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John Wolfe Barry

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1918.
1896.
1896. Glasgow Central Railway.
1896. Lady Windsor New Deep Lock at Barry Docks.
1910.The Reconstruction of the Tyne North Pier.Coode, Son and Matthews, Consulting Engineers.
1910.The Reconstruction of the Tyne North Pier.Coode, Son and Matthews, Consulting Engineers.

Sir John Wolfe Barry (1836-1918) C.B., F.R.S., Pres. Inst. C.E.

Sir John Wolfe-Barry (7 December 1836 – 22 January 1918) was an English civil engineer of the late 19th and early 20th century. His most famous project was the construction of Tower Bridge over the River Thames in London.

Wolfe-Barry, the youngest son of architect Sir Charles Barry, added 'Wolfe' to his inherited name in 1898. He was educated at Glenalmond and King's College London, and was a pupil of civil engineer Sir John Hawkshaw, as was Henry Marc Brunel, son of the great Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Barry and Hawkshaw worked on railway bridge crossings across the Thames, among other projects (Brunel pursued his own business from 1871, but in 1878 went into partnership with Barry). Barry began his own practice in 1867, and carried out more work for the railways.

It was Tower Bridge, London that really made Wolfe-Barry's name. In 1878, architect Horace Jones first proposed a low-level bascule bridge. An Act of Parliament allowing the Corporation of the City of London to build it was passed in 1885. Jones was appointed architect, and knighted, but died the same year. Wolfe-Barry, already well-established with experience of bridges across the Thames, then took control.

His other projects included:

  • Cannon Street Railway Bridge (aka the Alexandra Bridge) (1866)
  • Blackfriars Railway Bridge (aka St Paul's Bridge), London (1886)
  • Barry Docks at Barry near Cardiff, south Wales
  • District Line of the London Underground (with Sir John Hawkshaw)
  • Pumping stations on the Regent's Canal, north London
  • Kew Railway Bridge, west London (1903)
  • Expansion of Greenland Dock, Surrey Docks (now Surrey Quays), south-east London (1904)

A recognised industry leader (he was elected President of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1896, knighted in 1897, and served on several Royal Commissions), Wolfe-Barry played a prominent role in the development of industry standardisation, urging the ICE's Council to form a committee to focus on standards for iron and steel sections.

Two members each from the ICE, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the Institution of Naval Architects and the Iron and Steel Institute first met on 26 April 1901. With the Institution of Electrical Engineers who joined the following year, these bodies were the founder institutions of what is today the British Standards Institution or BSI.

He was a member of the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers.

He was chairman of Cable and Wireless from 1900 to 1917.

In 1902 Wolfe-Barry joined the consulting firm Robert White and Partners, and it was renamed Wolfe-Barry, Robert White and Partners (later, 1946, Sir Bruce White, Wolfe Barry and Partners – now part of London-based consultancy Hyder Consultants).

Wolfe-Barry died in January 1918 and was buried in Brookwood Cemetery near Woking in Surrey.


1918 Obituary [1]

SIR JOHN WOLFE BARRY, K.C.B., LL.D., F.R.S. In the early part of 1918 all the newspapers of note contained articles more or less detailed on the life and career of Sir John Wolfe Barry. His death was a national loss, and it was recognized as such. Nevertheless, and though these notices were highly and deservedly eulogistic, one was struck by the inadequacy of most of them. It was inevitable, for they dealt chiefly with the professional aspect of a personality quite unusually many-sided and many-gifted.

Sir John was essentially and primarily an Engineer, and for years before his death he was the acknowledged head and representative of the profession in Britain. It was thus that the public regarded him. Literally, his work is known 'from China to Peru.'

But in his own profession there was, in addition to all that, a personal sentiment - a tribute not only to his never-failing interest in all that concerned the welfare of The Institution and the profession at large, but to the very special interest he took in its individual members, particularly the younger members - which wanted some record of Sir John the man, as well as of Sir John Wolfe Barry the Engineer.

He was born on 7th December, 1836, and came of a family distinguished in many directions, being the fifth and youngest son of Sir Charles Barry, R.A., whose title to rank among the great architects of the world needs no further evidence than the view from any good point of his chief work-the Houses of Parliament.

Sir John received his education at Glenalmond School in Perthshire, and afterwards at King’s College, London. It was at that time held that the professional education of an engineer should begin from the practical side; and this he got in the shops of Lucas Brothers.

This useful training finished, he became a pupil, and afterwards assistant, to John Hawkshaw, who later became Sir John Hawkshaw and President of The Institution. By him he was employed as Resident Engineer on some important works-namely, the Charing Cross and Cannon Street Railway Stations and Bridges over the Thames.

