b. 1795 - d. 1860

Charles Barry was born in London in 1795. At the age of 15, he apprenticed to a London surveyor, but when his father died Barry was left a legacy which allowed him to travel throughout Italy, France, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and Syria, studying buildings and making architectural drawings.

Upon his return to England, Barry began designing churches for the Church Commissioners. He discovered that they preferred designs in Gothic and Greek styles, so he concentrated his efforts in those areas, building churches in London, Brighton, and Manchester.

The Italian influence was strong in Barry's designs, and he was a leading figure in the mid-Victorian architectural stlye known as Anglo-Italian that held vogue before Victorian Gothic became popular. Despite this, Barry was skilled in a variety of design styles, from Greek Revival to Italian Rennaissance, Gothic to Elizabethan, and suited his designs to the requirements of the job at hand.

In 1824 he won his first major civic commission, the Royal Institution in Manchester (later to become the City Art Gallery). This success was followed by two influential clubs in London, The Traveller's Club (1830) and the Reform Club (1838). The Reform Club design, based on Italian Rennaissance palace layout, was widely copied.

Barry later used the Italian Rennaissance palace theme into a variety of town houses and country house commissions, including Bridgewater House (London, 1846), Cliveden (Buckinghamshire, 1859), and Harewood (Yorkshire). He also worked extensively on Highclere Castle (Hampshire, 1842), where he adapted his work sympathetically to the largely Elizabethan structure. He also developed the classical Treasury Building in Whitehall, London (1846). Despite these successes, it is for his work with one building in particular that Barry will always be remembered.

In 1834 the old Palace of Westminster, where the House of Commons had met since 1547, was destroyed by fire. The only parts of the medieval Palace to survive were Westminster Hall, the Jewel Tower, the crypt of St Stephen's Chapel, and the adjacent cloisters.

A public competition was held to develop a design for the rebuilding of the Palace. Bary's design was chosen the winner over 95 other architects, and over the next several decades years he worked closely with AW Pugin to create the neo-Gothic masterpiece popularly known as the Houses of Parliament. The design was essentially classical - a tribute to Barry's Italian training, but with a plenitude of Gothic details by Pugin.

The surviving parts of the medieval Palace were skillfully incorporated into the overall design of the new buildings, which also includes the Victoria Tower, at 336 feet considered the tallest tower in the world at the time of its construction. At the opposite end of the building rises the much more famous clock tower known as Big Ben (though the name more accurately refers to the bell that tolls the hours, not the tower itself or its large clock-face).

Barry's design did not meet with universal approval; when the Commons finally met in their new chambers in 1852, members complained that the high ceilings produced poor acoustics. So Barry was forced to lower the ceilings, thus spoiling the Gothic proportions he had striven to emulate.

The family tradition for prominent public architecture was carried on by three of Barry's sons. John Wolfe-Barry designed Tower Bridge in London, Charles Barry rebuilt Burlington House in Piccadilly, London, and Edward Barry finished his father's work on the Palace of Westminster and the Town Hall of Halifax, Yorkshire, as well as redesigning the Covent Garden Opera House in London.

Places to see:

Manchester City Art Gallery
The Treasury Building, Whitehall, London
The Royal College of Surgeons, London
Bowood, Wiltshire
Cliveden, Buckinghamshire
Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfries and Galloway
Duncombe Park, North Yorkshire
Dunrobin Castle, Highland
Edgbaston Hall, West Midlands
Eynsham Hall, Oxfordshire
Gawthorpe Hall, Lancashire
Harewood House, West Yorkshire
Highclere Castle, Hampshire
Hinton Manor, Oxfordshire
Kiddington Hall, Oxfordshire
Kingston Lacy, Dorset
Parliament Square, Westminster, London
Sandon Park, Staffordshire