There’s several candidates for this title – NatWest Tower, built in 1980, has been described as London’s first “genuine” skyscraper (we’ll deal with that in our current special) but we’re looking back to earlier times (after all, the term first started to be used in the 1880s) when candidates included 55 Broadway in Westminster.

Once the tallest office building in London, 55 Broadway was constructed in 1927-29 as the headquarters of the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (which later became London Transport and then Transport for London). The building contains the St James’s Park Underground Station which is one of the most intact of the early underground stations.

Designed by Charles Holden (also noted for his design of the University of London’s Senate House and war cemeteries in Belgium and France) , the 14 storey Art Deco building is cruciform in plan to maximise street views and the amount of light entering each office as well as to ensure that the bulk of the building’s tower didn’t overwhelm the surrounding streetscapes (and to ensure the building complied with the then current building height restrictions).

The building, the design of which was influenced by US architecture, is made from a steel frame encased on concrete and faced in Portland stone. Based on a two storey pedestal which covers the entire site, the spur wings around the tower rise a further five storeys above the base while the tower itself rises 53.3 metres (175 foot).

Internally, the building features bronze and marble decoration and what was a state-of-the-art system known as a Cutler mailing chute to send letters around the building.

Of special note are the many sculptures which adorn the building, described as a “showcase of pre-Second World War British sculpture”.

Among them are two Jacob Epstein sculptures representing ‘Day’ and ‘Night’ and eight figurative reliefs representing the winds for each cardinal point, the work of sculptors led by Eric Gill and also including Eric Aumonier, Alfred Gerrard, Samuel Rabonovitch, Allan Wyon and Henry Moore (it was his first public commission).

The sculptures proved somewhat controversial at time particularly due to Epstein’s depiction of ‘Day’ featuring a nude male – Ezra Pound famously said Epstein was contributing to a “cult of ugliness”. And while this sculpture eventually had his manhood truncated slightly following the outcry, the sculptures were otherwise left untouched.

Holden won the RIBA London Architecture Medal for the building which received Grade I-listing in 2011 (it had earlier been Grade II listed), partly due to its being London’s first ‘skyscraper’ and a building which “heralded the epoch of tall steel-framed office buildings”.

The building was damaged during the Blitz but remains largely intact. There are now plans to convert the building to luxury apartments although at present Transport for London continue to use the building.

PICTURES: Top – Epstein’s ‘Night’ – One of the less controversial sculptures adorning the building (Loz Pycock (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0))/Right – The mass of 55 Broadway with the controversial (and altered) sculpture of ‘Day’ (David Adams).

Note: The original article said 55 Broadway was once the tallest building but should have, of course, said tallest office building. St Paul’s Cathedral was the tallest building until 1967. The building was also damaged during the Blitz but apparently not by a flying bomb.

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Now the name of a short, crescent-shaped thoroughfare which links the Strand with Kingsway in the West End (and the area surrounding it), the name actually refers back to the Saxon era.

The name Aldwych, which translates roughly as “old trading place” or “old settlement”, referred to a seventh century Anglo-Saxon settlement which was built outside the walls of the Roman city of Londinium. It was after Alfred the Great had the walls of the Roman city refortified in the late 9th century – moving the settlement back inside, that the former Anglo-Saxon settlement eventually became known by the moniker ‘old’.

The modern use of the word for the area dates from just after the dawn of the 20th century when the new street was created, doing away with a number of former streets including the notorious Wych Street. The name was subsequently used for a station on the tramway which ran under Kingsway (closed in the 1950s) and for an Underground station located nearby on the Strand (originally named Strand Station, it was soon changed to Aldwych and closed in 1994).

Notable buildings along Aldwych today include both Australia House and India House, both home to the High Commissions of their nations and both of which date from the early 20th century. It’s also home to Bush House, formerly the headquarters of the BBC World Service and now part of King’s College, London, as well as a number of theatres – including the Aldwych Theatre – and hotels.

 

 With just 11 months to go until the launch of London’s Elizabeth line, new purple roundels have been rolled out at stations including Tottenham Court Road (above), Farringdon and Custom House (below). They all feature the iconic Johnston typeface, first commissioned in 1913 and designed by Edward Johnston (with updates made in 2016). Construction of the Elizabeth line, being carried out by Crossrail Ltd, has now entered its final stages and the line will go live from December when 10 new state-of-the-art stations, all step-free, will open. The line, which will enable a journey from Paddington to Canary Wharf in just 17 minutes, will initially offer three services: from Paddington (Elizabeth line station) to Abbey Wood via central London; from Paddington (mainline station) to Heathrow (Terminals 2 & 3 and 4); and, from Liverpool Street (mainline station) to Shenfield. The full route, which will run out to Reading in the east, opens in 2019. For more information on the line, see Transport for London’s page here.