On the completion of the latter of these works in 1867 he started in business on his own account ; and in the next year he became a member of The Institution of Civil Engineers. As was fitting, his proposer was his late chief, Sir John Hawkshaw.

In the year of his election Sir John read before The Institution a Paper on the City terminus extension of the Charing Cross Railway, which gained for him the Telford medal and premium. It was published in the Institution 'Proceedings,' vol. xxvii, p. 410 ; and it was the first of many valuable contributions by him to these records. One of them - and the last - on Standardization, may he described as epoch-making.

Prom this time forward Sir John’s life-story is much identified with his professional career. This must always be the case with a representative man. But what strikes one in retrospect, as it struck one at the time, is the amount of time, interest and labour he found means to devote to matters not quite within the scope of engineering, as well as to many others which were entirely unconnected with it. One knew that he had a phenomenal power of work ; but it is only when that work comes to be reviewed as a whole that one begins to grasp the extraordinary mass of it.

Of railways, with the construction of which he was associated as Consulting Engineer, there were, for example, the Metropolitan District Railway to Ealing and Fulham; the Lewes and East Grinstead Railway ; the lines for the completion of the Inner Circle between the Mansion House and Aldgate stations, with extension to Whitechapel ; and other Metropolitan lines and stations, including the St. Paul’s station for the London, Chatham and Dover Railway, and the iron-arched bridge across the Thames at Blackfriars; the Barry railways ; the underground railways of the Caledonian Railway in Glasgow, and the Central station there ; the Ballachulish branch of the Callander and Oban Railway, including the cantilever bridge over the mouth of Loch Etive; and the Lanarkshire and Ayrshire Railway extensions. While he was employed upon most of the railway bridges over the Thames east of Westminster, it is in connection with the most remarkable of all - the bridges - the Tower Bridge - that his fame chiefly rests with that ubiquitous critic, 'the man in the street,' And naturally, for it forms quite the most arresting landmark on the river.

At the beginning of this work Sir John was associated with Sir Horace Jones as architect. They decided that the bascule system should be adopted for the opening centre-span; and it is the manner in which this has been carried out which gives the bridge its special character, and for engineers its principal interest.

Sir Horace died soon after the beginning of the work, after which the responsibility rested almost exclusively with Wolfe Barry. It was no light one, for owing to the fact that the river had to be kept open for navigation, an absolutely new thing in engineering had to be attempted-the construction, namely, of the two enormous bascules in the vertical position. The writer has heard Sir John describe the moment of anxiety he experienced when these were about to be lowered for the first time ; it was, of course, within the bounds of possibility that they might refuse to come properly into the horizontal position, or might fail to meet truly. Neither of these things happened. They behaved on the trial attempt as well as they have done ever since-came smoothly down, met perfectly, and all in about two minutes.

The constructors were Sir William Arrol and Company, Messrs. Armstrong of Elswick and Sir John Jackson, who have every right to be proud of the excellence of their work. An odd testimonial to it may here be mentioned. A foot-way was introduced in the upper structure in order to avoid interruption to the pedestrian traffic by the opening of the bascules. So quickly do they work, and so short a time does the whole operation require, that this foot-way has proved unnecessary and has gradually fallen out of use. The Tower Bridge was finished in 1894, and in recognition of this work Wolfe Barry received a C.B.

The last bridge built by Sir John over the Thames is the King Edward the Seventh Bridge at Kew, opened by King Edward in 1903.

About the middle eighties his Firm took up dock construction, a branch of the profession with which they were later to be very specially identified. Amongst the harbour works carried out by Sir John Wolfe Barry and Partners are the Barry Docks and railways connected therewith; the Lady Windsor Deep Lock and Graving-dock, the new entrance to the Tyne Docks ; the Limekiln Wharf, with improvements at the Limehouse Dock and Regent's Canal; the Grangemouth Dock Extension on the Forth ; the Surrey Commercial Docks Extensions ; the Middlesborough Dock Extension ; the Alexandra Docks at Newport; the Immingham Dock and Graving-dock; and in conjunction with the late Sir Benjamin Baker and A. C. Hurtzig, the Royal Edward Dock at Avonmouth. These are the chief of his works in this line in Britain.

There was in addition a mass of foreign work with which he was connected as Consulting Engineer, of which one may cite as salient examples the Shanghai and Nankin Railway in China, the Bombay Port Trust Works and other works in India, and (in association with the late Sir Charles Hartley) the Durban Harbour Works in South Africa.

