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Sir Charles Barry


The Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster, Barry's most famous building.

Sir Charles Barry FRS (23 May 1795 – 12 May 1860) was an English architect, best known for his role in the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster (perhaps better known as the Houses of Parliament) in his home city of London during the mid 19th century, but also responsible for numerous other buildings and gardens.

Born in Bridge Street, Westminster, Barry was educated privately before being apprenticed to a Lambeth surveyor at the age of 15. Upon the death of his father (a stationer), he inherited a sum of money that allowed him to travel extensively around the Mediterranean and Middle-East (1817-20). His travels in Italy exposed him to Renaissance architecture and apparently inspired him to become an architect.

Royal Manchester Institution for the promotion of Literature, Science & Arts

Early career
His first major civil commission came in 1824 when he won a competition to design the new Royal Manchester Institution for the promotion of Literature, Science & Arts (now part of the Manchester Art Gallery). Also in north-west England, he designed Buile Hill House in Salford (1825-27) and several churches in Manchester including The Church of All Saints' Stand, Whitefield and Ringley Church, 1827, partially demolished in 1854. One of the first works by which his abilities became generally known was the 1826 Church of St. Peter, in Brighton, one of the first examples of the Gothic revival in England. Another noted early work was the Travellers Club, in Pall Mall, built in 1832 in the Italianate style.

His church designs also include one in Hove, East Sussex (St Andrew's in Waterloo Street, Brunswick, 1828). Hurstpierpoint church. Barry's neglected Welsh Baptist Chapel, on Upper Brook Street in Manchester (and owned by the City Council), is currently open to the elements and at serious risk after its roof was removed in late 2005.

Houses of Parliament
Following the destruction by fire of the existing Houses of Parliament on 16 October 1834, Barry won the commission in 1836 to design the new Palace of Westminster, working with Pugin on the Gothic-influenced building. Work on site began with the laying of a foundation stone on 27 April 1840 by Barry’s wife Sarah. The House of Lords was completed in 1847 and the House of Commons finished in 1852. In the meantime, Barry also served on the learned committee developing plans for the Great Exhibition of 1851. Although Parliament gave Barry a prestigious name in architecture, it near enough finished him off. The building was overdue in its construction and was well over budget making Barry tired and stressed. The brass plaque marking Barry's tomb in Westminster Abbey shows the parts of the Palace of Westminster Barry had strongest claim to, and this is seen by some as Barry's cry for recognition from the grave.

Awards and recognition
Barry was elected Associate of the Royal Academy in 1840, and to full membership in the following year.
He was recognized by the main artistic bodies of many European countries, and was enrolled as a member of the academies of art in Rome, Saint Petersburg, Brussels and Stockholm.
Fellow of the Royal Society in 1849.
Awarded the RIBA Royal Gold Medal in 1850.
Knighted in 1852.
Sir Charles lived and died at a house, "The Elms", in Clapham Common North Side, London SW4 (blue plaque), and his ashes were interred in Westminster Abbey.

Other major projects

Cliveden as seen from its lawn.

Barry also designed:

the Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton (1828)
the Royal College of Surgeons, London (1834-36)
the Manchester Athenaeum (1836 – now also part of the Manchester Art Gallery)
Stand All Saints Church, Whitefield, Manchester.
the Reform Club, London (1837 – next door to the Travellers)
King Edward's School, New Street, Birmingham (1838)
remodelling of Kingston Lacy, Dorset
the Trafalgar Square precinct (1840)
remodelling of Trentham Hall and creation of its Italianate gardens, north Staffordshire (1842)
remodelling of Highclere Castle, Hampshire (1842)
remodelling of Harewood House, Yorkshire (1844)
HM Treasury building in Whitehall (1846-47)
Bridgwater House, London (1846)
Cliveden House in Buckinghamshire (1849)
Gardens of Dunrobin Castle near Golspie, Scotland (1850)
Shrubland Hall gardens, Suffolk (1850)
Barristers' chambers at 1 Temple Gardens in Inner Temple
restoration of Gawthorpe Hall, near Burnley, Lancashire
Halifax Town Hall, West Yorkshire

The next generation
Three of Sir Charles Barry's four sons followed in his career footsteps. Eldest son Charles Barry (junior) designed Dulwich College and park in south London and rebuilt Burlington House (home of the Royal Academy) in central London’s Piccadilly; Edward Middleton Barry completed the Parliament buildings and designed the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden; Sir John Wolfe-Barry was the engineer for Tower Bridge and Blackfriars Railway Bridge. Edward and Charles also collaborated on the design of the Great Eastern Hotel at London’s Liverpool Street station.

His second son, Rev. Alfred Barry, became a noted clergyman. He was headmaster of Leeds Grammar School from 1854 to 1862, and also Cheltenham College from 1862 to 1868. He later became the third Bishop of Sydney, Australia.

Sir Charles’ nephew Charles Hayward designed several buildings at Pembroke College, Oxford.

The old Chamber of the House of Commons built by Sir Charles Barry was destroyed by German bombs during the Second World War. The essential features of Barry's design were preserved when the Chamber was rebuilt.