Joby was born in 1978. We then moved to Putney. He worked on the Sunday Times Magazine but left when Murdoch took the paper to Wapping, although he later returned as a freelance and spent several years there, making many friends. He wrote two anti-nuclear books for WH Allen. We moved out to rural Kent in 1990 and he then wrote Lunch with Elizabeth David – published by Little Brown – which was quite well received. After that he concentrated mainly on travel writing and editing, mostly for Insight Guides and Dorling Kindersley. With the advance of technology, and our move back to London in 2009, he got into self-publishing, and furthered his interest in London and the Thames. He then wrote the three London books you know about and that brings us up to date when you first knew him.”

Our deepest condolences go to both Pam and Joby.

Thank-you, Roger. We’ll miss you.

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Review: William Blake, at Tate Britain. 

Very recently the precise location of William Blake’s body was identified in Bunhill Fields nonconformist cemetery just north of the City. There followed the unveiling of a brand new grave stone on 11 August last year. The organisers were caught out by the many hundreds of Blake fans (including around a dozen London Historians) who turned up to honour this eminent painter, poet, engraver, printer and visionary.

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Dedication of William Blake gravestone, 11 August 2018.

That occasion made it clear that he is revered, among Londoners in particular; he commands a place on the pantheon of British artists with fellow sons of the captial Dobson, Hogarth and Turner.

Apart from four years spent in Sussex (1800 – 04), Blake spent his whole life in London: in Lambeth during most of the 1790s but the rest always a stone’s throw from his birthplace in Broad Street (now Broadwick Street). It is horrifying to learn that the Blake family home was demolished as recently as 1963, replaced by an ugly block of flats named William Blake House, adding insult to injury.

It is marvellous that so soon after that momentous event of last year, Tate Britain is hosting the most comprehensive William Blake (1757 – 1827) exhibition in a generation. Over 300 of his works are on display, arranged chronologically. This is broken down in to distinct phases of his professional life. In Room 1 we learn about his family background and training as an engraver and how he rejected the methods and strictures of the Academy; we then go on to find out how he went on to earn a living, first as an engraver and then as a illustrator and printer, exploiting a printmaking technique of his own devising: ‘relief etching’. This allowed him to illuminate text on the same page. Subject matter came from many sources including the Bible, Chaucer, Shakespeare and of course, his own mysterious, other-worldly poetry. Out of this, emerged the likes of The Tyger and Jerusalem, though the larger body of his copious writing is forgotten by all but aficionados.

And here the medium commands the format, so virtually everything that Blake produced was perforce quite small, tiny even. Book size or smaller. Except for four or five pieces near the end of the exhibition, the largest pieces in this show a the roughly A3 sized series of 12 (including the rather unhappy Nebuchadnezzar, and bizarrely naked Newton) But it is mostly exquisite and no, you can only really appreciate it properly in the original rather than a modern book, however well printed.

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Nebuchadnezzar

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Newton

But what about the art? I’m a bit conflicted about Blake. All those beardy scary old men, endless in the biblical stuff; all those wraith-like female spirits whooshing diaphanously through the air or sea or stars; all those muscular bottoms! I feel I like him because I’m supposed to like him and that he’s a Londoner. I don’t think he’s technically good as an anatomical illustrator: all those muscles flatter to deceive. That said, his style and his imagination are unique. There’s an El Greco quality to the stretching of body and limb; there’s a Bosch quality to his animals, monsters and nightmare visions. You can examine all these 300 plus works and not become inured to the eeriness: all is fresh. There’s also a graffiti style to a lot of periphery of the illustrations which is quite interesting.

Very few of Blake’s images are standalone; mostly they are series, and mostly for publication. The Tate has assembled many complete series for this exhibition, one of my favourites of which is America A Prophecy, in 18 plates. Here, below, is possibly my favourite, Plate 15, ‘What Time the Thirteen Governors …’ The series was made in 1793 during Blake’s Lambeth spell, a nice mid-career example. What attracts me to this particular plate are the scary fish at the bottom which very much have a cartoony quality. There are, here and there throughout the show, images that make you smile a bit. You’d like to think that this is Blake having fun, being playful. But even for Blake experts, one feels you cannot be sure.

