It’s Christmas Day and a good time to wish happiness to the world, with a bit of reform sprinkled in.
Continuing my 10 favourite structures from my book ‘Building Passions‘, I had a moment of doubt on which should feature in this post. However, that soon disappeared and I decided on the building in the picture.
It is of the Reform Club on Pall Mall in London. You may know the street if you have ever played the British version of Monopoly, or visited London. Perhaps you have walked past the building.
The Reform Club was designed and built by Sir Charles Barry, the architect of the Houses of Parliament, also featured on my list. His clientele were the same, elite members of Victorian society, many of whom were keen to change the world around them for the better.
Barry’s inspiration was an Italian Palazzo he had seen as a young man on his self-funded tour of the great Western classics of architecture. He wanted to recreate its exterior in foggy London, but it is with the interior that he fully expressed his creative talents.
Reform is topical currently in the world, as young people become frustrated with slow progress on the environment and the political idealism they espouse.
We can only hope that 2020 brings a change for the better.
I gave a STEM engagement lecture yesterday at Canterbury Christchurch University in England about my book ‘Building Passions‘.
As part of the promotion for the lecture, I had run a week long Twitter poll on four structures mentioned in the book.
All of these were built in London during the reign of Queen Victoria but, more importantly, the ‘builders’ were the key architects and engineers covered by the book.
At the lecture an audience member asked me why I had chosen those four structures and I tried to explain, but ended up saying it was purely subjective.
In fact I will now produce a list of my top 10 structures from the book, including those four, and in subsequent blogs justify why I have selected them. I will also try to rank them and, who knows, may makes some changes along the way!
- Tower Bridge
- Houses of Parliament
- SS Great Eastern
- Thames Tunnel
- Reform Club
- Crystal Palace
- Connel Ferry Bridge
- Paddington Station
- Royal Opera House and Floral Hall
- Dulwich College
How did I produce this list?
The main rule applied was using enough different types of structures, associated with the main architects and engineers covered in the book. The commonality was that they were either a Brunel or a Barry, or both. I could have made it a longer list and changed every one of the structures, so that’s where the subjectivity comes in. The full list is available (with many hyperlinks) at: https://www.buildingpassions.co.uk/sway-of-structures.php
I will start the series of blogs with a less well-known structure, the Connel Ferry Bridge in Scotland. The first clue is that it was built by Sir John Wolfe Barry and Partners in 1903.
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.
I blogged a while back that I’ve started writing a novel based on the life of my grandfather Baron Lex von Behr.
This fictional story connects with the non-fiction of ‘Building Passions’ and in deed this website, through the theme of families.
As I said at the book launch of ‘Building Passions’ last week, I’m fascinated with family relationships and legacy. My grandfather almost lived out a novel or even a series of short stories. These included his mother, brothers, sisters, cousins, life partners and children.
While I am more comfortable writing non-fiction, particularly linked to history or education or the built environment, I realise that fiction is the big one. You can mould your subjects and develop their stories in parallel with the flow of events around them.
The book will actually be a trilogy called ‘The Other Red Baron’, split between three phases of Lex’s life as there is so much to cover about him. However, the core story is on his spying career and his passionate love affairs in Tashkent, London, Berlin and Paris.
As things develop I will consider how best to communicate on my progress – currently I’m sharing my writing trials and tribulations as part of National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo.org), its Kent community forum on Facebook and in meet-ups with local authors in and around Canterbury.
‘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?
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 email@example.com .
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 …
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.
In early 2018 I posted a blog in the lead up to officially launching this website on a key date.
Sir John Wolfe Barry died on 22 January 1918 at his home, Delahay House on Chelsea Embankment. This website was set up to commemorate the centenary of that sad day and English Heritage will be putting up a Blue Plaque at the location on 19 November.
I used the phrase ‘Benjamin Baker’s Dozen’ to describe the 13 days to the launch date. It was a play on words, as Sir Benjamin Baker, the co-builder of the iconic Forth Rail Bridge, was a good friend of Wolfe Barry’s and featured on the site. Nothing about baking then!
Fast forward 22 months and I will be launching the book about John Wolfe Barry, Henry Brunel and their famous families on 20 November. Baker features in that as well, but sadly for bakers, still no new recipes!
But there is a connection.
My wife Viktoriya loves baking and has suggested that she makes a cake to celebrate the book launch. We’ve not decided on the details yet as Tower Bridge might be a bit too complex, much as I would love it!
Once it has been created I will of course publish a photo, but perhaps not the recipe which will remain a family secret for at least 100 years.
It’s 17 days until I launch my book ‘Building Passions’!
The last time I used a countdown on this website was leading up to celebrating 125 years of Tower Bridge earlier this year. Before that I properly launched the website in January 2018, a hundred years after the death of Sir John Wolfe Barry.
A lot has happened since then and even earlier when I first sent in my application for a Blue Plaque for JWB. In 16 days time a plaque should finally go up on the front of the house where he died on Chelsea Embankment in London.
I am currently part of a local Kent group of writers who are aiming to complete 50,000 words of a novel n the month of November, as part of a worldwide charity called NaNoWriMo. It’s not easy, but more doable if you have others in the same situation.
I have promised the group that I will tell them more about self-publishing based on my experience to date so below are some brief bullets to whet the appetite:
- Plan, plan then plan some more – you can’t do too much!
- Seek out those with a greater expertise than yourself whether directly or via social media
- Be realistic about deadlines – they can shift as long as the end product is completed to a high standard, but not for ever
- Break down the project into streams and tasks so it becomes more manageable
- Don’t give up however bad you might feel on certain days – good news is just around the corner!
- If you want to use lost of images and fancy design features then be prepared to spend time and money on it
- Find reliable people to work with – they may not always be the very best, but at least they will deliver when you need it
- Imagine what your book will look like and try and stick to that dream, with occasional adjustments
- Above all, don’t even write a book if you aren’t convinced that people will want to read it!