In addition to this goodly catalogue of actual constructive work there was the immense amount of consultative work for which he was responsible. He was at one time or another, Consulting Engineer to the Barry Docks and Railway Co, the Caledonian Railway, the North Eastern Railway and South Eastern Railway, the London, Chatham and Dover Railway, the Metropolitan Railway and Metropolitan District Railway, the Bridge House Estates Committee of the Corporation of London, the Commissioners of the River Tyne, the Government of Hong Kong, the Government of Natal, the Bengal-Nagpur Railway, the Shanghai Nankin Railway, and other corporations and companies.

So long a catalogue of strictly professional work might, one would think, account for most of a man’s time and energy ; in Sir John’s case there fails to be noted the great amount of allied work naturally arising from it. There was, for example, his work before Parliamentary Committees, where as a witness he was unrivalled, his evidence being always characterized by lucidity and fairness.

There was his work as Arbitrator under many important contracts, and as a member of many important commissions; he was equally good in either capacity, courteous and helpful to the witnesses, determined to understand all the facts of the matter under investigation.

There was the still more responsible work as Chairman of similar committees. To give an idea of what he did in these capacities, I add a list of some of the principal committees on which he sat, either as Member or as Chairman, viz. : the Irish Public Works Royal Commission of 1886 and 1887 ; the Western Highlands and Islands Commission of 1889 ; the Royal Commission on the Traffic of London, 1903 to 1905 ; the Lower Thames Navigation (Board of Trade) Commission, of which he was Chairman, two of his colleagues being Sir George Nares and Sir Charles Hartley ; the Commission of inquiry into Vibration of Tube Railways-upon which he was associated with Lord Rayleigh and Professor (now Sir Alfred) Ewing ; the Royal Commission on the Port of London of 1900 to 1902 ; the Royal Commission on Accidents to Railway Servants, 1899 to 1900; and many other similar duties, both concurrently and later than these dates. Every man who worked with Wolfe Barry will testify to the conscientious way in which he performed those tasks ; every man who has taken part in the like will testify also to the immense demand made by them not only on the time and the mental powers of the Members, but also upon their physical strength.

Nevertheless, Wolfe Barry had plenty of spare energy to devote to other important matters. His interest in traffic problems ran him into much work, in addition to that upon the Royal Commission on the subject to which I have just referred. He was at it long before the days of that Commission. His two Addresses as Chairman of the Royal Society of Arts dealt with it ; they may Ire found in the volume of the Society’s Proceedings for 1899, and they are well worth reading for their suggestions as to how this urgent difficulty might be tackled. Sir John was clear about two things the immense pecuniary loss resulting from congestion and overcrowding, and the unwisdom of temporary makeshifts to alleviate those evils. He advocated the formation of subways constructed for permanence as well as for convenience ; an expensive method, no doubt, but a radical cure; and that in the end is always a true economy.

And this is perhaps the place to mention his connection with the three great overseas cable companies-the Eastern, Eastern Extension, and the Western, of which, together with several similar companies, he was Chairman. He and his colleagues had a memorable little bit of human interest, when their present Majesties, then Duke and Duchess of Cornwall, made their first tour round the world. Like other parents they wanted to know how things were going on with their children during their absence, and the governing bodies of these companies, headed by their Chairman, arranged to send them a message from the Royal nursery every day-a service which was much appreciated, and duly and very gracefully recognized on their return.

Nor must we omit to record his work upon the International Consultative Committee of the Suez Canal, where he and the late Sir Charles Hartley represented the British Government from 1892 to 1906. During these years he was taking part in a great deal of similar work at home, among which may be mentioned the establishment and organization of the National Physical Laboratory, to the preliminary work on which he was appointed by the Treasury, and after it was started he became one of the members of its executive committee. In 1902 he was also sitting as a Member of the Court of Arbitration to determine the price to be paid by the Metropolitan Water Board to the eight existing London water companies, involving a cost of £13,500,000.

He was also at the same time the Chairman of the City and Guilds Institute; a Member of the Senate of the University of London, to which he was appointed by the Crown ; and H Member of the Governing Body of the Imperial College of Science and Technology. He was a Member of the Council of King’s College, London, where it will be remembered he had himself studied. He was a Member of the Army and Navy Council. He was a Member of the Queen’s Westminster Volunteer Battalion, and he was a Colonel in the Engineer and Railway Staff Corps. He very early identified himself with Lord Roberts’s National Service Scheme. He served for a short time as Alderman of the City of Westminster, and for twenty years he acted as Chairman of Westminster Hospital. As a Member of the Committee of Management of the Yarrow Home-in which he took the greatest possible interest-it was in a great measure due to him that it was taken under the wing of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and thus its usefulness was ensured for all time. There were doubtless many other matters of less importance, all of them with its separate claim upon his attention.