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Almost as you walk out of the exhibition, Blake bids you farewell with a version of the Ancient of Days, originally from 1794 as the frontispiece for Europe: A Prophecy. Yes, because it’s probably his most famous painting, yes, because it was one of his favourites but more than that because he was still creating versions of it right at the end of his life.  Like most of the works in this show, it is smaller than you imagined.

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Our Man from the Telegraph, Alistair Sooke, called this exhibition ‘over-curated’. As a perfectly straightforward chronological romp through William Blake’s life, surely the opposite is more likely to be the case? No, I think the Tate has kept it simple: displayed as many works in as much light as the mainly watercolour medium will allow; given visitors as much space as possible to get around these quite small works; and given just enough background information to prick the sufficiently curious to find out more.

I’m still not entirely sure what to make of Blake – I reckon I’m far from alone in that – but I do know I thoroughly enjoyed this exhibition and should have given myself at least another hour. I must go again.

Other views:
Londonist
Evening Standard

 

The Blake Society
William Blake on Wikipedia

 


William Blake runs at Tate Britain until 2 February 2020. Standard adult entry is £18 with various discounts from there, including £9 for National Art Pass/Art Fund holders.

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A guest post by Catharine Arnold, historian, author and London Historians member. This article first appeared in London Historians Members’ Newsletter for December 2018. 

RUTHOn 12 July 1955, 500 people massed outside the gates of Holloway Prison, singing and chanting for hours. The governor was forced to call for police reinforcements as the crowd protested against the execution of Ruth Ellis, a nightclub hostess who was due to be hanged at Holloway the very next day for shooting her lover. Ruth had been convicted of murder but a higher court, the court of public opinion, demanded a pardon. Ruth’s death sentence had already provoked outrage. Fifty thousand signed a petition begging for the death penalty on Ruth to be lifted, but it had been rejected by the Home Secretary. Ruth was about to become the last woman to be hanged in Britain.

Ruth had not always been a victim. Indeed, she was a survivor, overcoming child abuse and teenage pregnancy after an affair with a US airman, before finding work as a nightclub hostess in London. In 1950 she married George Ellis, a wealthy dentist she’d met at a club, but Ellis turned out to be a violent alcoholic, possessive and controlling. Leaving her children with her mother, Ruth went back to work. With her glittering ash blonde hair, She soon became the main attraction at the ‘Little Club’ in Mayfair, happy to pose nude for the so-called ‘Camera Club’ even when there was no film in the cameras. Driven and aspirational, Ruth took elocution and etiquette classes. Impressed by Ruth’s ambition, her boss promoted her to manager of another club, Carroll’s. It was here that Ruth met David Blakely, a handsome young racing driver, and fell hopelessly in love. Blakely moved into Ruth’s flat above the club and she was soon bankrolling him to subsidise his racing career. But Blakely swiftly proved to be another violent alcoholic, cheating on her with both women and men, then returning to his upper class fiancée in the county at weekends.

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Ruth and David at Brooklands racetrack.

Ruth and Blakely’s affair was tempestuous, fuelled by alcohol and punctuated by terrible rows. On one occasion Ruth ended up in the Middlesex Hospital with a sprained ankle and a black eye. On another, when she confessed to Blakely that she was pregnant, he hit her so hard she miscarried. At such times, Ruth turned for comfort to an older man, Desmond Cussen, a former Lancaster bomber pilot. Events came to a head on Easter Sunday, 1955. Blakely was spending the holiday weekend with his friend and mechanic, Seaton Findlater, at Tanza Avenue, Hampstead, and ignoring Ruth’s calls. When she arrived there, Blakely refused to see her, even though she could hear him inside, flirting with the nanny. Ruth responded by smashing all the windows in his car. A second visit proved even more humiliating, with Ruth muttering to Cussen that ‘if I had a gun I would kill him!’ The third, and last visit took place on the Sunday. With Cussen at the wheel, Ruth waited for Blakely outside the Magdala pub in South Hill Park. When Blakely emerged, Ruth pulled Cussen’s .38 Smith &Wesson revolver out of her handbag and fired at point blank range, with one stray bullet hitting an elderly lady pedestrian. After emptying the gun into Blakely as he lay on the ground, Ruth said calmly: ‘Call the police.’ She was immediately arrested by an off-duty police officer.

