The following biography of E. M. Barry by G. W. Burnett comes from the Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. III (Baker-Beadon), by Leslie Stephen (New York: Macmillan, 1885, pp.315-17), uploaded to the Internet Archive by the University of Toronto Library, Canada. This Victorian Web version has new subtitles, links, and images. Please see the note immediately following the original bibliography for changes and additions in David G. Blissett's revised entry in the current online version of the ODNB. — Jacqueline Banerjee.

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Background and Early Career

Edward Middleton Barry (1830-1880), architect, was the third son of Sir Charles Barry, R.A. [...], and was born in his father's house, 27 Foley Place, London, on 7 June 1830. In infancy he was delicate, and was placed under the care of a confidential servant at Blackheath. At an early age he was sent to school in that neighbourhood, and thence to an excellent private school at Walthamstow, where he remained till he became for a time a student of King's College, London. He entered the office of Thomas Henry Wyatt, between whom and his youthful pupil there was thus early laid the foundation of a warm friendship. After a short apprenticeship there, he, at his own earnest desire, entered the office of his father, just after his elder brother Charles had left it to commence practice in partnership with Mr. R. R. Banks. He continued to assist his father till the latter's sudden death in 1860, but he had already made considerable progress in working on his own account. In 1848 he had become a student at the Royal Academy, and even while assisting his father found time to devote to works of his own. The first of these thus designed and executed was St. Saviour's Church, Haverstock Hill, in 1855-6, and his designs for St. Giles's schools, Endell Street, which were carried out under his own superintendence in 1859-60, gave him a recognised position. It was to the originality displayed in these works that he owed his admission, in 1861, as an associate to the Royal Academy

Later Career

Left to right: (a) Covent Garden. (b) The Floral Hall, Covent Garden. (c) St Christopher's Chapel (not discussed here, but listed at the end).

The reconstruction, in 1857, in the short space of eight months, of the theatre at Covent Garden, which had just then been destroyed by fire, and the erection in the following year of the Floral Hall adjoining, afford examples of his energy, constructive skill, and artistic ability. These works were executed for his own private clients, and without diminishing the assistance which he was then rendering to his father. In 1860 Sir Charles Barry died suddenly, and upon his son Edward devolved the duty of completing his father's works. Foremost of these was the new palace at Westminster, which was at length entrusted to him by the government. Barry now succeeded not only to his father's business, but also to his reputation. On 29 March 1862 he married Lucy, daughter of Thomas Kettlewell, and two of the three children of the marriage still survive.

The remaining years of his life record a long series of works designed by him, many of them of national magnitude and importance. In 1869 he was elected an academician, and in 1873, on the retirement of Sir George Gilbert Scott from the professorship of architecture in the Royal Academy, he was elected to the vacant office for the ensuing five years by the general assembly of that body. He carried into the work of the chair his usual vigour. One of his hearers, not a professional architect, writing a few weeks after his death, said: 'The professor, whose loss we deplore, aimed at being a man of his day, neither a Greek nor a Goth, and in his lectures he strove to place the true principles of beauty above the mere question of form." At the end (1878) of the usual term of the appointment he was again elected their professor of architecture by the academy for the next quinquennial period. In 1874, on the resignation of Sidney Smirke, he had been appointed by her majesty treasurer of the academy, and earned, according to the testimony of his colleagues in the council, their warm personal regard and fullest confidence.

Barry's Disappointments

Left to right: (a) Barry's unsuccessful entry for the Law Courts competition. (b) The New Opera House, Valletta, Malta (only listed at the end, and ruined in the war, but arguably his grandest, most impressive work).

It remains to record Barry's disappointments. He was one of the nine architects selected in 1862 to compete for the Albert Memorial, when Sir G. G. Scott was successful. In 1867 the general competition of designs for the erection of the new law courts took place, and if the report of the judges and professional referees had been followed, this work would have been entrusted to Barry. It was generally felt at the time that no little injustice was done him in passing him over. Nor did the consolation offered by the government in the shape of entrusting him in 1868 with the erection of a new National Gallery prove effectual; for he was limited to the task of constructing additional rooms without any alteration in the present frontage. As picture galleries these rooms are admirably conceived. But, as originally designed, Barry's proposed building was a great and worthy conception, combining classical symmetry with picturesque effect. We must, therefore, remember that he never had the opportunity of executing the best thing he ever designed. On Smirke's death the entrance to the new galleries remained unaltered, and therefore unsuited to Smirke's handsome building. The task of providing an adequate approach was committed to Barry, and under his design the effective and ornate doorway and easy stair of approach through the old building of Burlington House were substituted for the former steep staircase.