For he accepted the responsibility along with the position. Take, for instance, his work in connection with the City Guilds ; it was unobtrusive, but it was none the less a constant influence in the direction of progressive development. He was Prime Warden of the Goldsmith’s Company-conversant with all its interests and alive to everything pertaining to its civic dignity, and at the same time taking his share with full zest in all it offered of entertainment and enjoyment. And I am told that here, as in every society of which he was a member, he brought his influence powerfully to bear on a matter which was one of his very special interests -that of education. And naturally all this diversity of activity ran him a good deal into print. He was not what can be called a voluminous writer; but the list of his published Addresses, Lectures and Reports runs to quite a goodly length. He published also at least two regular books, one on 'Railway Appliances' (Longmans, 1876) ; the other of more scientific interest dealt with the Barry genealogy in England and Wales.

Another subject with which his name is largely identified is standardization, for it was at Sir John’s instigation in 1901 that the Council appointed a Committee to consider the advisability of standardizing various kinds of iron and steel sections. It is no abuse of language to call the appointment of this Committee epoch-making, since it speedily bore fruit in the appointment of the Engineering Standards Committee, whose work ever since has been of inestimable value, not only to the profession but to the trade of the Empire at large. Mr. Mansergh, the then President, was its first Chairman; he soon relinquished that post on account of his health, and it seemed the right and natural thing that Sir John should succeed him. His interest and energy were a perpetual inspiration to his colleagues; they can and do testify to that, as well as to the insight and judgment he brought to bear upon their collective work. Of their wisdom they gave a characteristic proof in providing for the revision at stated intervals of the standards approved, and indeed the practical and far-reaching utility of their work, taken as a whole, is incalculable.

It was the subject of the Forrest Lecture delivered by Sir John in the year 1917, the title of which was 'Standardization and its Influence on the Prosperity of the Country.' No one can fully estimate the debt which the country and the Empire owe to his influence in this matter.

But it was by no means his only extra-professional work ; in fact, perhaps he himself might have said that his chief interest centred in The Institution-in the development of its influence and utility, and in the elevation of the status of its Members. He was greatly alive to all that, constantly thinking about it, unwearied in his efforts to promote these ends. To him we owe in large measure the present system of examination for admission into The Institution, with the consequent raising of the standard of acquirement and of general efficiency. More than most of us, he was alive to the wide range of sheer knowledge comprised in the science of engineering, That is demonstrated by what he said and did and wrote upon the subject. But he was distinguished from the mere theorist by his equal grasp of the value of practical experience as part of the ideal training in engineering. He was quite clear about that, and anyone who wishes to make acquaintance at first-hand with his views will find them lucidly stated in his Presidential Addresses for the years 1896 and 1897.

But his interest in those junior engineers was far from being confined to their examination papers. Many of them can testify to the kindly human touch of personal interest he showed in them, and to the encouragement which they derived from it.

This kindly human touch was, in fact, the especial characteristic of the man as we knew him. Deeply impressed as is the present writer with the value to the profession of his constant activities, he attaches almost equal importance to the genial atmosphere which Sir John diffused around him-an atmosphere of friendly sociability comparable to that of the mess-room of a good regiment. No one can over-estimate the value of this professional freemasonry.

It found its most characteristic expression in his 'Tuesday Evenings,' when, after the regular Council meeting and dinner, some of us usually accompanied him to his own house, where business was completely laid aside, and one shared the simple enjoyment of a more than commonly delightful home circle. The memory of these Tuesday evenings is a lifelong possession to all who took part in them. Sir John was then at his very best, full of humour and hospitality. One forgot, as he seemed to forget, the weight of professional work which rested on his shoulders all day and every day ; or, realizing it, admired and envied his faculty of putting it entirely from his mind, to be taken up again on the morrow with powers reinvigorated by these moments of relaxation.

And here I should like to stop these notes, were it not for one other matter, scarce less pleasant for his friends to reflect upon - I mean the recognition with which all these beneficent activities were met. As was his work, so were his honours. He was an elected Associate of the Institution of Surveyors, and later, an Associate Member of Council of that body; a Member of Council of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, where also he afterwards became a Vice-President ; he was a Manager of the Royal Institution, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society ; he was a Member, and in 1898-99 was Chairman of Council, of the Royal Society of Arts ; he was a Member of at least two of the City Guilds of London, he was LL.D. of the University of Glasgow, he was Companion and afterwards Knight Commander of the Bath; and he was for two successive yews President of his own Institution, the Civil Engineers, where his name and services rank high among those of the great and representative men who have held the same honoured office. He was elected a Member of The Institution in 1868, appointed to the Council in 1883, chosen as Vice-President in 1893, and occupied the Presidential Chair in 1896 and 1897 ; and in 1916 he was unanimously elected an Honorary Member.