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Ruth with David Blakely.

When Ruth appeared before Mr Justice Havers at Number 1 Court of the Old Bailey on 20 June 1955, she was dressed in an elegant black suit with freshly peroxided hair, looking as if she was just about to open up at Carroll’s. Ignoring her barrister’s advice, Ruth could not have looked less repentant. Another shock came when Ruth’s barrister stated that she would be pleading guilty, on the grounds of Blakely’s brutal abuse. But the biggest shock of all came when Mr Christmas Humphreys, prosecuting, asked:
‘When you fired that revolver at close range, into the body of David Blakely, what did you intend to do?’

‘It is obvious’ Ruth replied, in a calm, audible voice. ‘When I shot him, I intended to kill him.’

The jury took just fourteen minutes to find Ruth guilty of murder and she was sentenced to death. This provoked outrage in the press, while Raymond Chandler, that expert on femmes’ fatales, described Ruth’s sentence as ‘the mediaeval savagery of the law’. The judge Cecil Havers filed a personal request for a reprieve. It was ignored. But Ruth had already condemned herself to death, when she squeezed the trigger of that Smith and Wesson. By shooting Blakely, she effectively killed them both.

On 13 July 1955, Ruth wrote to Blakely’s parents, concluding, ‘I have always loved your son, and I will die still loving him.’ Then she put her diamante spectacles down on the table, saying, ‘I won’t need these any more,’ and went to her death. Outside the prison another crowd had gathered, silent this time, waiting for the execution at nine o’clock. When notice of Ruth’s death was posted outside Holloway at 9.18, the angry crowd surged forwards, blocking the road and stopping traffic.

Ruth was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint who later said, ‘She died as brave as any man and she never spoke a single word’.

As with every murder, this case left a painful legacy. Ruth’s estranged husband, George Ellis hanged himself soon afterwards. Ruth’s mother attempted to gas herself and was left with brain damage. Ruth’s son, Andy, who had been supported by Cecil Havers, smashed up his mother’s gravestone and then killed himself. Mr Christmas Humphries paid for his funeral. Ruth’s daughter, Georgina, became an alcoholic. A failed singer, she appeared in a cringeworthy chat show interview with Michael Barrymore, before dying of cancer in 2000. Ruth’s story has inspired much speculation and many conspiracy theories, one of which places her at the heart of a Cold War espionage operation because of her friendship with society osteopath Stephen Ward.

In 2003, Ruth’s case was referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, but was rejected. Her family continues to campaign for her posthumous pardon.

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learToday is the birthday of Edward Lear  (1812 – 1888), born in Holloway and hence a Londoner of Note. His early career was as an accomplished ornithological illustrator. But failing eyesight forced him to abandon this and take up instead writing nonsense verse illustrated by surreal and slightly creepy cartoons. He is credited with inventing the Limerick. Here are some London-themed ones which I plucked from dozens on this excellent web site.

There was a young lady of Greenwich,
Whose garments were bordered with Spinach;
But a large spotty Calf,
Bit her shawl quite in half,
Which alarmed that young lady of Greenwich.

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There was an old person of Putney,
Whose food was roast spiders and chutney,
Which he took with his tea,
Within sight of the sea,
That romantic old person of Putney.

There was an old man of Blackheath,
Whose head was adorned with a wreath,
Of lobsters and spice,
Pickled onions and mice,
That uncommon old man of Blackheath.

