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The life of Herbert Henry Bartlett

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Our namesake, Sir Herbert Henry Bartlett, had an extraordinary life and a huge influence on shaping modern London.

The life of Herbert Henry Bartlett

Signed photograph of Sir Herbert Henry Bartlett.

Credit: UCL Special Collections

Sir Herbert Henry Bartlett (1842–1921) was a civil engineer and building contractor. Born in Hardington Mandeville in rural Somerset, he moved to London as a young man to seek out an apprenticeship as an architect.

In 1865, aged 23, he joined Perry & Company, a civil engineering firm based in Bow, East London, run by John Perry, a successful East End carpenter. Bartlett was made a partner in 1872 and by 1888, after the death of all three of Perry’s sons, he became sole proprietor.

Perry & Co. was a hugely successful firm, responsible for a number of significant building projects in London throughout the second half of the 19th century, including Tower Bridge, Waterloo Station and St. Thomas’ Hospital.

Shaping London’s landmarks

In 1897, Bartlett signed an £877,000 contract with the London & Globe Finance Corporation to undertake the construction of a deep tube under the Thames from Waterloo to Baker Street. This was eventually extended to Edgware Road and would make up the first stretch of what is now the Bakerloo Line.

Due to the sheer volume of earth moved by Perry & Co., they inevitably dug up a large number of archaeological artefacts, and Bartlett took a keen interest in these treasures. He often kept the objects and had a large collection of Roman and early English pottery finds and bones of extinct animals.

Despite being a shy and retiring man, Bartlett was greatly respected in his field and held a number of posts, including president of the Chartered Institute of Building, and the London Master Builders Association, and three times Master of the Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers. In 1913, he was made a baronet.

Bartlett's donation to UCL in 1911 to fund a new building for the School of Architecture.

An anonymous donor

Bartlett was known for being unusually kind to his workforce, taking care over their health and welfare. During the Waterloo tunnelling project, special measures were put in place to ensure both the immediate safety of workers and to minimise the long-term effects of working in a subterranean environment.

He even kept a doctor on retainer for the duration of the works to tend to any incidents. Contemporary commentators remarked on the relatively low number of fatalities during the construction of Tower Bridge.

In 1911, he gave £30,000 to UCL to fund a new building to house the thriving School of Architecture, along with the Department of Applied Statistics and studios for the teaching of sculpture. He chose, however, to remain an anonymous donor until 1919 when he consented to his name being revealed, and consequently the faculty being named after him.

Bartlett also made a significant donation to Ernest Shackleton’s first voyage to Antarctica, where the explorer named ‘Mount Bartlett’ after him. Despite these far-reaching interests and a vision for modernising London’s rail network, he never embraced the car, choosing to travel to work in a horse and carriage until the day he died.

Research by Rebecca Spaven

The Bartlett is UCL's Faculty of the Built Environment, comprising 12 multidisciplinary schools, institutes and centres. Find out more:

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