Two views of 1-4 Temple Gardens, London (only listed at the end, but very much in the "French Renaissance style" that David Blissett attributes to Barry — see endnote about revisions in the current ODNB ).

A resolution passed by the council soon after his appointment, and which he believed to be particularly directed against himself, prohibited for the future the employment of their treasurer as architect. He says in a letter: "What with the injustice I have suffered about the Law Courts, National Gallery, and this (a demand from the government for all his father's drawings and papers connected with the Westminster Palace), it seems as if there was a dead set made against me, and I am tempted to quit a profession where such things are possible." These and other vexations unfortunately rankled in his mind, and no doubt hastened his end. He used to regret sometimes that he had not chosen the bar as a profession, and more than once declared that it "seemed sufficient for anything he would have liked to come in his way for it to end in failure."

The Last Days

For some time before his death he would seem to have had a presentiment of it. Only ten days before it he gave some minute directions to his son on the eve of departure for a few weeks' relaxation on the continent, so that, as he said, " if I am called suddenly away, you will know what I wish." He had suffered for years from sleeplessness, and used to spend many wakeful hours in reading, chiefly biography, history, and books of travel. On the morning of the day of his death, Tuesday, 27 Jan. 1880, however, he was cheerful about the future, and left home, saying, "I shall be back late to-night," as he had a meeting of council of the Royal Academy to attend. It was when about to move a series of resolutions at this meeting that he suddenly staggered into the arms of his friend Pickersgill, and, only exclaiming "Who is it?" expired in the midst of his friends and colleagues. The cause of death was apoplexy and weakness of the heart's action. On the following Tuesday, 3 Feb. 1880, he was buried in the Paddington cemetery, Willesden.

Character and Reputation

Simplicity, earnestness, love of truth and justice, and great amiability and kindliness, were the prominent qualities which distinguished him in private life. He was a hard worker, and left many unexecuted designs. Barry devoted himself exclusively to no style, though he handled all with success. His methodical habit of mind and keen sense of proportion led no doubt to the preference for classic design in most of his compositions. He did not hesitate to declare his opinion that the prevalent taste for what was called '"pure Gothic"' in architecture was no more than a passing fashion of the day, unsuited to the real demands of the people. But he was no slavish "classicist,'" and his best designs of this nature, such as the Covent Garden opera-house, the Birmingham and Midland Institute, and others, exhibit a freedom of treatment which shows he was not insensible to the charms of the picturesque. In street buildings, indeed, his leaning was towards a blending of classic and Gothic, such as occurs in one of his most successful designs, that for the new buildings in Temple Gardens on the Thames Embankment. And it was in the freedom afforded by the so-called Italian Renaissance that he seems to have found the happiest scope for the expression of his artistic ideas. Like his father he was eminently practical in architecture. In planning he was admittedly a master. He was never satisfied with less than the very best arrangement and execution of practical detail in every building he undertook, and it is to his energy and conscientiousness in this department of his profession, as much perhaps as to his skill in artistic conception, that he owes the reputation he has left behind him of one of the foremost architects of his time.

