We started this series with a pyramidal-shaped structure (see A pyramid in Trafalgar Square), so we thought it only fitting that we end with one as well.
This time, it’s not so much a monument, however, as a place to house some of London’s ever increasing population of dead. The over-crowded graveyards of early Victorian London (and the horror stories that went with them of bodies bursting forth from their graves), led to proposals for a range of innovative solutions in the early nineteenth century.
Among them was a pyramidal-shaped necropolis for Primrose Hill. Architect Thomas Willson came up with the 94 storey-high structure – which would have stood higher than St Paul’s Cathedral – to provide storage for some five million corpses with steam-powered lifts to carry the bodies to their place of rest.
Made from brick with granite facings, the base of the vast structure would have covered 18 acres. Its design, which included quarters for staff, four entrances and a central ventilation shaft, drew upon the Victorian fascination for all things Egyptian.
“It was supposed to be compact, hygienic and ornamental,” author Catharine Arnold told the BBC. “Willson hoped people would come to admire this huge pyramid from far and wide, picnicking on Primrose Hill and enjoying this splendid monument. But it would be rather like a giant car-park of the dead.”
According to the prospectus Willson, who trained at the Royal Academy, issued for potential investors, the pyramid – which was to cost £2,500 to build – would have raised a staggering sum of more than £10 million in profit when it was full.
Still, it was not to be and the idea never left the drawing board. But Willson did go on to join the board of the General Cemetery Company.
For more on London and its dead, see Catharine Arnold’s Necropolis: London and Its Dead.
January 21, 2015
Selfridges’ flagship Oxford Street store has been an institution for more than a century.
Credited as being the second biggest store in the UK, the now Grade II-listed neo-Classical premises was opened in 1909. It was designed by US architect Daniel Burnham and features five above ground stories, three basement levels and a roof terrace (a western extension, designed by Sir John Burnet, was added between 1924-29).
Less known is that there was at one stage a proposal to build a massive 450 foot high tower on top of the building. Selfridges’ founder, Harry Gordon Selfridge, backed the plan for the tower – drawn up in 1918 – and apparently spent years lobbying for permission to build it before, eventually successful in those efforts, he commissioned architect Philip Armstrong Tilden and Burnet to draw up plans (you can see some of the designs on the Royal Institute of British Architects’ website here and here and a picture of a plaster model here).
Selfridge apparently didn’t like any of the plans, however, and eventually dropped the idea, his attention instead coming to focus on building the “largest castle in the world” in Dorset (another plan which didn’t go ahead).
The tower was among a number of proposed London buildings that were never built which featured in a gingerbread display in Selfridges’ famous windows in 2013.
PICTURE: Anuradha Dullewe Wijeyeratne
January 14, 2015
This massive Gothic revival structure would have dramatically changed the skyline of Westminster but, perhaps thankfully, never got further than the drawing board.
The proposal was mooted in the early 1900s apparently amid concerns that, thanks to the number of monuments and memorials being placed within its walls, Westminster Abbey was becoming overcrowded. It was also apparently proposed as a memorial to Prince Albert.
The designs were the work of John Pollard Seddon – architect for the Church of England’s City of London Diocese – and another architect Edward Beckitt Lamb. They consisted of a 167 metre (548 foot) high tower and adjoining vast reception hall and numerous other galleries which sat at a right angle to the eastern end of the abbey minster (pictured).
Given the Clock Tower containing Big Ben is only 97.5 metres (320 feet high), the structure would have completely dominated its surrounds.
The project was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1904 but, requiring an enormous and impractical budge (not to mention its dominating aesthetics), was never pursued any further.
December 3, 2014
Fresh from the success of designing The Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851 (see our earlier post here), in 1855 Sir Joseph Paxton came up with the idea of building a covered elevated railway “girdle” which would circle parts of central and west London and alleviate traffic congestion.
The proposed 10 mile long, eight track railway – which would feature trains propelled by air pressure (an “atmospheric” system) rather than conventional steam engines and included “express” trains which would only stop at select stations – was to be constructed inside a vast, 108 foot high glass covered arcade which would also contain a road, shopping and even housing.
The trains would travel at such a speed that to get from any one point on the “girdle” to its opposite point would only take 15 minutes.
Paxton presented his proposal to a Parliamentary Select Committee in June 1855 – he had already shown it to Prince Albert whom, he said, “gives it his approval”.
He estimated the cost of his proposal – which he thought would carry some 105,000 passengers every day – at some £34 million – a figure which parliament, which had initially been supportive of the idea, found a little hard to stomach.
This was especially thanks to the fact they were already dealing with the costs of Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s vast sewer system (see our earlier post here), created as a result of the ‘Great Stink’ in 1858 when the smell of untreated human excrement and other waste in the Thames became so strong, parliament had to act.
As a result, the project – which would have crossed the Thames three times, once with a spur line that ended near Piccadilly Circus – never eventuated but the Underground’s Circle Line today follows roughly the same route Paxton’s railway would have.
Still on designs for royal palaces and today we’re looking at two designs for the same palace. Both Inigo Jones (1573-1652) and Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) drew up designs for the remodelling and expansion of Whitehall Palace.
First up was the neo-classical architect Jones who drew up plans for a vast complex of buildings (pictured left) which would replace the Tudor palace King Henry VIII had created when he transformed the grand house formerly known as York Place into a residence suitable for a king (York Place had previously been a residence of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and prior to that, the London residence of the Archbishops of York).
Jones’ complex – which apparently featured seven internal courts – covered much of what is now known as Whitehall as well as neighbouring St James’s Park with a magnificent River Thames frontage.
The first part of Jones’ grand scheme – the Banqueting House (see our earlier post here) – opened in 1622. It still survives today – pictured above – and gives a taste of the grandeur of his overall scheme.
