Sir Charles and Sir John Wolfe Barry
Born: 23 May, 1795
Died: 12 May, 1860
Burial Date: 22 May, 1860
Field: Architect; engineer
Location in the Abbey: Nave
Type of memorial: Grave; window
Type of material: Glass; brass

In the centre of the nave of Westminster Abbey is a brass covering the grave of eminent architect Sir Charles Barry. He was buried on 22 May 1860. The brass was made by Hardmans of Birmingham and consists of a cross bearing representations of the Paschal Lamb and the four Evangelists and on the stem are roses, leaves, a portcullis and the letter B. At the base is shown an elevation of the Victoria Tower of the Houses of Parliament and a ground plan of the Palace of Westminster which Barry rebuilt after the fire of 1834. The depiction of the tower differs slightly from the final design. Two shields are shown in the centre. One shows the initials CB and a pair of dividers and the other shield includes a portcullis (the symbol of the Houses of Parliament). The inscription reads:

“Sacred to the memory of Sir Charles Barry, Knight R.A. F.R.S. &c. Architect of the New Palace at Westminster and other buildings who died 12th of May A.D. 1860 aged 64 years and lies buried beneath this brass”.

In the surround of the brass:

“Whatsoever ye do do it heartily as to the Lord and not unto Men for ye serve the Lord Christ. Col. [Colossians] III.23.24.

Charles was born on 23 May 1795 in Westminster, not far from the Abbey, and baptised at St Margaret’s church. He was one of many children of Walter Barry (d.1805) and his wife Frances. He was mostly self educated and he was articled to a firm of surveyors in Lambeth and later travelled in Europe. By 1834 he had designed several churches and other buildings and won the open competition to design the new Houses of Parliament. Barry had casts taken of ornamental sculpture in the Abbey as a guide for sculptors decorating the new Parliament building. The exterior decoration resembles that of Henry VII’s chapel, which is opposite Parliament. He was knighted in 1852. In 1822 he married Sarah Rowsell and had five sons (Charles, Alfred, Edward and John) and two daughters. (Alfred Barry became a Canon of Worcester, a Chaplain to Queen Victoria and was Canon of Westminster from 1881-84 before becoming bishop of Sydney. Alfred was buried in Worcester Cathedral in 1910). Sir Charles died suddenly of a heart attack on 12 May 1860.

Sir Charles’ son Sir John Wolfe Barry, civil engineer, has a memorial window in the nave of the Abbey, designed by Sir J.Ninian Comper and dedicated in 1922. Sir John designed several London bridges including Blackfriars Bridge, and completed the iconic Tower Bridge. He also worked on part of the London Underground system and on numerous projects for railways and docks at home and abroad. He was born on 7 December 1836 and married Rosalind Rowsell in 1874. They had four sons and three daughters -Alexander, Eric and Sylvia were baptised in the Abbey. He assumed the addition surname of Wolfe in 1898, a year after he was knighted. He died on 22 January 1918. His funeral was held at St Margaret’s Westminster and he was buried at Brookwood cemetery in Surrey. The window shows large figures of Edward I and Walter de Wenlock, Abbot of Westminster and shields associated with them. Some of the coats of arms associated with John at the base of the window are obscured by a monument. The inscription at the base reads

“In memory of John Wolfe Barry, K.C.B., F.R.S. Civil Engineer. Born 1836. Died 1918.”

Photographs of the brass and window can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library .

Further reading for Sir Charles and his sons:

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004.

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