Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Barry, Charles
BARRY, Sir CHARLES (1795–1860), architect, was born on 23 May 1795, in Bridge Street, Westminster. He was the fourth son of Walter Edward Barry, a well-to-do stationer, who died in 1805. Charles Barry showed from his childhood a taste for drawing, and, after getting the usual mercantile education at private schools, was articled in 1810 to Messrs. Middleton & Bailey, surveyors, of Paradise Row, Lambeth, with whom he stayed for six years. After the first two years of his articles he regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy. With a few hundred pounds, the residue of the money left him by his father, he determined to travel, and left England on 28 June 1817. He travelled alone through France and Italy, and in Greece and Turkey with Sir C. Eastlake, Mr. Kinnaird (editor of a volume of Stuart's ‘Athens’), and Mr. Johnstone.
Barry was on the point of returning to England when Mr. D. Baillie, who had met him in Athens and admired his drawings, made him an offer to go with him to Egypt and Palestine at a salary of 200l. per annum and his expenses. Barry was for this to make him sketches of the scenery and buildings, with permission to keep copies for himself. This offer was eagerly embraced, as Egypt had not been visited by English architects. They left on 12 Sept. 1818, and travelled in Egypt with Mr. Godfrey and Sir T. Wyse, going up the Nile beyond Philæ and visiting the ruins of the temples. On 12 March 1819 they left for Palestine, and, after seeing Jerusalem, they went to Syria, visiting Damascus, and getting as far as Baalbec. Barry parted with Mr. Baillie on 18 June 1819. Some of the sketches in Palestine were published by Finden in his illustrations of the Bible; the notes of Baalbec were published by Sir Charles in his latter years in the ‘Architectural Publication Society's Dictionary.’ After Mr. Baillie's death the whole of these eastern sketches were bought by Mr. John Wolfe Barry, C.E., Sir Charles's son, and are now in his possession. Barry then visited Cyprus, Rhodes, Halicarnassus, Malta, and Sicily. In Sicily he met Mr. John Lewis Wolfe, and the acquaintance so made ripened into a lifelong friendship. Mr. Wolfe was then studying architecture, which he eventually gave up, but his judgment on architecture was always appealed to by Barry until the last. They travelled through Italy together, and Barry returned alone through France, reaching London in August 1820, and at once became celebrated amongst the architects for his beautiful sketches. Barry, Cockerell, Gandy-Deering, and Blore were contemporaries who were celebrated for their drawings before they became practising architects. Barry took a house in Ely Place, Holborn, and competed for the small Gothic churches then being built; his success in several cases enabled him to marry in December 1822 Miss Sarah Rowsell, to whom he was engaged before he went abroad. In 1823 he gained St. Peter's Church, Brighton, in competition; in 1824 he built the Royal Institute of Fine Arts, Manchester, still one of the finest buildings in the town; in 1827 he removed to Foley Place; in 1829–31 he built the Travellers' Club House, Pall Mall, and thus drew the attention of the public to the merits of that phase of Italian architecture in which the effect is produced by simplicity and proportion—window dressings, rustications, strings, and massive unbroken cornices being alone employed; his grouping of the windows of the garden front was much admired at the time; the interior is characterised by dignified simplicity. In 1836 he began the Manchester Athenæum, which is distinguished like all his works by its elegant proportions. In 1837 he was commissioned to build the Reform Club House in Pall Mall, which may undoubtedly be considered his finest work; since the Italian renaissance no European building has equalled its exquisite proportions. The plan is that of an Italian palace with a central courtyard; here he hit upon the happy idea of covering the courtyard, and lighting it by glazed scale-work in the cove of the ceiling; by these means the whole of the area is made into a grand saloon, and the beauty of the surrounding arcades can be fully seen; the same device was resorted to by him, but on a larger scale, at Bridgewater House, built for the Earl of Ellesmere in 1847, where the covered courtyard serves as a sculpture gallery.