Yet, despite the eagerness of King James I for the project, it failed to materialise. English Heritage chief executive Simon Thurley told the BBC in 2012 that the hall represented only five per cent of what Jones had planned.
King James I died in 1625 and his son King Charles I was apparently keen to continue the project – so much so that Jones submitted new plans in 1638 – but he didn’t find the funds the project needed (and, of course, as we know, then became consumed by the events of the Civil War before being beheaded outside the Banqueting House in 1649).
Following the Restoration, in the 1660s King Charles II apparently had Sir Christopher Wren quietly draw up plans to redevelop the palace but these weren’t follow through on although during the reign of King James II he did work on several projects at the palace including a new range of royal riverside apartments, terrace (remains of which can still be seen) and a chapel.
In 1698, much of the bloated Whitehall Palace – then the largest palace in Europe with more than 1,500 rooms – burnt down although the Banqueting House, though damaged, survived basically intact (in fact there’s an interesting anecdote, its veracity questionable, which has it that on hearing of the fire Wren rushed to the site and had an adjacent building blown up to create a firebreak and ensure the Banqueting House was saved).
The then king, King William III, approached Wren and he again submitted plans for its rebuilding (prior to the fire, he had already worked on several aspects of the palace including a new range of royal apartments and a chapel for King James II).
But Wren’s plans – images show a grand domed building – were largely never realised (although he did convert the Banqueting House into a chapel) and the destroyed palace never rebuilt (no doubt in large part due to the fact that King William III preferred a more rural and less damp location – such as that of Kensington Palace – thanks to his asthma).
For more on the history of the Palace of Whitehall, see Simon Thurley’s Whitehall Palace: The Official Illustrated History.
Prolific early 19th century architect Sir John Soane designed many public buildings in London including, famously, the Bank of England (since considerably altered) and the somewhat revolutionary Dulwich Picture Gallery. He also designed a number that were merely fanciful works and never commissioned nor constructed.
While Soane had been designing royal palaces as far back as the late 1770s when in Rome on his Grand Tour, in 1821 he designed one, apparently as a new home for the newly crowned King George IV.
Birds-eye view drawings show a triangular-shaped palace with grand porticoes at each of the three corners as well as in the middle of each of the three sides. Three internal courtyards surround a large central dome.
Despite Soane’s hopes for a royal commission, the king appointed John Nash to the job of official architect and so Soane’s palace never went any further than the drawing board.
He also designed a grand gateway marking the entrance to London at Kensington Gore through which the monarch would travel when heading to the State Opening of Parliament in Westminster – it, too, was never realised.
November 12, 2014
Designed as London’s response to the Eiffel Tower, Watkin’s Tower was the brainchild of railway entrepreneur and MP Sir Edward Watkin.
He apparently first approached Gustave Eiffel himself to design the tower which was to be located as the centrepiece for a pleasure park development at Wembley Park in London’s north (which, incidentally, would be reached by one of Sir Edward’s railway lines – he opened Wembley Park station to service it). But Eiffel declined the offer and Watkin subsequently launched an architectural design competition.
Among the 68 designs received from as far afield as the US and Australia were a cone-shaped tower with a railway spiralling up its exterior, a Gothic-style tower (also with a railway), a tower topped with a 1/12 scale replica of the Great Pyramid, one modelled on the spire of Bow Church in Cheapside and one topped by a giant globe (you can see the catalogue of all entries here).
The winning entry was submitted by Stewart, MacLaren and Dunn who proposed a steel eight legged tower soaring 1,200 feet (366 metres) into the sky. To be lit with electric lighting at night, it came with two observation decks with restaurants, theatres and exhibition space as well as winter gardens, Turkish baths, shops, promenades and a 90 room hotel as well as an astronomical observatory. The top of the tower would be reached by a series of elevators.
The first stage of the project – formally known as London Tower or the Wembley Park Tower – had still not been completed when Wembley Park opened in May, 1894 – standing 154 feet (47 metres tall), it was finally finished in September the following year.
It was to never rise higher. The project become mired in problems – Watkin retired through ill health (and died in 1901), the structure started to subside and the construction company went into liquidation. Dubbed Watkin’s Folly and the London Stump, what there was of the tower was eventually demolished between 1904-1907.
While the dream of the tower never came to be, the site nonetheless became a popular vehicle for recreation and the site was later used for the 1924 British Empire Exhibition with Wembley Stadium built over the spot where the tower had once stood.
It’s Trafalgar Square but not as we know it. In a new Wednesday series we’re looking at eight proposed structures in London that were never realised and first up, is a proposal which would have seen a 300 foot high pyramid on what has become one of the city’s most iconic sites.
The stepped pyramid was the brainchild of an early 19th century Tory MP, Colonel (later General) Sir Frederick William Trench, and was designed in 1815 as a grand military and naval memorial to the Napoleonic Wars with each of the structure’s 22 steps apparently dedicated to a different year of the war.
Apparently drawn up by architects Philip and Matthew Cotes Wyatt – of the famous Wyatt architectural dynasty, the pyramid – which would have been taller than St Paul’s Cathedral and pretty much covered the entire space now occupied by the square – was, according to Nick Rennison’s The Book of Lists, costed at £1 million, a figure Sir Frederick – a veteran of the wars – apparently thought was not unreasonable.
But it didn’t prove a popular design with the public and got no further than the drawing board.
Among Sir Frederick’s other unrealised dreams was an elevated railroad running between London and Hungerford Bridges, an immense new royal palace which would have covered much of the West End, and an embankment – ‘Trench’s Terrace’ – along the north bank of the Thames. An embankment was, of course, later built, but not until after his death in 1859.