There was an old person of Barnes,
Whose garments were covered with darns;
But they said, ‘Without doubt,
You will soon wear them out,
You luminous person of Barnes!’

There was a young person of Kew,
Whose virtues and vices were few;
But with blameable haste,
She devoured some hot paste,
Which destroyed that young person of Kew.

There was an old person of Bow,
Whom nobody happened to know;
So they gave him some soap,
And said coldly, ‘We hope
You will go back directly to Bow!’

There was an old person of Ealing,
Who was wholly devoid of good feeling;
He drove a small gig,
With three Owls and a Pig,
Which distressed all the people of Ealing.

There was an old person of Pinner,
As thin as a lath, if not thinner;
They dressed him in white,
And roll’d him up tight,
That elastic old person of Pinner.

There was an old person of Sheen,
Whose expression was calm and serene;
He ate in the water,
And drank bottled porter,
That placid old person of Sheen.

There was an old man of Thames Ditton,
Who called for something to sit on;
But they brought him a hat,
And said – ‘Sit upon that,
You abruptious old man of Thames Ditton!’

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We unapologetically re-publish this four year old review of a fifty-three year old book. Originally published in London Historians Members’ newsletter January 2015. By LH Member Simon Fowler.


 

What’s the best guide to London’s buildings?  There’s the superb and very comprehensive English Heritage’s Survey of London and, of course, the appropriate volumes of Pevsner. But might I suggest a 50-year old book by Ian Nairn? First published in 1966, Nairn’s London has recently been republished as a Penguin Classic after many years out of print. And not a moment too soon!

nairn01Ian Nairn (1930-1983) was perhaps Britain’s greatest architectural critic.  According to Owen Hatherley he was “Arguably the finest architectural writer of the Twentieth Century…vivid, sensual descriptions of buildings, a way of writing about architecture that I’d never imagined possible before.” Today he is remembered for several series of iconic TV programmes in the late 1960s and early 1970s: many of which are now available on BBC iPlayer.

But his greatest work is Nairn’s London. In it he describes nearly five hundred buildings, some famous, many obscure and some plain perverse. In the preface Nairn writes that:
This guide is simply my personal list of the best things in London.  I have all the time tried to be rigorous – not any old Wren church or view or pub – and I have tried to get behind conventional aesthetics to an in internal reality of which beauty is only facet. What I am after is character, or personality, or essence.

During the mid and late 1960s there was an explosion of books about the city, many capitalising on the metropolis’s brief notoriety as ‘Swinging London’.  There was even a Good Loo guide. But whereas these guides are almost without exception dated and hackneyed, Nairn’s London remains as fresh as the day it was published. His descriptions match exactly the building, or bring some aspect to the reader’s attention that they might otherwise have overlooked. Best of all he makes you want to go there. Take 12 Langford Place in London NW8 for example:
Sheer horror: a Francis Bacon shriek in these affluent, uncomplicated surroundings at the end of Abbey Road.  It looks like a normal St John’s Wood villa pickled in embalming fluid by some mad doctor. Two very pinched gables and a bay window like the carapace of a science fiction insect. There is something far beyond architectural wildness here, even Victorian wildness. The design radiates malevolence as unforgettably as Iago.

Ian Nairn is remembered for his opposition to modern architecture.  In a February 1966 article for the Observer titled ‘Stop the architects now’ he asserted that: ‘The outstanding and appalling fact about modern British architecture is that it is just not good enough. It is not standing up to use or climate, either in single buildings or the whole environment.”

Yet Nairn’s London is full of entries praising contemporary buildings. Indeed this is one of the book’s great strengths: separating it from other such guides.  Of two blocks of council flats – Waltham House and Dale House in Boundary Road – which were designed by Armstrong and MacManus and built by St Marylebone council in the 1950s, he says:
Plain dealing: an outstanding and far too rare example in London of what honest design and professional self-respect can do with the leanest of programmes.  Just four-storey flats and maisonettes, respectively: just yellow brick, just long-stepped terraces with some planting in front. But all the simple things have been cared for, not fussed over and not made into ‘features’, but treated as straightforwardly as the nineteenth century dock and warehouse men would have. 

