Houses of Parliament, Westminster, London, seen from Lambeth © Joe Low / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Ironically, Charles Barry was born just a stone’s throw from his greatest work. Born in Bridge Street, Westminster, his masterpiece is considered to be the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament in London, after the fire of 1834.
After working for a firm of surveyors for six years, Barry set off on a tour from 1817 to 1820 which gave him a knowledge ready to observe and practice architecture. He worked mostly in the Gothic Revival style and his first two public commissions, the churches of St Matthew in Manchester and All Saints in Lancashire followed the Gothic line.
© RIBA Library Drawings & Archives Collections
Born: 1765 (-1860)
Barry was still able to apply the Italian palazzo style of Florence and Rome, massive and solid rather than just a shell, to his buildings, and the best example of this is the Traveller’s Club in Pall Mall, London, which he won by competition. The building is seen as an improved version of the Florence Palazzo and is considered a turning point in English architecture.
In 1836, Barry was commisioned to design The Houses of Parliament and work began in 1840. However, it did not open until 12 years later. Delays were caused on-site by the necessity of clearing the old buildings, difficulties with the heating and ventilation superintendant, and a mason’s strike.
Barry chose Augustus Welby Pugin to work as the skilled decorator on the scheme because he admired his enthusiasm for Gothic details. Barry the architect was the planner and businessman who complemented Pugin's skills as a sensitive artist.
Barry’s qualities seem to lie in his versatility. He could deliver whatever the client required, as long as it included ornamentation. Manchester City Art Gallery was built in 1835 as a Greek Revival building, for example. Judging by the high level of decoration on his buildings, Barry seems to have disliked blank spaces.
Buildings by Barry:
- St Matthew, Campfield, Manchester, 1825
- All Saints, Stand, Lancashire, 1826
- Traveller’s Club, London, 1829
- Manchester City Art Gallery, 1835
- The Houses of Parliament, 1836
- Trafalgar Square, 1845
- Canford Manor, Dorset, 1850