Caroline Shenton BOOKtalk

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Caroline Shenton

Mark D'Arcy in discussion with author and historian Caroline Shenton on her book Mr Barry's War: Rebuilding the Houses of Parliament After the Great Fire of 1834.

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And there was a time when a lesser figure then Benjamin Disraeli said


that an architect be hanged. The current Houses of Parliament rose


from the ashes of the fire and that story is told today. Her is Mr


Barry's war Caroline, the Mr Barry was the architect of the Victorian


building the we knew today and he worked with a medievalist designer.


What was the nature of the partnership? Who did what? Charles


Barry was the architect in charge. He brought people into help him.


Barry was a brilliant classical architect, fantastic at ground


planning. To get the Gothic detailing that was required by the


rules. Thereafter, they had a partnership on and off in creating


this amazingly famous building. The Gothic detailing is what makes the


Palace of Westminster, isn't it? The gold, murals, the statue. It is what


makes the Palace of Westminster on the service. You have to remember


this is extraordinary in terms of its planning, the way it is laid


out. The way that people can circulate around it. That was


Barry's real genius and contribution to the overall plan. He was the


person who was having to deal with all of the politics, the reputation


issues associated with building the Palace as well. This was a great


mega project of its error with vast amount of public and political and


royal -- its era. Did it ever buckle under the strain of scrutiny? It


started off well. His co-architect regarded Barry as his mental. Both


men were geniuses. They were the only men who understood each other.


-- was his mental. They had very different personalities, Barry was


very measured, tactful, good politics. Kept to a regular routine.


Had a very stable home life throughout the course of the


building. His co-architect was very emotional. Had affairs, married


three times. You always know what he's thinking about. His letters


survive and you have a really good of the ups and downs of where he


was. Barry's correspondence was destroyed either by him by his son


's subsequent to his death. We have do understand him through first-hand


accounts. We never hear his voice. Let's go back to the great fire that


destroyed Parliament. Was it immediately obvious that they were


going to rebuild on that site? There was considerable debate following


the fire as to whether Parliament should move away altogether. There


have been suggestions leading up to the fire that Regents Park should be


chosen. In fact became actually offered Buckingham Palace. He hated


Buckingham Palace. That was rejected. Within five days of the


fire itself, the person in charge of royal palaces at the time decided


that there would be temporarily changes built on site for the


duration of any rebuilding and then they let a competition happen to


enable an architect to come forward. By a competition? One of the


interesting things about the competition brief was that it had to


be in a Gothic or Elizabethan style. Why a competition, why a style?


Initially it was thought that it was going to go to Robert Smirk. He was


a favourite of Robert Peel, the Prime Minister. There was a


firestorm of complaint in the press and the public realm and so Smack


didn't get the job and it was decided that there would be a public


competition. Anyone could enter and would pay a pound to get the ground


plans for the site. One of the key roles set by the members was that it


should be in the Gothic or Elizabethan style and by Elizabethan


they meant perpendicular Gothic, like you get at Kings College


Cambridge, for example. One of the reasons they said that in the


competition was that the ruined Chapel of Saint Stephen 's revealed


again because of the fire had come back to life having been bad back,


it was their right on the doorstep. As they would debating what was


going to be happening. I think that influenced them tremendously in


terms of what style. So they had a Gothic masterpiece right in the


middle of the site. Yes, tottering. Still there. You talked a lot


earlier about how Barry's genius meant that the public could


circulate around and that of course is a complete contrast to what had


gone before because the old Palace of Westminster which was destroyed


by fire was basically a higgledy-piggledy conglomeration of


buildings over the centuries. Was there an idea that there was


something much better organised in the future needed? Yes. Much bigger


spaces, dedicated division lobbies, enough space for libraries, four


restaurants. It is to meet constituents. It was actually very


specifically laid out in the competition rules what was required.


How good was the competition entries that came in Chris McCann many? 97


entries. --? How many? Some were completely mad. Somewhat pedestrian.


A handful will really interesting. The judges found themselves having


to look through 1400 different drawings from the competitors to


decide who was going to win. What sort of Houses of Parliament might


we have had? Thomas Hopper who was a favourite architect of George IV put


forward a scheme where he was going to doubles and Stephen's Chapel and


have the old building being the new House of Commons and the new


duplicate Saint Stephen's coming the House of Lords. He also proposed


doubling Westminster Hall. I can't imagine how that would have worked


or what they would have been used for. His scheme was pretty wacky.


And an entry that didn't get sent in is portrayed in a painting by an


architect called JM Gandhi and he has created a giant classical


Sennett house in St James's Park for the House of Lords which is an


absolutely hilarious thing. Extraordinary designs that have come


forward. Barry wins it. Incidentally, Augustus Pugin was to


timing him at this point working for another designer. 'S right. To make


one was known as being very good -- Augustus Pugin was known for being


very good at Gothic design. He was doing the whole design on his other


one, but Barry had his design and he asked Augustus Pugin to add to it.