Inevitably, some of the buildings here have disappeared.  It would have been nice for example to have walked past Sir Charles’ Reilly’s Lodge Road Power Station of 1904 (and demolished in 1973) which had “all the ornament florid and curling over, everything saying this is a bloody great shed.”

Nairn was a great pubman. Indeed beer destroyed him in the end: he died as a chronic alcoholic of cirrhosis of the liver in 1983. It is perhaps little wonder that there is a postscript on London beer, which is one of the few entries that has dated.  The capital’s pubs are now awash with good beer: something he would have appreciated.

Some of the best entries describe pubs – there are thirty entries – such as the long gone Ward’s Irish House, near Piccadilly Circus: “It is not trying to be Irish, it just is.  A big bare room with a central zinc-topped bar, no concessions to comfort, but on the other hand some of the best draught Guinness in London.” Or the Red Lion in Duke of York Street close by, which is happily still with us much as the author would have known it: “If I could keep only one pub out of the whole London galaxy, this would be it…It is a place to walk out of ramrod-straight, reinforced by those proud sparkling arabesques.”

Ian Nairn drinking in a pub

It has to be stressed that this is a very personal guide.  The original blurb on the back claimed that: “there has never been a guide like it…[it is] an intensely subjective search for the good things in London.” There are many omissions – the area (and pubs) around Little Venice for example. But it matters not one jot.  As the great modern architectural critic Jonathan Meades notes: “Nairn’s London belongs to no genre except its own, it is of a school of one. The masterwork.”

If you live in London or are fascinated by the capital’s history and buildings then this guide should be on your shelves.

Nairn’s London has been republished by Penguin Books, price £9.99 (ISBN 978-0-141-39615-6).  All the original rather grainy photographs have been included and there is an excellent afterword by the late celebrated architectural critic Gavin Stamp.


See also: Nairn.


For the past three years London Historians has marked Ian Nairn’s birthday (24/08/1930) with a pub crawl through establishments mentioned in the book. This year it’s Saturday 24 August. Watch out for more news on this.  

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A guest post by LH Member Caroline Shenton. This article first appeared in London Historians Newsletter of August 2014. The paperback edition of her book, Mr Barry’s War, has just been published.

Sir Charles Barry (1795-1860) is best-known as the architect of the new Houses of Parliament.  With the designer AWN Pugin (1812-1852) he created the most iconic building in London, familiar to millions the world over as a symbol of Britain and democracy.  It was a labour of love.  Barry was a Londoner through-and-through: he was born, married, worked and died in London and, apart from three years on the Grand Tour as a young man, he lived there all his life.  So where were the houses he inhabited in the city whose skyline he, more than anyone else, influenced by means of the biggest Houses of all?  And can these buildings tell us something about a brilliant man who was discreet and private while he lived, and who remains an enigmatic character since he destroyed many of his personal papers before he died?

Barry was the ninth of eleven children of Walter Barry, a government Stationery Office supplier.  He was born and grew up at 2 Bridge Street, which ran along the northern side of New Palace Yard, Westminster.  Some fifty years later Barry would construct the famous Clock Tower of the New Palace of Westminster, to Pugin’s design, almost adjacent to his birthplace, which stood in its shadow until 1867.

The redbrick Georgian terraces of Bridge Street can be seen immediately to the right of the Palace in this 1860 picture in the Parliamentary Works of Art Collection (WOA 1164)

Barry was christened at St Margaret’s Westminster, the parish church of Parliament, just a few steps from home. In the final decade of his life he also designed and oversaw the construction of a new Westminster Bridge.  For the most of his life then, Charles Barry lived and worked in the immediate neighbourhood of the Houses of Parliament, old and new.