PICTURES: Courtesy of Crossrail: top – Monica Wells; below – James O Jenkins.

This name – now only usually used in reference to several buildings and landmarks around the Kings Cross area including churches, a road, hotel and railway stations – was originally that of a separate village.

The village was named for the church in its midst which had been dedicated to St Pancras. The church – which has been dated back to at least the Norman era – is said to have been built on one of the earliest sites of Christian worship in the UK and was dedicated to a Roman-era boy martyr, St Pancras (in Latin, St Pancratius).

Tradition holds that St Pancras was a citizen of Rome who converted to Christianity and was beheaded for his faith during the Diocletian persecution in the early 4th century when aged just 14. When Pope Gregory the Great sent St Augustine on his mission to England in the late 6th century, he sent relics of the saint with him, hence why many English churches are dedicated to St Pancras.

The village which had been based around the church was apparently largely abandoned in the Middle Ages – possibly due to flooding – and the area was only resettled in the late 18th century with the development of Camden Town and Somers Town.

While the church – now known as St Pancras Old Church – was restored in the mid-19th century, a new parish church – known as St Pancras New Church – which built about a kilometre away on Euston Road.

PICTURE: Stephen McKay/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

It was 90 years ago this month – 6th and 7th January, 1928 – that the River Thames flooded disastrously in what was the last major flood in central London.

Fourteen people are reported to have died and some 4,000 made homeless when the river burst its banks and spilled over the top of the Thames Embankment. Part of the Chelsea Embankment collapsed.

The flood – which was blamed on a range of factors including a sudden thaw upstream, heavy rain, a tidal surge and the impact of dredging – peaked at about 1.30am on 7th January at a height of 18 foot, three inches (5.56 metres) above ordnance datum.

The city saw extensive flooding on the City of London itself as well as in Southwark and as far upriver as Putney and Hammersmith and downriver in Greenwich and Woolwich as well as beyond.

Most of the deaths occurred when the embankment gave way near Lambeth Bridge and a wall of water swept through the slums on the Westminster side of the bridge with 10 people losing their lives.

Among the buildings flooded were the Tate Gallery at Millbank – where many works including some by JMW Turner were damaged, parts of the Houses of Parliament including Westminster Hall and the House of Commons, numerous Underground stations and Blackwall and Rotherhithe tunnels. The moat of the Tower of London, dry for 80 years, was filled.

While the flood waters receded by the end of the day, the damage took years to repair with many buildings in Millbank, the worst affected area, demolished. Embankments were raised in the wake of the flooding but it wasn’t until after the North Sea flood of 1953 that authorities took action to build the Thames Barrier (it was eventually completed in 1982).

Above – A marker recording the height of the flood outside Trinity Hospital in Greenwich (the plaque below right records the details).

The Hatton Garden diamond district is the inspiration behind a new work by artist Simon Periton which will appear inside the new Elizabeth Line station at Farringdon when it opens in December, 2018. A series of giant gems will appear to tumble down and along the walls of the station’s western ticket hall in what has been described as a “huge glazed frieze”. Each ‘gem’ will be created using special paint and then backlit so it shimmers and appears three dimensional. Periton is also creating a work of art for the station’s eastern ticket hall which will see exterior glazing being placed on three sides of the building featuring an intricate pattern reminiscent of the elaborate Victorian-era metalwork of the historic Smithfield Market found opposite. Says the artist: “The feel of each site is very different. The artwork for the Eastern Ticket Hall is visually more organic. Not only does the intricate pattern reflect the elaborate Victorian metalwork of Smithfield Market, it also references fragmented elements of the fauna and flora sold traditionally in the market. The design for this site is printed to emulate etched glass. The artwork design for the Western Ticket Hall is based on a large faceted diamond. A series of these giant gems cascade down and spin around the concourse, animating the space and echoing the movement of commuters. This design will be printed in bright coloured ceramic inks.” The artworks are just a couple of the many being incorporated into the new Elizabeth line stations under the Crossrail Art Programme. For more, see www.crossrail.co.uk/. PICTURES: Courtesy of Crossrail


It’s 40 years ago this month since the Concorde – the ultimate in luxury plane travel – set off for the first flight on what would be – for almost three decades, at least – a regular service between London and New York.