In speaking of Barry's works it is necessary to deviate somewhat from their chronological order, partly to group them according to style, and partly to note the changes effected in his mind. Even when he was fresh from Egypt and Italy, with marked views as to the proper style and treatment of buildings from the art side, he was, like Wren, too practical a man to shut himself out from work by a rigid adherence to his own views. He doubtless felt that his powers could as well be shown in buildings to which late Gothic details were applied, as in those whose details were purely classic, the main difference called for in the general treatment being greater variety and picturesqueness in the outline. In 1833 he began King Edward VI's Grammar School at Birmingham. The style was perpendicular, the front was only broken by a slight projection of the ends, which were emphasised by oriel windows, while the centre was divided by buttresses into nine bays, the school itself taking seven bays which contain low windows on the ground floor to light the cloister, and the door in the middle bay; above, large two-storied windows fill the space between the buttresses. The building was finished in 1836; during its building he became acquainted with Augustus Welby Pugin and John Thomas, who subsequently acted as his trusty lieutenants at the Houses of Parliament.
The Houses of Parliament were burnt down in October 1834; in June 1835 a competition was advertised, ‘the style to be Gothic or Elizabethan.’ On 1 Nov. the designs were sent in. On 29 Feb. 1836 the first premium was awarded to Barry. The river wall was begun in 1837, but it was not until 27 April 1840 that the first stone of the building was laid, and in 1841 he moved to 32 Great George Street, Westminster, to be near his work. Though the House of Lords was used in 1847, it was not until 1852 that the houses were formally opened by her majesty, and Barry was knighted shortly afterwards. The whole building was not completed at his death, but was finished by his son, Edward Middleton Barry [q. v.]
The plan is a model of perspicuity and convenience. The grand entrance from Westminster Hall is absolutely unrivalled, the first flight of steps stretching right across the hall; the idea, too, of forming the main corridors into a cross with a grand central octagon was happy, and the vaulting of the octagon forms one of the finest Gothic domes in existence. Externally the parts are beautifully proportioned; the clock-tower is a most brilliant design, and will bear a favourable comparison with the finest towers in the world. And though the Victoria tower has been found fault with by some as dwarfing the structure, in itself it is a beautiful design.
No modern building in England has been so often painted by the artists of all countries. We must not overlook the effects of this building on the subsidiary arts. Barry formed schools of modelling, stone and wood carving, cabinet-making, metal-working, glass and decorative painting, and of encaustic tile making, which have completely revolutionised the arts. He was gifted with that intuitive knowledge of men who could be of use which characterised the first Napoleon and which is possessed by all great men who successfully carry out great works. He got John Thomas appointed head of the stone-carving, and Augustus Welby Pugin head of the woodcarving. Pugin was practically the head of the remaining departments as well.
It is not surprising that, after Barry's appointment to be architect to the Houses of Parliament, the continued practice of Gothic design, the study of the existing examples from books and buildings, and the ardent advocacy of Gothic by his friend A. W. Pugin, should have so modified his taste that the simple grandeur of unbroken horizontal lines appeared to him to be ineffective and dull, and simplicity, even in classic buildings, was exchanged for richness. In most of his subsequent classic designs he exchanged the horizontal for the vertical element, and, with the exception of Bridgewater House, he broke up his skyline by end-attics, towers, and pinnacles. He endeavoured to get a mass rising from the centre of his buildings by a tower, dome, or otherwise, and cut up his façades with vertical lines. The Privy Council Office, Highclere House, and his design for Clumber sufficiently exemplify this change of taste. And at Halifax Town Hall he added a tower and stone steeple to an otherwise classic building.
