This rocket-ship shaped glass skyscraper made its mark on the City of London skyline in the early Noughties after plans to build a much taller building on the site were shelved.

The award-winning building stands on the site of what was the late Victorian-era Baltic Exchange which was extensively damaged by an IRA bomb which went off in the neighbouring street, St Mary Axe (for more on the origins of the street name, see our earlier post here), in 1992.

It was initially proposed that a 92 storey building, to be known as Millennium Tower, be built on the site – it would have been the tallest building in Europe. But the plan was shelved after both Heathrow and London City Airports objected to the interference it would have on flight paths while others pointed to the rather dramatic impact it would have on the City skyline.

The site was subsequently sold to reinsurance giant Swiss Re who then commissioned Sir Norman Foster (Foster + Partners) to design a building for its UK headquarters. The resulting 41 storey, 180 metre (591 foot) tall skyscraper – which features some 24,000 square metres of glass and was said to be the first environmentally sustainable skyscraper in London – was eventually completed in late 2003 and opened in 2004.

The glass dome which sits at the top of the building offers panoramic, 360 degree views of the surrounds and is said to be a reference to the glass dome that once sat over part of the ground floor of the Baltic Exchange.

Interestingly, the nickname for the building, The Gherkin, is actually an abbreviated form of a name first coined by some design critics  who described the building as an “erotic gherkin”, according to The Guardian. Some wags have also used the nickname ‘Towering Innuendo’ for the property.

PICTURES: Top – Samuel Zeller/Unsplash; Right – David Adams.

 

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Famous for being the site of the Bank of England – “the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street” – since 1734, there’s a couple of explanations for the origins of Threadneedle Street’s name – and both relate to livery companies associated with textile industries.

The first is that of the Worshipful Company of Needlemakers, initially granted livery by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell in 1656 and then again by King Charles II in 1664. The company has a coat-of-arms featuring Adam and Eve holding up a shield on which can be seen three needles, hence Three Needles Street, the corruption of which is Threadneedle Street.

The second is that of the Merchant-Taylors’ Company, one of the 12 great livery companies, which was founded by Royal Charter in 1327. Its livery hall has been based in Threadneedle Street since the 14th century.

Either or both could be the reason for the unusual name of this City of London street, which runs from Mansion House north-east to Bishopsgate.

Other famous properties located in the street have included the headquarters of the infamous South Sea Company and the first site of the Baltic Exchange (formerly in the Virginia and Baltick Coffee House) which is now in St Mary Axe.

NOTE: The article initially said it was playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan who first coined the phrase Old Lady of Threadneedle Street. To clarify – it was actually a speech by Sheridan, an MP, in the House of Commons in which he described the bank as “an old woman” which is thought to have prompted satirist James Gillray to produce a cartoon ‘Political Ravishment of the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street in Danger’ which in turn is believed to have coined the phrase.

There’s several stories behind the rather odd name given to this narrow street which runs between Houndsditch and Leadenhall Street in the City of London – now famous for the gherkin-shaped skyscraper located within it.

St-Mary-AxeIt’s generally agreed that street’s name comes – at least partly – from a former church which it has been suggested once stood where the building known as Fitzwilliam House now stands.

Known as the Church of St Mary Axe (although its full name was apparently the somewhat longer Church of St Mary, St Ursula and her 11,000 Virgins), the medieval building was apparently demolished in the 1560s and the parish united with that of St Andrew Undershaft (this church still sits on the corner of St Mary Axe and Leadenhall Street).

The reasons for the church to be so named remain a matter of speculation. The most interesting version (and the one that would explain the church’s longer name) has it that the name was given due to an axe that was once on display in the church.

The axe had apparently come from Europe where legend says it was one of three axes used by the Huns (some say the three included Atilla himself) to slaughter 11,000 handmaidens who had been travelling in Europe with St Ursula. St Ursula herself was fatally shot with arrows by the Huns’ leader.

How and why the axe came to be on display in this particular church remains something of a mystery but so well did the church become identified with the gruesome relic that it became known as the church of St Mary Axe.

Another version we’ve come across states that the church took on the name because its patrons were the the Skinners’ Company who used such axes. Yet another suggests that the street was named after the church of St Mary and that of a nearby tavern which operated under a sign bearing the image of an axe (but it’s possible the tavern had such a sign because of its proximity to the church in the first place).

These days, as well as being the location of St Andrew Undershaft (now part of the parish of St Helen’s Bishopsgate) and the building known as the Gherkin (it’s official name is 30 St Mary Axe), St Mary Axe is also the place where, on 10th April, 1992, an IRA bomb exploded outside the Baltic Exchange, killing three people.

PICTURE: The Gherkin with St Andrew Undershaft in the foreground.