He would change Augustus Pugin's designed after he received the extra


things that Augustus Pugin had put on. It was a melding of the two


men's genius. And Barry and Augustus Pugin won hands down. It was thought


to be the outstanding entry. Augustus Pugin was not credited. It


was Barry's name that when Ford as the architect. That was the start of


a quarter of a century long project. It was not smooth sailing the whole


way through. Augustus Pugin went for three years to do his own


architectural project... Practice and then Barry asked to come back in


the middle of the 18 1840s with rooms that he was having problems


with, particularly the Royal throne. Augustus Pugin came back in the


mid-18 40s and initially there collaboration was very friendly. As


the pressure of the project continued, the money started to run


out, Barry had to cut Augustus Pugin's salary as well as his own.


And poor old Augustus Pugin, unbeknownst to everybody, had this


mystery illness which turned out in the end to be syphilis and by the


time of his death at the age of 40, it had got to his brain and had


turned him in Saint. A lot of the mood swings, a lot of the ups and


downs that you see in his correspondence are because of his


mental health failing terribly. Augustus Pugin came to a wretched


end, but Barry came to a sticky one as well. All the interested parties


trying to get their pet schemes in. Tell us about that. The most


notorious one was the ventilation schemes of a Scottish chemist called


Doctor David Boswell read, he was brought in as the condition an


expert over Barry's head and proceeded to punch holes in Barry's


designed to create great events through the palace itself that


compromise the fireproofing that Barry had put in very carefully to


ensure that there wasn't going to be a repeat of 1834. In fact, we are


still living with that legacy today because it is those pence that


Boswell read put in there whenever used, that are filled with all the


obsolete wiring and pipework and asbestos that mean that today the


Houses of Parliament need restoration and all that needs to be


ripped out. That is not the only problem. There is a problem with Big


Ben, the bell, which cracked. Yes, Big Ben broke twice. The first Big


Ben was cast in Stockton appointees, it managed to make its way on a


boat. It was pulled across Westminster Bridge by a team of 16


white horses to great clapping crowds and then it was wrong for a


year on the ground in new Palace Yard to test it and just a few days


before it was due to be installed, it cracked. That had to be broken up


and the second Big Ben was recast. It turned up at Westminster, it was


fine after the test readings, but then it was discovered that it was


too big to get into the base of the tower. It had to be tipped on its


side and pushed in sideways. Winch tap. It was righted at the top and


once it started to ring it cracked again. It is still there. They


turned it a bit. Meanwhile, the MPs weren't too sold on the new common's


chamber that Barry had designed for them, either? They complained


bitterly about the acoustics. That is where they suggested hanging him.


Yes, why it was so expensive, why it had taken so long and they demanded


that he lowered the ceiling of the chamber to improve the sound


quality. He did, but that involved cutting through Augustus Pugin's


stained-glass window design that he was so furious that he refused to


ever set foot in the common's chamber. As it began to emerge from


the wreckage of the original parliamentary buildings, did people


start to like it or see the point of it once they could see at emerging?


Epic the public was always behind it and particularly the celebrities


that Barry brought in across European royal houses absolutely


adored it. It became the must see site of London for royal visitors


coming to see Queen Victoria. It was really the politicians, the


Government, who were constantly complaining about the building.


There were casualties along the way, by spectacularly the painted chamber


which had started life as the bedroom of King Henry the third,


full of medieval murals as the name suggests and that was just casually


knocked down as the work went on. Yes. That was the temporary House of


Lords. All the paintings had been burned away by the fire itself, but


the walls were found to be sturdy enough to be able to be reroofed as


this temporarily Shaq, if you like. It was swept away in 1851. As well


as all the other old buildings that weren't kept. Westminster remains


and the undercroft Chapel, as This whole complex has evolved and


we are into another phase of redevelopment. Another era of


restoration and renewal to get the building into shape. Should the


people conducting that look on this tale and tremble? Well, there are


lessons from history but they are really lessons from any major


building programme. One of the interesting proposals coming out of


the joint committee on the restoration and renewal of the


Houses of Parliament is that there should be a delivery authority, like


the Olympic delivery authority that was so successful, and had a rehab


that in the 19th century that would have solved a lot of his problems.


It was never quite clear to him who was his client? Was it the office of


woods, was it the Government, was at the Treasury, was at the individual


MPs, was at the Prime Minister? Understanding the governance between


who is in charge and he was delivering is really important, I


think that is what the delivery authority is designed to do. You


have written about the great fire that destroyed the original


buildings Comey you have now described the emergence of the vote


Tory and Palace of Westminster. Can we look forward to -- of the


Victorian Palace of Westminster. Can we look forward to volume three? I'm


still working on what that might be! Thank you for joining us. Book talk


will be back again next week, do join us then.


It is frustrating when the FBI refuses to answer this committee's


questions. But leaks relevant information to the media. In other


words, they don't talk to us, but somebody talks to the media.


Director Comey, have you ever been an anonymous source in news reports


about matters relating to the Trump investigation or the Clinton