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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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gavin stamp.jpgSorry to hear that we’ve lost Prof. Gavin Stamp, heroic defender of our historic built environment, enemy of lackadaisical councils and clueless planners. He wrote as ‘Piloti’ for Private Eye for many years up until very recently, only last week a devastating critique of the new George Orwell statue at Broadcasting House (and modern portrait sculpture generally).

Earlier this year we exchanged several emails resulting in an excellent piece in the Eye on the wanton destruction of the historic Sarah Trimmer School in Brentford under the noses of Hounslow Council. He kindly contacted us later to ask if the item had had any effect (it hadn’t).

Around that time I invited him, as a fellow disciple of the great Ian Nairn, to join us on our annual Ian Nairn Pub Crawl, but he explained he was too poorly to venture out much. Well, now his race is run, he’s done a great service to cities and towns up and down the land. Thanks, Gavin. RIP.

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A guest post by LH Member Martin Thompson.

National Portrait Gallery.

National Portrait Gallery.

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott was an English architect known for his work on such structures as Liverpool Cathedral, Waterloo Bridge, Bankside Power Station, Battersea Power Station and also for the design of the iconic red telephone box. He came from a family of architects. His father was an architect, himself the son of Sir George Gilbert Scott, known for designing the Albert Memorial and the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station.

Scott was born at 26 Church Row, Hampstead. He was one of the six children and third son of George Gilbert Scott Jr and his wife, Ellen. He attended Beaumont College preparatory school and in January 1899 he became an articled pupil in the office of Temple Moore, who had studied with Scott’s father. In later years Scott remarked to his friend John Betjeman, “I always think that my father was a genius. … He was a far better architect than my grandfather and yet look at the reputations of the two men”. As a boy Gilbert and his brother Adrian were taken by their mother Ellen on many cycle trips, which he called ‘church crawls’ visiting some of the masterpieces of church architecture on the Kent-Sussex border. It is possibly these field trips that inspired the young Scott to become one of Britain’s greatest modern church architects.

In 1903, when still only 22, he won a competition to design Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. However, due to the sheer size of the building, which took over 60 years to complete, and which became his lifelong project, he died before the building was completed. While working in Liverpool, Scott met and married Louise Hughes, a receptionist at the Adelphi Hotel. The marriage was a happy one and lasted until Louise Scott’s death in 1949. They had three sons, one of whom sadly died in infancy.

As Liverpool Cathedral arose Scott’s fame grew, and he began to secure commissions for secular buildings. One of the first was for Clare College, Cambridge, Memorial Court, which was in a neo-Georgian style. The style was also used for a house he designed for himself in Clarendon Place, Paddington in 1924. This won the annual medal for London street architecture of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1928. An English Heritage Blue Plaque commemorates his residence here from 1926 until his death in 1960.

He went on to design huge buildings across the UK. Amongst them was Battersea Power Station, which was completed in 1933. It became one of the most admired as well as conspicuous modern buildings in London. After many years of neglect, it is currently being refurbished as the centre piece of a new development at Nine Elms.

Battersea Power Station

Battersea Power Station

Scott also designed London’s new Waterloo Bridge although at the time there was a lot of controversy over the demolition of John Rennie’s Greek Doric Bridge. It is often referred to as the women’s bridge due to the fact that many of the builders were women during the Second World War, although this was never officially acknowledged. The bridge was formally opened in 1945.

Waterloo Bridge

Waterloo Bridge

After the Commons chamber of the Palace of Westminster was destroyed by bombs in 1941, Scott was appointed in 1944 to rebuild a new chamber. He felt that it should be congruent with the old as anything else would have clashed with the Gothic style of Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin.

Inspired by the mausoleum that the Neo-Classical Architect, Sir John Soane had designed for himself in St Pancras Old Church Yard, Scott designed two versions of the telephone box for the General Post Office. These iconic pieces of design, of which there are still some 9,500 around the country, are now being put to other uses thereby giving them a new lease of life. The design of the red telephone box and his work on Liverpool Cathedral, led to him receiving a knighthood in 1924.

Mayfair.

Mayfair.

Phone box sculpture, Kingston upon Thames.

Phone box sculpture, Kingston upon Thames.

 

Possibly his greatest impact on the City of London was Bankside Power Station on the south bank of the Thames opposite St. Paul’s Cathedral. In designing this building, Scott demonstrated that power stations could be fine buildings in their own right. Completed in 1960, the building had a relatively short life as a Power Station closing in 1981 and is now the Tate Gallery of Modern Art.

Scott remained working into his late 70s. He was working on designs for the Roman Catholic Church of Christ the King, Plymouth, when he developed lung cancer. He took the designs into University College Hospital, where he continued to revise them until his death aged 79 on 8 February 1960. Scott was buried outside the west entrance of his masterpiece, Liverpool Cathedral, alongside his wife.