List of Works

The following is a list of Barry's works from the Builder; references are added to volumes in which illustrations of the works appear: 1855-6, St. Saviour's Church, Haverstock Hill; 1856-7, Birmingham and Midland Institute (Builder, 1855); 1857-9, Leeds Grammar School; 1857-8, Royal Italian Opera House, Covent Garden (Builder1857, 1858, 1859); 1858-9, Floral Hall, Covent Garden; 1858-68, Henham Hall, Suffolk, tomb for Mr. Berens, Norwood Cemetery (Builder, 1858, p. 779); 1859, Duxbury Hall, Lancashire; 1859-60, St. Giles's Schools, Endell Street (Builder, 1861, pp. 1818-9) ; 1860, Burnley Grammar School; 1860-3, Halifax Town Hall (Builder, 1863, p. 791) (design by Sir C. Barry); 1861, Birmingham Free Public Library; 1861-4, New Opera House, Malta (Builder, 1863, pp. 314-5); 1861, Gawthorpe Hall, Lancashire (additions); 1862, Pyrgo Park, Romford (additions); 1862-3, Barbon Park Lodge, Westmoreland ; 1862, Stabling at Millbank for the Speaker ; 1863-5, Charing Cross Hotel and Eleanor Cross; 1864-5, Star and Garter Hotel, Richmond (alterations and additions); 1864-6, Cannon Street Hotel (Builder, 1866, pp. 760-1); 1865, Schools, Canford, Dorsetshire; 1866-8, New Palace, Westminster, Arcade and Enclosure, New Palace Yard (Builder, 1868, p. 29), St. Margaret's Square, Restoration of St. Stephen's Crypt (Builder, 1864, p. 513); 1866-71, Crewe Hall, Cheshire (Builder, 1869, pp. 486-7; 1878, p. 486); 1866-9, New Palace, Westminster, Queen's Robing Room, Royal Staircase, Decoration of Central Octagon Hall; 1867, Bridgwater House, completion of Picture Gallery; 1867-8, Bakeham House, Egham; 1868-9, New Palace, Westminster, Design for New House of Commons, Subway; 1869-71, Thorpe Abbotts, Norfolk (additions); 1869-72, Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire (additions); 1870, Esher Lodge (additions); 1870-3, Shabden, Surrey (Builder, 1873, pp. 626-7); 1870-3, Cobham Park, Surrey; 1871-2, Corn Exchange, Bristol (new roof); 1871-4, Fitzwilliarn Museum, Cambridge (completion of grand staircase); 1871-4, Wykehurst, Sussex; 1871-5, New Picture Galleries, National Gallery; 1871-6, Sick Children's Hospital, Ormond Street (Builder, 1872, pp. 66-7; 1876, pp. 1073-5); 1872-4, Clifton Church, Manchester; 1873, London and Westminster Bank, Temple Bar (additions and alterations); 1873-5, Downing College, Cambridge (additions and alterations); 1874, Peterborough Cathedral, pulpit (Builder, 1874, p. 352); 1875, Royal Infirmary, Waterloo Road (alterations); 1875-9, Inner Temple Buildings, Thames Embankment (Builder, 1879, pp. 654-6, 1344); 1878-9, Peakirk Church, Hermitage (restored); 1879, Stancliffe Hall, Derbyshire (additions, &c.); 1879, House for Art Union, Strand (Builder, 1879, pp. 19, 21). For Mr. Barry's designs for the New Law Courts and National Gallery, see also the Builder, 1867, pp. 112, 191, and 370-1; and 1876, pp. 737-9. G. W. B.

Bibliography [1885]

[Builder, 1880; Lectures on Architecture, with Introductory Memoir, 1881.]

David Blissett's Revisions in the Current ODNB

Blissett gives more details about Barry's background, telling us that he was less well educated than his brothers, and studied for a while at University College, London, rather than King's — since he says that Barry studied under Professor Donaldson, who was the pioneering Professor of Architecture at UCL from 1841-65, he must be right. He explains exactly why Barry had to safeguard his father's reputation — because of the "Pugin-Barry controversy" over who should receive most credit for the Palace of Westminster. More importantly, Blissett goes into more details about Barry's work, for example about his unsuccessful design for a new National Gallery, which he praises, and for Great Ormond Street Hospital and its chapel. As for the latter, he tells us that Barry designed it without charge, in memory of one of his three children who died in infancy. Usefully, Blissett writes of Barry's preference for "the French Renaissance style, a predilection for which his father had nurtured" (rather than the "Italian Renaissance" style mentioned by Burnett) and suggests several reasons for Barry's disappointments: that he was "dogmatic"; handicapped by being eclectic "at a time when taste was more polarized"; and, after all, simply "did not inherit his father's genius." Sympathy with Barry seems to have faded along with his memory: although Blissett retains the comment on his simplicity and so forth, he omits any mention of his "love of truth and justice," commenting instead that Barry "would allow for no view but his own." Of course, the 1885 account was bound to be outdated in one respect: Barry's two surviving children died long ago now. Finally, "G. W. B." at the end of the 1885 entry is given as G. W. Burnett in the "List of Writers" at the beginning of that volume, but the current version refers to this author as G. W. Burnet, with a single "t."

Last modified 1 March 2012