The British Airways service between London’s Heathrow and New York’s JFK airports began on 22nd November, 1977 – the same date as regular services between Paris and New York – after a ban on the Concorde landing in New York was lifted by the US Supreme Court.

The flight came almost two years after the first commercial flights of the Concorde anywhere in the world had started in January, 1976, between London and Bahrain, and Paris and Rio via Dakar.

With the jets flying at a cruising speed of Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound), the journey from London to New York took an average of three-and-a-half hours (compared with seven to eight hours for a subsonic flight). Concorde still holds the record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by a civil aircraft – a flight from New York to London on 7th February, 1996, which took just two hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds.

The aircraft – BA had seven in service – seated 100 passengers in two cabins – 40 in the front and 60 in the rear – and a crew of nine. The London to New York service (and the return trip) was particularly popular among celebrities.

The London to New York route hosted the last commercial flight of the Concorde on 24th October, 2003.

The decision to stop flying the Concorde followed a July, 2000, tragedy in which an Air France Concorde had crashed while taking off in Paris, killing 109 people on the plane and four on the ground. Safety concerns had seen the planes grounded for more than a year. And when they did finally take to the skies again in November, 2001, the world had witnessed the September 11 terror attacks – a fact which was said to have led a dramatic drop in passenger numbers.  In the end, it was said to be these declining passenger numbers along with the rising maintenance costs of ageing fleets which led to its demise.

One of the retired British Airways Concordes – it was used for spare parts by BA and never used commercially – and the world’s only surviving Concorde simulator, built in 1974, can be found just outside London at the Brooklands Museum in Weybridge, Surrey.

There are apparently several supersonic jet passenger planes in development but when – or indeed if – they end up flying the New York to London route remains to be seen.

PICTURES – NOW AND THEN: Top – A Concorde in retirement (Simon Boddy, licensed under CC BY-NC SA 2.0); Below – The British Airways official handover ceremony in 1976 (Steve Fitzgerald under GNU Free Documentation License 1.2).


PICTURE: Rene Böhmer/Unsplash

London’s Docklands Light Railway – the DLR as it’s better known – is celebrating 30 years of operation. The railway was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in the summer of 1987 and then had just 11 single carriage trains serving 15 stations. Extended six times since and now including some 38 kilometres of track, it now serves 45 stations using mainly three carriage trains. Carrying some 6.7 million passengers in its first year, it now carries a massive 122 million people annually. To mark the occasion, Transport for London has released a Destination DLR travel guide featuring 30 attractions across east and south-east London all easily reached by the DLR, ranging from the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich and the Tower of London to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Wilton’s Music Hall. Transport for London have also released a new diagram of the DLR system (pictured below). PICTURES: Transport for London.

A nickname for a section of Paddington (or is it Maida Vale?) centred on the junction of Regent’s Canal and the Grand Union Canal (which links through to Paddington Basin), the origins of the term Little Venice are somewhat mysterious.

Some claim the area owes its moniker to the 19th century poet Robert Browning who moved back to London from Italy after his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, died in 1861 and settled in the area until 1887 (before returning to Italy – Venice – where he died in 1889).

It was while living in the area that some say he apparently coined the name (his residence there, meanwhile, is also noted in the naming of Browning’s Pool, located at the junction of the two canals).

Others, however, give credit to another iconic 19th century literary figure – Lord Byron – but suggest the context wasn’t so much praise but rather a wishful statement noting that London could have had its own Venice if the canals weren’t so filthy.

Either way, the name apparently didn’t gain much currency until after World War II (and the ‘Little’ was apparently a late addition – the area was first simply known as London’s Venice).

These days, Little Venice is a sought-after residential district and hosts some great cafes as well as pubs and theatres – including the Puppet Theatre Barge. It also serves as a terminus for various canal boat companies and hosts the annual IWA Canalway Cavalcade, which has been taking place since 1983 (pictured above).

As well as boasting its own island, Browning’s Pool, meanwhile, is also home to Rembrandt Gardens, named so in 1975 in honour of the 700th anniversary of the founding of Amsterdam.

Robert Browning aside, others who have lived in the area reportedly include artist Lucian Freud, singer Robbie Williams, entrepreneur Richard Branson and Michael Bond, creator of Paddington Bear.

PICTURE: Paul Hudson/CC BY 2.0

King’s Cross railway station, the western concourse. Designed by John McAslan, the semi-circular building – which opened in 2012 – features a steel roof engineered by Arup, claimed to be the longer single-span station structure in Europe. The image was taken with a fisheye lens. PICTURE:  Colin/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0.