All this was good; it was the well-merited reward of useful and faithful work in and for the world, which honoured itself in the recognition it awarded him. But he had another and a still better reward - if that can properly be called reward which is less the result of what a man does than of what he is - in the wonderful personal feeling of esteem, touched with affection, with which he was so widely regarded. It was the appropriate response to the spontaneous human friendliness of his own outlook. Perhaps it was due no less to his extraordinary tact, which in itself was just the flower and essence of that same kindliness. He did not mason about such matters - he perceived instinctively the right and gracious thing to do, and, if one may put it so, it did itself. And in thinking over his many social gifts and aptitudes I am not sure but that these were the best of them all.

Even to the writer it seems that these brief notes have framed themselves into what is less a sketch of Sir John’s career than a warm panegyric. Well, the reason is not far to seek - this WAS the kind of man he was. This was the kind of life he led, and the kind of work he did. And looking back upon those latter years of his, sunny with success, with the consciousness of good work well done, with all of 'that which should accompany old age, as honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,' one’s sense of loss, great as that is, is merged in profound thankfulness that a life thus spent should have been thus fitly crowned.

Sir John Wolfe Barry died at Delahay House, Chelsea, on 22nd January, 1918, at the age of 81, survived by his wife, four sons and three daughters.

The second son, Kenneth Alfred Wolfe Barry, M. Inst. C.K., was associated with him as a Partner in the business, along with A. G. Lyster, Past President of the Institution, and G. E. W. Cruttwell, M. Inst. C.E. J. S.


1918 Obituary [2]

Sir JOHN WOLFE BARRY, K.C.B., LL.D., F.R.S., was born in London, on 7th December 1836, being the fifth and youngest son of Sir Charles Barry, R.A., who was the architect of the Houses of Parliament.

The early part of his education was acquired at Trinity College, Glenalmond, after which he came to King's College, London.

On completing his course there he served for some time in the employment of Messrs. Lucas Brothers, engineering contractors, and then became articled to Mr. (afterwards Sir) John Hawkshaw, by whom he was employed as assistant resident engineer in connexion with the building of Charing Cross railway bridge and station, and as resident engineer in charge of the construction of the Cannon Street railway bridge, and the station at its northern end.

In 1867 he started to practise on his own account as a consulting engineer, and from then onwards he was connected with some of the most important 'engineering works carried out in this country.

From 1878 the late Mr. H. M. Brunel was a partner with him until his death in 1903, Mr. A. J. Barry from 1892 till 1900, the late Mr. C. A. Brereton from 1892 until 1909, Mr. G. E. W. Cruttwell and Mr. K. A. Wolfe Barry since 1901, and Mr. A. G. Lyster from 1913.

Sir John's work was more closely identified with facilities for transport than with any other branch of engineering. He designed and carried out extensions and improvements of the Metropolitan District and Metropolitan Railways and (in conjunction with Sir John Hawkshaw) the works of the "Inner Circle" completion between Mansion House and Aldgate with the extension to Whitechapel; branch railways for the London and Brighton and the London Chatham and Dover Railways in the South of England, and for the Caledonian Railway in Scotland. The St. Paul's bridge and station at Blackfriars for the London Chatham and Dover Railway were also designed and carried out by him. He was called in to advise, in conjunction with Sir Horace Jones, the City Corporation on the question of a road bridge over the Thames east of London Bridge, and the bascule system for the opening span was decided upon. Sir Horace Jones died soon after the commencement of the work, so that the carrying out of the undertaking rested almost exclusively with Sir John. The King Edward the Seventh Bridge at Kew was also built by him and his partners.

In dock construction the work carried out by Sir John was most extensive, including many of the largest docks in the country. He was the engineer responsible for the construction of the Barry Docks and the important new dock at Grangemouth; also for improvements and extensions of Tyne Dock, Surrey Commercial Docks, Middlesbrough Dock, and Limehouse Dock. Together with the partners in his firm he was engineer for the new docks at Immingham and Newport (Mon.), and in conjunction with his partner the late Mr. C. A. Brereton and Sir Benjamin Baker and Mr. C. A. Hurtzig (both of whom also predeceased him) he was consulting engineer for the construction of the new docks at Avonmouth and for the new Joint Dock at Hull.