He was, too, as brilliant a landscape gardener as he was an architect. Had he not been of the toughest fibre, of almost superhuman industry, and still thirsting for fame, he never could have carried out in his lifetime so great a national work as the Houses of Parliament. Architects alone can appreciate the powers required and the labour incident on such a vast and elaborate work, and he had to contend with conflicting opinions, some professional jealousy, visionary schemes, official interference, uneducated criticism in and out of parliament, and the rancour of enemies whose malignity has even pursued his fame beyond the grave. After the main work was done at the Houses of Parliament he moved to the Elms, Clapham Common, where he died of heart disease on 12 May 1860, and was buried in Westminster Abbey on the 22nd.
Amongst the many evidences of esteem his abilities and character called forth, his elections as member of the Royal Society and of the Travellers' Club may be mentioned, as well as his election to the associateship and membership of the Royal Academy of Arts of England, of the academies of St. Luke, Rome, St. Petersburg, Belgium, Prussia, Sweden, and Denmark, and of the American Institute, the presentation to him by the Royal Institute of British Architects of the queen's gold medal for architecture; and, though last not least in the estimation of foreign architects, a flag on the Victoria tower was hoisted half-mast high on the day of his interment. The Emperor Nicholas said of the Houses of Parliament ‘it was a dream in stone,’ and Montalembert wrote a eulogium on the building.
He left five sons and two daughters—Charles, Alfred (assistant bishop in West London, formerly bishop of Sydney), Edward Middleton, R.A. [q. v.], Godfrey, and Sir John Wolfe, C.E. Charles and Edward followed their father's profession. Dame Barry, his wife, died in 1882. His most celebrated pupils were Robert R. Banks, G. Somers Clarke, and the present Mr. John Gibson.
M. Hittorff, who pronounced an oration on Sir Charles Barry and his works at the Imperial Institute of France 1 Aug. 1860, places him before Inigo Jones and Wren, and says: ‘It was only after he had built the Travellers' and Reform Clubs that we recognised in him a capacity truly unusual, joined to a quality rare amongst the English—I mean a predominant sentiment of art.’
In 1867, seven years after Barry's death, E. Welby Pugin published a pamphlet claiming for his father, Augustus W. Pugin, who died in 1852, the credit of being the art architect to the Houses of Parliament. A crushing reply to this was published by the Rev. A. Barry, and, fortunately, so many of Sir Charles's friends, pupils, and assistants were alive who had seen Sir Charles sketch out and elaborate the design, that the contention fell to the ground. The canopy of the throne in the House of Peers is the best piece of internal design, and it is only necessary to look at it to be confident that it was designed by a man reared in a classic school, even if we had not had G. Somers Clarke's statement that he saw Sir Charles draw it with his own hand. A complete list of his designs and executed works is published in his life by Dr. A. Barry.[Sir D. Wyatt, On the Architectural Career of the late Sir C. Barry (Proc. R. I. B. A., 1859–60); Hittorff's Notice historique et biographique sur la vie et les œuvres de Sir C. Barry, 14 Aug. 1860, Paris 1860; E. W. Pugin, Who was the Art Architect of the Houses of Parliament? London, 1867; Rev. A. Barry's Life and Works of Sir Charles Barry, London, 1867; Rev. A. Barry's Architect of the New Palace at Westminster, London, 1868; Rev. A. Barry's Reply to Mr. E. Pugin, London, 1868; E. M. Barry's Correspondence with J. R. Herbert, R.A., London, 1868; Eastlake's History of the Gothic Revival, London, 1872; Fergusson's History of the Modern Styles of Architecture, London, 1873; The Travellers' Club House, London, 1839; César Daly, in Revue Générale de l'Architecture, Paris (The Travellers' Club, vol. i., 1840, The Reform Club, vol. xv., 1857, M. Hittorff's Address, vol. xviii., 1860); the correspondence in the Times, Standard, Athenæum, Pall Mall Gazette, Builder, and Building News; Hughes's Garden Architecture and Landscape Gardening, London, 1866, where references are made to Sir Charles's skill in the management of steps, balustrades, &c.; De Montalembert, De l'avenir politique de l'Angleterre, cap. 9, le Parlement, Paris, 1856.]