Design for the New Law Courts by Edward Middleton Barry (1830-1880). 1867. Source: The Builder. Formatting by George P. Landow; text by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.

The Building News of 18 January 1867 explains that ten architects have been invited to compete in the Law Courts competition (it was thus a "limited" one, like that for rebuilding the National Gallery, which came to nothing at the time). In fact, there seem to have been eleven. In addition to Barry himself, the select few were Burges, Lockwood, Scott, Street (the eventual winner) and Waterhouse, along with Henry R. Abraham, Thomas N. Deane (partner of Benjamin Woodward at the Oxford University Natural History Museum), Henry B. Garling, and John P. Seddon (partner of John Prichard at Llandaff Cathedral) (51). Later, Raphael Brandon's design is also discussed, though a correspondent signing himself "Verax" (Latin for "Truthful") wonders, in a letter of 22 February, why Brandon had ever been invited to compete (147). Abraham's "lame apology for a design" is similarly dismissed by the commentators (219). As for Barry's, that too hardly seems to have been in the running. From the very start, in the 18 January issue, it is deemed not "solid or imposing enough" (52). In the following week's issue, the complaint is that he has "caught the dome and pinnacle fever" (58). When it comes to a lengthier judgement on 5 April, the magazine comments:

Mr. Barry competes for the Law Courts, deserting his Renaissance mistress, who has hitherto so well befriended him, for a Gothic model of questionable character. In plan Mr. Barry's scheme has points of resemblance to Mr. Scott's; thus, the outer shell or zone of buildings only carried round three sides, the side towards the Strand having no outer buildings. Within this external line of offices is a street with exit and entrance from the Strand, and within the main block of buildings in which are the courts we have an open area, and within that a central hall and dome with corridors extending laterally and enclosing open quadrangles. The great drawback both to this plan and to Mr. Scott's arrangement is the difficulty which one would have in finding any person; for a regular hide-and-seek game might be carried on every day without the slightest intention of dodging, whilst the regular dodger would find a perfect paradise in the numerous angles and ins-and-outs of the designs we have just mentioned.

The flippancy of the last remark is only partly offset by praise, particularly of the "Chambord staircases," but even here there is a sting in the tail: "the fizzy, flying-buttressed tops to the four great Chambord staircases are as bad as any of the Perpendicular fizzinesses which obtained under the Georgian geniuses, who used to design ruined abbeys to decorate their clients' pleasure grounds." Disliking such touches, the commentators conclude, "We must confess to being greatly disappointed with the detailed treatment of Mr. Barry's work. It is quite unworthy of the architect of the Endell-street Schools [now a hostel run by St Mungo's charity, near St Giles-in-the Feilds, Covent Garden] and we trust that when he next tries his hand on Gothic he will select his own work in St. Giles's as a starting point, rather than the meretricious Gothic of the last century" (5 April 1867, 234)

Summing it up in the following week, they say, "Mr. Barry. — Merits: Contrivance, especially as regards staircases; general massing of the different parts of the building. Demerits : General character Oriental not English, facades utterly unsuited for street architecture" (249 ). So at successive stages they have criticised Barry for being Gothic &mdash: and Oriental! He himself felt he had been very unfairly treated, and indeed many concurred: "At the time it was generally felt considerable injustice had been done in passing him over in favour solely of Street" (Burnet and Blissett). The only consolation was that Barry was at least commissioned to design new gallery space at the National Gallery.

Other entrants in the competition


Building News. (14 June 1867): following 408.

Burnet, G. W., rev. David G. Blissett. "Barry, Edward Middleton (1830-1880)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Web. 1 February 2012.

Building News and Engineering Journal. Vol 14. Internet Archive. Uploaded by Gerstein Science Information Centre at the University of Toronto. Web. 1 February 2012.

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Last modified 11 December 2011