When he returned to England in 1820 after travelling through Europe, the Levant and Egypt, he set up a home and office at 39 Ely Place, on the edge of Hatton Garden.  Today this is a gated road containing residential buildings and legal chambers, but until the end of the eighteenth century it had been the Bishop of Ely’s Palace.  It was sold off and redeveloped in 1772 and so Barry had chosen to live on a site with plenty of medieval resonance – including the gothic church of St Etheldreda – but in a house which by then was fifty years old and on the edge of a slum: definitely a first-time buyer’s option.  Two years later he married Sarah Rowsell, daughter of a stationer friend of his father’s whose sister was already married to his brother. Sarah had patiently waited for him to return from his travels and then for a year or two after his return before he had enough money to support them – again a sign of his good sense and prudence.

This is Ely Place today.  No 39 does not survive, having been destroyed by bombing
during World War II which hit the end of the terrace.  We can assume it looked very like this though.

The Barrys continued living at Ely Place until 1827, when they moved to 27  Foley Place with their two sons – Charles jnr (b. 1823) and Alfred (b. 1826).  In the previous seven years Charles had made a name for himself with projects in Brighton and Manchester and the young family’s move to the West End indicates his growing prosperity, and the fact that he was starting to socialise in fashionable Whig circles including members of the Devonshire House set.  Today Foley Place has become Langham Street in Fitzrovia – and is just a stone’s throw from the RIBA on Portland Place, an institute of which Barry was a founding member and whose library today holds significant collections of his papers and architectural plans.

Over the next thirteen years Barry won a series of brilliant competitions and commissions to design and build the Travellers’ Club in Pall Mall (1829); the Birmingham Grammar School (1833); Trentham House, Staffordshire (1834); the Reform Club in Pall Mall (1837); Highclere Castle, Berkshire better known as “Downton Abbey” (1838); and Trafalgar Square (1840), among many others.  In 1840 Sarah Barry laid the foundation stone of the new Houses of Parliament, her husband’s most famous building, and that year the family (now including eight children and three servants) moved to a spacious mid-Georgian townhouse at 32 Great George St in Westminster – in fact, a continuation of Bridge Street where Barry had been born.  This was not only to accommodate his large family better but also so that Barry could be as close as possible to the site of his ‘great work’ which was now growing into the air just a few hundred yards away.  Great George Street was at that time a residential quarter favoured by politicians, civil engineers and railway contractors.  At one point this included Samuel Morton Peto, whose firm had the building contract for superstructure of the new Palace of Westminster, and at number 23 lived and worked James Walker, the famous civil engineer who took over Thomas Telford’s practice and whose firm built the river wall and embankment for the Houses of Parliament in the late 1830s. Across the road from the Barry household was the original National Portrait Gallery, run by the Scharf family of topographical artists, and so this neighbourhood nicely encapsulates the main themes of Barry’s career.  These houses no longer exist but a vestige of those times remain as 1 Great George Street is now home to the Institution of Civil Engineers.

At the very end of his life, Barry moved to the semi-rural delights of 29 Clapham Common North, to a grand mansion called ‘The Elms’.  Exhausted and fatally stressed by some 25 years of work on the new Houses of Parliament, he perhaps felt the need to at last relax in comfort and enjoy the semi-rural delights of the Common where sheep still grazed.  He died just a few months later, in May 1860, of a massive heart attack.  His funeral cortège set out from The Elms on 22 May and led to Westminster Abbey, where Barry was buried under a brass depicting the Victoria Tower of the Palace of Westminster, which the great architect regarded as his masterpiece.  Today, no 29 is part of Trinity Hospice, which has occupied the building since 1899.


 


Caroline Shenton  was formerly Director of the Parliamentary Archives and is now a freelance writer, historian and heritage consultant. Her latest book Mr Barry’s War. Rebuilding the Houses of Parliament after the great fire of 1834   was a book of the year for BBC History Magazine and The Daily Telegraph. Follow her on twitter @dustshoveller or read her blog on Parliamentary history at www.carolineshenton.co.uk.

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