He was one of the consulting engineers for the Bombay Port Trust, and has held appointments as consulting engineer to the Government of Natal and to the Caledonian, North Eastern, London Chatham and Dover, Metropolitan, Metropolitan District, and Bengal-Nagpur Railways, and for various railways in China. He has been connected with important works carried out in India, China, and South Africa, and from 1892 to 1906 was one of the British Representatives on the International Commission on Works of the Suez Canal. He was a member of the Court of Arbitration together with Sir Edward Fry and Sir Hugh Owen in connexion with the purchase of the water companies' undertakings for absorption by the Metropolitan Water Board, and served on many important Royal Commissions.

Sir John occupied the Presidential Chair of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1896-7, of which he was elected an Honorary Member in 1916. He was elected a Member of this Institution in 1871, and a Member of Council in 1901; in 1913 he became a Vice-President, a position which he resigned in 1915, although still retaining a seat on the Council. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society from 1895, a Member of the Royal Institution, and Chairman of Council of the Royal Society of Arts in 1898-9. In 1897 he became Knight Commander of the Bath, his Companionship having been granted in 1894, when the Tower Bridge was opened.

He took a very great interest in the advancement of technical education, and it was largely through his influence that the City Guilds became more intimately identified with this work; for a' long period he was Chairman of the Executive Committee of the City and Guilds Institute, and was on the Executive Committee of the National Physical Laboratory from the time of its foundation.

He took a leading part in the formation of the Engineering Standards Committee in 1901, and was chairman almost from its commencement. He was a strong advocate of Lord Roberts' movement for National Service, and was one of the earliest members of the Queen's Westminster Volunteers. He was Colonel in the Engineer and Railway Staff Corps. As Chairman for many years of the Eastern Telegraph and its associated companies, he occupied an important position in the business world.

His death took place at his residence at Chelsea Embankment, London, on 22nd January 1918, at the age of eighty-one.


1918 Obituary [3]

SIR JOHN WOLFE WOLFE-BARRY, K.C.B., who died on the 23rd January, 1918, was elected a Member of the Institution in 1901 and served on the Council from 1902 to 1905.

To the general public his name probably suggests the brilliantly successful constructor of railways, bridges, and docks, to some members of his profession he is pre-eminently the pioneer of systematized technical education, and again to others it is as the founder of the Engineering Standards Committee that he is best known. The fact is that he rendered unrivalled service in each and all of these directions. The youngest son of the late Sir Charles Barry, R.A., architect of the Houses of Parliament and the Reform Club, Sir John Wolfe-Barry was born in London on the 7th December, 1836.

After passing through King's College, London, he became a pupil of Mr. (later Sir) John Hawkshaw, with whom he was afterwards associated in the construction of the extensions of the South-Eastern Railway into Charing-cross and Cannon-street. In 1867 he started in practice on his own account, and henceforward his life was one long succession of notable engineering achievements. It is almost impossible to give a full list of the engineering undertakings with which his name is identified, but among the most notable may be mentioned the Tower Bridge, which took six years - from 1886 to 1894 - to design and erect, and for which he was made Companion of the Bath; Blackfriars Railway Arched Bridge (1883-87); Kew Bridge (1898-1903); and much railway work at home and abroad, especially in India.

It is, perhaps, however, as a docks engineer that the greatest calls were made upon Sir John's engineering skill, chief amongst the examples of his work in this direction being the Barry Docks and Railways, begun in 1885. Great as was his achievement in the field of constructional works, it was by no means the only direction in which he rendered valuable service to the nation.

He was a frequent witness before Parliamentary Committees, and was chosen to sit on numerous Commissions. In many cases he acted as arbitrator, and was one of the three members of the Court of Arbitration in connection with the Metropolitan Water Board scheme. The subject of London traffic was one in which he always took a keen interest. In an Address as Chairman of the Council of the Society of Arts in 1898, and again in 1899, he pointed out the serious pecuniary losses caused by the congestion of the London streets and urged the desirability of forming subways.

He also gave much thought and attention to the subject of engineering education and was responsible for the determination of the Institution of Civil Engineers (of which he was elected President in 1896) to establish an examination as a condition of entry to its ranks. As Chairman of the Executive Committee of the City and Guilds of London Institute, he likewise worked for the cause of engineering education in London. Before giving an account of perhaps the greatest contribution which Sir John made to the progress of the engineering industry in his tireless efforts to secure standardized manufacture, mention may be made of his activities outside his own profession, which, incredible as it may seem when one considers the immense amount of engineering work accomplished, were manifold.