Unless otherwise stated, all images: London Historians.

 

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pitzhanger manor

 

The architect John Soane purchased Pitzhanger Manor from his own mentor George Dance the Younger as a country house for his family. He bashed down most of it and built a new one more to his liking. It’s a wonderful building which I love visiting. It has recently closed for major Lottery Grant refurbishment and will remain so until 2018. Except for tomorrow, when it will open to the public for the last time and when we will be allowed to access areas where we’re not normally allowed. So don’t miss the opportunity.

Soane was known to enjoy walking from his town house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields (today’s Sir John Soane Museum) to Pitzhanger, some 8 miles, I reckon. Tomorrow I plan to re-enact that, starting at about 10am. If you fancy joining me, please send me an email asap. We’ll stop at the Churchill Arms in Kensington Church Street and go to the Red Lion, Ealing afterwards.

My previous “long walk”.

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Nairn's LondonMost London Historians Members will have read Simon Fowler’s article in last month’s newsletter about Ian Nairn. The acerbic, witty, erudite and frequently waspish architecture critic’s celebrated book, Nairn’s London (1966), has very recently been reissued by Penguin.

I first ever heard him mentioned just over a year ago when chatting to someone about City churches. This man mentioned Nairn in that way people sometimes do, assuming you simply must know the fellow. Rather than let it pass I plucked up some courage and enquired weakly: “Who is Ian Nairn?”.  Having been enlightened, I promised myself to find out more… and then did nothing.

Eventually came Simon’s article and finally I bought my copy about a month ago. I am now a Nairn disciple. It’s quite a small book and thus far from comprehensive; but it is eclectic and quite thorough in its own way. All parts of London are covered and all types of buildings or structures are addressed, even the Hammersmith flyover, which Nairn admired without irony: these highways in the air were still new and quite exciting at that time. The content is arranged by area. There is a very large section of black and white photos in the middle of the book. 

Hammersmith Flyover.

Hammersmith Flyover.

My copy already is defaced by pencil and by biro and by highlighting pen, something I don’t lightly do; some pages are a bit damaged from rapid flipping; when I go out, it is in my bag at all times. I reach for it constantly now, to ask myself: “I wonder what Nairn has to say about this?”

Last weekend we visited the strange-looking St Mary’s in Ealing. Nairn: “The architect [S.S. Teulon] on the razzmatazz, out for a day in the suburbs… … Who? What? How? A rag-bag with enough ideas for a dozen churches: and a splendid place for a boggle.” The weekend before, we passed St Mary Woolnoth. “…it transcends originality. It is the mind, afterwards, which asks what on earth two small towers are doing on top of an oblong, columned temple on top of a prodigious rustication”

St Mary's Ealing

St Mary’s Ealing

St Mary Woolnoth

St Mary Woolnoth

On the Albert Memorial:
“…the elephant on one of the corners has a backside just like a businessman scrambling under a restaurant table for his cheque-book.”

On the magnificent Tooting Grenada:
“Miss the Tower of London if you have to, but don’t miss this.”

On William Kent’s Horseguards:
“… this is a blatant tourist-trap, neither better nor worse than a Soho strip-tease club.”

Nairn so admires Abbey Mills pumping station, he dubs it “God’s bowels”.

And so on. His writing is highly opinionated, yet hugely engaging; it is often deliciously withering and pithy; it is always interesting. I quickly discovered why the man has such a dedicated fan-base. As Jonathan Meades has noted: “Nairn’s London belongs to no genre save its own. It is a school of one.”

Like all of us, Nairn has his heroes and villains. He adores Hawksmoor, “that old wizard”. But he workships Nash to whom the book is actually dedicated. Others are less lucky. He’s not a fan of Richard Norman Shaw, for example, talking of his “beefy heartlessness.”

Above all, though, Nairn enemies were modern: he detested the increasing ugliness of England’s post-war streetscapes and railed against them and their progenitors: town planners and architects.

nairnsquares

Ian Nairn’s first job was as a fighter pilot flying Gloucester Meteors. He resigned his commission and became a self-taught and self-styled architecture critic for the traditional Architectural Review. Immediately controversial and polemical, he soon made a name for himself and built a career as a journalist, critic and TV presenter, working with Pevsner and others. Towards the end of his life Nairn gambled and drank heavily. In 1983 he died from liver failure in the Cromwell Hospital, aged 52 . He was buried in the Westminster Cemetery in Hanwell. It’s not far from me, so the other day I paid him a visit. His grave is modest indeed.

"A Man Without a Mask".

“A Man Without a Mask”.

Do invest some time to watch this excellent documentary on Ian Nairn: The Man who Fought the Planners The Story of Ian Nairn. He had a great love for Northern industrial towns.