The fourth annual ‘Performance Festival’ opens at the V&A in South Kensington tomorrow. Highlights include a preview of the V&A’s exclusive virtual reality recording of David Bowie’s musical Lazarus, the museum’s first ever stand-up comedy night and a premiere screening of the film Lady Macbeth followed by a Q&A with director William Oldroyd, actress Florence Pugh and costume designer Holly Waddington. The festival, which runs until Sunday, 30th April, is being run in conjunction with the display The History of Europe – Told by its Theatres currently in the museum’s Theatre and Performance Gallery. Admission free to most events/selected events are ticketed in advance. For more, see vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/performance-festival.

The secrets and hidden spaces of the London Underground will be laid bare in an open day at the London Transport Museum’s Acton Depot this weekend. Activities include art and poster tours, a program of talks including discussions of the finds made during the Crossrail excavations, London’s mail rail and the Thames Tunnel, miniature railway rides and the chance to see heritage vehicles including the restored 1892 ‘Carriage 353’ . There’s also plenty of options for eating and shopping. Runs Saturday and Sunday (22nd and 23rd April). Admission charge applies but kids are free. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/museum-depot/open-weekends

Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing has been commissioned to create a statue of suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett for Parliament Square, it was announced last week. The statue will be the first female statue to stand in the square when it’s unveiled next year as well as the first to do so which was created by a woman.

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charing-cross

Charing Cross Tube station. PICTURE: Melissa Richards/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

tavistock_street_londonNow located on a street of another name, London’s oldest street sign is generally believed to be that of Yorke Street and dates from 1636.

The rather small sign, which is located on a building dating from the 1730s, is now located high up at 34-36 Tavistock Street in Covent Garden (above a blue plaque commemorating author Thomas de Quincey (1785-1859), writer of Confessions of an English Opium Eater).

Another of the oldest signs can be found at the corner of Chigwell Hill and The Highway – it refers to ‘Chigwell Streate’ and bears the date 1678.

PICTURE: The Yorke Street sign is the white oblong at the top right under which can be seen the blue plaque (Via Spudgun67/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0)

And so here are the five most popular new articles we published in 2016…

5. LondonLife – New Underground line named in honour of Queen Elizabeth II…

4. This Week in London – Norway on show at Dulwich; Bruegel the Elder at the Courtauld; and, Kew Gardens celebrates the orchid… 

3. A Moment in London’s History – Sir Walter Raleigh leaves the Tower… 

2. Lost London – The King’s Mews at Charing Cross…

1. (10) iconic London film locations…1. Mary Poppins and feeding the birds at St Paul’s Cathedral… 

euston-gardensThe name Euston first makes an appearance in London in the Georgian era when Euston Square was laid out north of the City.

The moniker came from the square’s landlord, the Duke of Grafton, who owned a country seat called Euston Hall near Thetford in Suffolk, and apparently derives from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Efe’s Tun’ meaning the ‘farmstead of a man called Efe’.

The now much altered square (the gardens of which are pictured) was originally developed in the 1820s; in the 1850s the New Road – which had been developed by the second Duke of Grafton, Charles Fitzroy, in the 1730s to take farm traffic off Oxford Street and Holborn – was renamed Euston Road.

It only makes sense then that when the mainline station on that road was developed in the 1830s (it opened in 1837, exactly a month after Queen Victoria became the monarch), it too was named Euston (as was the now long-gone Euston Arch – see our earlier post here).

Euston Underground Station opened in 1907 while Euston Square Underground station, which originally opened as Gower Street in 1863, was renamed Euston Square in 1909.

Interestingly the area around Euston Road also features numerous references to Grafton in honour of the duke – Grafton Street, Grafton Place and Grafton Way among them – while other streets also have links to the names of the dukes’ family – Warren Street (which also lends its name to a Tube station), for example, is named for Anne Warren, the wife of the second duke’s grandson.

PICTURE:  Kevin Gordon/CC BY-SA 2.0

the-mansion-houseMansion House, perhaps best known as a tautological-sounding Tube station, is actually the name of the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London (a suitable subject, we felt, given the upcoming Lord Mayor’s Show in November).

mh2Designed by George Dance the Elder and built between 1739 to 1753 (many years after the idea of an official residence for the Lord Mayor was proposed in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London), the Palladian-style property – located a stone’s throw from the Royal Exchange and the Bank of England on a short stretch of street named after the property – has been the home of the Lord Mayor since the latter date.