Up to his death he was Chairman of the House Committee of Westminster Hospital, and at different periods a member of the Senate of the University of London, a member of the Governing body of the Imperial College of Technology, a member of the Army and Navy Council, and of the Council of King's College, London, and Chairman of the Eastern and Eastern Extension and Western Telegraph Companies. He was made a Knight Commander of the Bath in 1897, held the honorary degree of LL.D. of Glasgow University,, was Colonel in the Engineer and Railway Volunteer Staff Corps, and was Deputy Lieutenant of the County of London. Standardization was always very near his heart, and it was at his instance that in 1901 the Council of the Institution of Civil Engineers unanimously resolved to approve a proposal to appoint a Committee for the standardization of Rolled Sections. From this small nucleus, consisting of some half-dozen members, has been evolved the British Engineering Standards Association which now deals with every branch of engineering standardization and has some 860 members who voluntarily give their time and labours to the work. From the inception of the organization until the day of his death, Sir John filled the office of Chairman, and, as the creation of this body was so largely due to his personal foresight and enterprise, so in an equal measure has the success and development of the movement been a result of his commanding ability for leadership. He always insisted on the community of interest of producer and user, and the advantage to be gained by coming together on neutral ground and discussing difficult problems in that spirit of mutual compromise and forbearance which characterized his chairmanship on all occasions. So virile was his intellect, so judicial his mind, and so broad his conception of things generally, that his ruling on any question was sure to be absolutely equitable and, even on those occasions when his view was not entirely shared by his colleagues, it was ultimately invariably found and acknowledged to be the correct one. Hence the absolute confidence reposed in him by all with whom he had to do.

The last occasion on which he presided at a meeting of the Main Committee was in November 1917, when Mr. H. M. Hobart, the American delegate to an Anglo-American Electrical Conference, was present at his special invitation.

A few weeks previously Sir John had addressed a speech of welcome to Mr. Hobart, in which, in making allusion to the alliance of the two English-speaking nations in the fight for freedom, he said:- "It is a matter of the most profound gratification that the two great Governments of the Anglo-Saxon race are now marching side by side in the great endeavour to forward the interests of humanity, having both of them the same ideals and looking forward to a peace which shall guarantee those ideals and aspirations to the world now so sorely afflicted by war and its attendant miseries."

It seems peculiarly fitting that the last recorded words of this marvellously progressive mind should be concerned with an event of such vital moment to the onward march of humanity as the entry of the United States into the great struggle for Liberty.


1919 Obituary [4]

SIR JOHN WOLFE BARRY, K.C.B., F.R.S., &c., was born on 7th December, 1836, and came of a family distinguished in many directions, being the fifth and youngest son of Sir Charles Barry, R.A., whose title to rank among the great architects of the world needs no further evidence than the view from any good point of his chief work — the Houses of Parliament.

Sir John received his education at Glenalmond School in Perthshire, and afterwards at King's College, London. It was at that time held that the professional education of an engineer should begin front the practical side; and this he got in the shops of Messrs. Lucas Brothers. This useful training finished, he became a pupil, and afterwards assistant, to Mr. John Hawkshaw, who later became Sir John Hawkshaw and President of the Institution of Civil Engineers. By him he was employed as Resident Engineer on some important works— namely, the Charing Cross and Cannon Street Railway Stations and Bridges over the Thames. On the completion of the latter of these works in 1867 he started in business on his own account; and in the next year he became a member of The Institution of Civil Engineers.

As Consulting Engineer, he was associated with the Metropolitan District Railway to Ealing and Fulham ; the Lewes and East Grinstead Railway ; the lines for the completion of the Inner Circle between the Mansion House and Aldgate stations, with extension to Whitechapel ; and other Metropolitan lines and stations, including the St. Paul's station for the London, Chatham and Dover Railway, and the iron-arched bridge across the Thames at Blackfriars ; the Barry railways; the underground railways of the Caledonian Railway in Glasgow, and the Central station there; the Ballachulish branch of the Callandar and Oban Railway, including the cantilever bridge over the mouth of Loch Etive; and the Lanarkshire and Ayrshire Railway extensions. He was employed upon most of the railway bridges over the Thames east of Westminster, including the Tower Bridge, which was finished in 1894, and in recognition of this work Wolfe Barry received a C.B. The last bridge built by Sir John over the Thames is the King Edward the Seventh Bridge at Kew, opened by King Edward in 1903.