Nairn’s London (1966) is re-published by Penguin and available for a tenner or less.

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I was taking a stroll down to Brentford High Road yesterday and noticed that the old cop shop is for sale: it’s been closed for years. A typically charmless 60s commercial building, purpose-built for the boys in blue, it replaced the rather fetching Vestry Hall of 1900. The hall was designed by local architect Nowell Parr, many of whose pretty buildings (mainly Fullers pubs!) still decorate Brentford, Ealing and Chiswick. The old hall could host meetings and talks of over 600 attendees and also housed Brentford County Court. But in 1963, the bulldozers and wrecking-ball moved in. Progress!

I hope to do more on Nowell Parr in the near future. Meantime, enquiries regarding the lovely police station should be directed to Messrs Frank Knight.

 

nowell parr, vestry hall

Weep.

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played in london

Review: Played in London: Charting the heritage of a city at play by Simon Inglis.

NOTE: Simon Inglis is speaking at London Historians’ event History in the Pub: Sport in London. 3 March 2015. Info and booking here.

I’ve met the author of this book once or twice, the last occasion at an event just over a year ago. He told me about his book and why it was taking a bit of a while, essentially to do with the sheer amount of research required. And sure enough, the research that has gone into this book is staggering*. It is a massive topic, for sure, but with a copy in my hands, now I really understand. Played in London is the size and weight of a medium telephone directory (remember those?), is beautifully laid out in four column format and illustrated with nearly 1000 photos, illustrations and maps. In short, it’s a quality object.

The obvious place to start is with the sports themselves. There are fourteen chapters devoted to individual sports, with appropriate space allocated depending on popularity, so 34 pages for football down to around eight or ten for some of the others. And it’s those others which fascinate and tell us much about the public taste. The final two chapters cover greyhound racing (three tracks remaining today out of 30+) and speedway (including cycle speedway) – now disappeared. Both of these were massive in their time, that is to say mid-20C. The oldest sport, as one might expect, is probably archery. There is a wonderful 1594 map of the archery ranges in Finsbury fields – over 180 of them. Throughout, the author’s meticulous research throws up wonderful detail and trivia. If you wished to play every hole of golf in London, expect to walk 301 miles (or in my case, twice that). We are introduced to heroes of each sport, not just the players, but legendary managers, administrators and visionaries. There are many pictures of their blue plaques. Most pleasing for the historian, I think, are the illustrations – so evocative. Old team photos, of course, but advertisements, old tickets, match programmes, maps, mementoes, paraphernalia plus an abundance of museum pieces which leave you wondering: how on earth did they manage to strike that with that?

Spread from chapter on cricket.

Spread from chapter on cricket.

The book dedicates nine chapters to sporting organisations and buildings. So membership clubs, gymnasiums, swimming pools, billiard halls and most interesting for me, company sports and social clubs, which seem today to be from another age. Which of course they are. Unlike today, where organisations simply subsidise staff membership to some ghastly chain of gyms, in the late 19th and most of the 20th Centuries they were more likely to have their own in-house clubs with playing fields and facilities, or at the very least, shared ones: the civil service and various branches thereof, the Prudential, Debenhams, the Southern Suburban Gas Company, famously the Thames Iron Works which transmogrified into West Ham United. And many others. There is a map on page 132 showing 51 separate facilities in an area of South East London alone. Many of their clubhouses and pavilions were gorgeous.

Spread from chapter on company sports clubs

Spread from chapter on company sports clubs

Finally, my favourite thing about the book and one senses the topic which is the author’s also: architecture. It’s something that either we take for granted or that those with little interest in sport hardly notice. I for one shall henceforth pay more attention. Stadia and their grandstands; clubhouses and their pavilions; purpose built snooker halls, indoor baths and lidos. There is a complete chapter dedicated to grandstands. Stay with me on this, it’s an eye-opener and deeply interesting. I always thought cantilevered grandstands were a modern thing. We have a photo of a pair of beautiful structures from Northolt Park Racecourse from 1929, now long swept away with the racecourse itself. I can’t help thinking that because sport is such a social thing that these buildings were designed with more love than most, and indeed many a pavilion was done free of charge by a sports-loving architect who happened to be a club member.

This is a wonderful book. Yes, it relates the history of sport as it should. But it really succeeds in nailing the heritage in its title: it invokes nostalgia really powerfully. London sports fans will love this book, of that there is no doubt. Sports loving architects will adore it. And I would go so far to say that even historians without any interest in sports at all will enjoy Played in London. It’s that good.

Played in London (360pp) by Simon Inglis is published on 28 August 2014 by English Heritage with a cover price of £25, but available for less.

* Additional research by Jackie Spreckley

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