It was built on the site of what was known as the Stocks Market (it had previously been the location of some stocks – used to punish people for various misdemeanours), the name isn’t actually as repetitive as it looks but actually means “official residence” and was previously used to designate homes which went with particular ecclesiastical jobs.

As well as accommodation for the Lord Mayor, the interior of the Grade I-listed property features two halls known as the Egyptian Hall and what was initially known as the Dancing Gallery but is now the Ballroom (we’ll be taking a more in-depth look at the property at a later date).

The Tube station opened in 1871 as the eastern terminus of the Metropolitan District Railway. Interestingly, Bank station is actually closer to the property with Mansion House station located to the south-west down Queen Victoria Street.

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©-London-Met-Archives-Collage-323131Albury Street in Deptford, 1911. The image, taken by the London County Council, is just one of thousands which form part of a new free, online resource, Collage – The London Picture Archive. The world’s largest collection of images of London, the archive contains more than 250,000 images of London spanning the period from 1450 to the present day. It includes more than 8,000 historical photographs of life on the capital’s streets as well as major events – everything from the Great Fire of London in 1666 to the construction of Tower Bridge in the late 19th century. The photographs, maps, prints, paintings and films in the collection are all drawn from the collections of the City of London Corporation’s Guildhall Art Gallery and the London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell. Other images shown here include (above right) ‘Street Life in London’, 1877 (taken by Adolphe Smith and John Thomson, this image was an early use of photography); (below) ‘Construction of the Metropolitan Railway (the first tube line)’, 1862 (taken at King’s Cross Station); and (far below), ‘The Construction of Tower Bridge’, 1891-1892 (taken from Tower Embankment). Collage – The London Picture Archive is free to access and available at www.collage.cityoflondon.gov.uk.

All images © London Metropolitan Archives (City of London).

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©-London-Met-Archives-Collage-323343

We finish our series looking at notable English Heritage blue plaques with a look at a plaque which not only commemorates a prominent Londoner but, unusually, also displays there for all to see the reason (well, an important part of it, anyway) for his prominence.

Edward-Johnston1Yes, we’re talking about Edward Johnston (1872-1944), a master calligrapher who was not only credited with starting the modern revival of the art but is also noted for having created the famous Johnston typeface which he developed for London Transport in the early 20th century.

In a lovely touch, the sans serif typeface he created is that used on the plaque – located at premises at 3 Hammersmith Terrace in Chiswick where he lived from 1905-1912 – itself.

The plaque, which was erected on the building in 1977 by the Greater London Council, was the first to feature the typeface but isn’t the only one: in fact there are four, all of which commemorate people related to London Transport.

The other three commemorated include Frank Pick (1878-1941), a London transport administrator who steered the development of London’s corporate identity – he’s commemorated with a plaque on his former property at 15 Wildwood Road, Hampstead Garden Suburb, with a Greater London Council plaque erected in 1981).

They also include Albert Henry Stanley, Lord Ashfield (1874-1948), the first chairman of London Transport (placed on his former home at 43 South Street, Mayfair, in 1984 by London County Council); and, the most recent plaque commemorating Harry Beck (1902-1974), designer of the London Underground map (placed by English Heritage in 2013 on his former property at 14 Wesley Road in Leyton).

PICTURE: Edwardx/CC BY-SA 4.0

OK, so it doesn’t look like the most historic of pubs but the Bricklayer’s Arms in Putney does boast an interesting history (as well as a much accoladed menu ales).

The-Bricklayer's-ArmsThe Waterman Street pub is apparently the oldest in the south-western riverside district, dating back to 1826 when it was constructed on the site of a former coaching house and blacksmith’s forge.

Then named the Waterman’s Arms, thanks no doubt to its Thames proximity and the fact that, as a result, most of the clientele were freeman and lightermen working on the river, it changed its name to the Bricklayer’s Arms around the turn of the 20th century when, thanks to the extension of the District line railway, there was a sizeable amount of construction going on in the area.

It was briefly known as the Putney Brick before the current owners – actress Becky Newman and her husband John – took over the pub just over 10 years ago, during which time it has won a swag of awards including being named one of the top 10 English pubs by National Geographic and winning the CAMRA National Pub of the Year Award in 2007 and 2009.

For more on the pub (and the plans to extend it), check out www.bricklayers-arms.co.uk.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro-Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0 (image has been cropped and brightened)