About the middle 'eighties his Firm took up dock construction, a branch of the profession with which they were later to be very specially identified. Amongst the harbour works carried out by Sir John Wolfe Barry and Partners are the Barry Docks and railways connected therewith; the Lady Windsor Deep Lock and Graving-dock, the new entrance to the Tyne Docks; the Limekiln Wharf, with improvements at the Limehouse Dock and Regent's Canal ; the Grangemouth Dock Extension on the Forth ; the Surrey Commercial Docks Extensions ; the Middesborough Dock Extension ; the Alexandra Dock at Newport ; the Immingham Dock and Graving-dock ; and in conjunction with the late Sir Benjamin Baker and Mr. C. A. Hurtzig, the Royal Edward Dock at Avonmouth. These are the chief of his works in this line in Britain.

There was in addition a mass of foreign work with which he was connected as Consulting Engineer, of which one may cite as salient examples the Shanghai and Nankin Railway in China, the Bombay Port Trust Works and other works in India, and (in association with the late Sir Charles Hartley) the Durban Harbour Works in South Africa. In addition to this goodly catalogue of actual constructive work there was the immense amount of consultative work for which he was responsible. He was at one time or another Consulting Engineer to the Barry Docks and Railway Company, the Caledonian Railway, the North Eastern and South Eastern Railways, the London, Chatham and Dover Railway, the Metropolitan and Metropolitan District Railways, the Bridgehouse Estates Conmmittee of the Corporation of London, the Commissioners of the River Tyne, the Government of Hong Kong, the Government of Natal, the Bengal-Nagpur Railway, the Shanghai Nankin Railway, and other corporations and companies. Upon the International Consultative Committee of the Suez Canal, he and the late Sir Charles Hartley represented the British Government from 1892 to 1906.

Sir John was also at one time or another Chairman of the City and Guilds Institute; a Member of the Senate of the University of London, to which he was appointed by the Crown ; a Member of the Governing Body of the Imperial College of Science and Technology, and a Member of the Council of King's College, London, where he had himself studied. He was a Member of the Army and Navy Council, of the Queen's Westminster Volunteer Battalion, and was a Colonel in the Engineer and Railway Staff Corps and very early identified himself with Lord Roberts' National Service Scheme.

Another subject with which his name is largely identified is standardization, for it was at Sir John's instigation in 1901 that the Council of the Institution of Civil Engineers appointed a Committee to consider the advisability of standardizing various kinds of iron and steel sections. It is no abuse of language to call the appointment of this Committee epoch-making, since it speedily bore fruit in the appointment of the Engineering Standards. Committee, whose work ever since has been of inestimable value, not only to the profession but to the trade of the Empire at large. Mr. Mansergh, the then President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, was its first Chairman; he soon relinquished that post on account of his health, and it seemed the right and natural thing that Sir John should succeed him. His interest and energy were a perpetual inspiration to his colleagues; they can and do testify to that, as well as to the insight and judgment he brought to bear upon their collective work. Of their wisdom they gave a characteristic proof in providing for the revision at stated intervals of the standards approved, and indeed the practical and far- reaching utility of their work, taken as a whole, is incalculable. It was the subject of the Forrest Lecture delivered by Sir John in the year 1917, the title of which was "Standardization and its Influence on the Prosperity of the County."

No one can fully estimate the debt which the country and the Empire owe to his influence in this matter. As was his work, so were his honours. He was an elected Associate of the Surveyors' Institution, and later, an Associate Member of Council of that body; a Member of Council of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, where also he afterwards became a Vice-President; he was a Manager of the Royal Institution, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society; he was a Member, and in 1898-99 was Chairman of Council, of the Royal Society of Arts ; he was a Member of at least two of the City Guilds of London, he was LL.D. of the University of Glasgow, he was Companion and afterwards Knight Commander of the Bath ; and he was for two successive years President of his own Institution, the Civil Engineers', where his name and services rank bight among those of the great and representative men who have held the same honoured office. He was elected a Member of The Institution in 1868, appointed to the Council in 1883, chosen a Vice-President in 1893, and occupied the Presidential Chair in 1896 and 1897, and in 1916 he was unanimously elected an Honorary Member. Sir John Wolfe Barry died at Delahay House, Chelsea, on 22nd January, 1918, at the age of 81, survived by his wife, four sons and three daughters. He was elected an Honorary Member of the Liverpool Engineering Society on 31st March, 1897.


1918 Obituary [5]



1896 Summary of his achievements in [6]



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1918 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries
  2. 1918 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  3. 1918 Institution of Electrical Engineers: Obituaries
  4. 1919 Liverpool Engineering Society: Obituaries
  5. The Engineer 1918/01/25
  6. The Engineer 1896/11/13