Loved and loathed by Londoners over the years since its construction in the mid-Sixties, the column-like BT Tower, despite growing competition, remains a dominant feature of the city’s skyline.

The tallest building in Britain at the time of its official opening in 1965, the 189 metre tall structure (including a 12 metre tall mast) was commissioned by the General Post Office to support microwave aerials which carried communications from London to the rest of the UK.

Designed by a team led by architect GR Yeats under the direction of Eric Bedford, chief architect of the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, its narrow, tubular shape was engineering to reduce wind resistance and ensure stability.

Construction of the tower started in June, 1961, and some 13,000 tonnes of steel and 4,600 square metres of specially treated glass were used in building the £2.5 million tower.

Along with the aerials capable of handling up to 150,000 simultaneous telephone calls and 40 TV channels, the tower also housed 16 floors of technical and power equipment, as well as other floors with offices and even a revolving restaurant on the 34th floor (it made one revolution every 22 minutes).

PM Harold Wilson did the honours of officially declaring the tower open on 8th October, 1965. Queen Elizabeth II’s first visit would come on 17th May, 1966, just two days before then Postmaster General Tony Benn opened the tower’s public areas – an observation gallery and a 34th floor cocktail bar and restaurant, called Top of the Tower, which was managed by Butlins. More than 50,000 visited the observation gallery in the first three weeks after its opening.

A bomb exploded in the men’s toilets on the 31st floor – the location of the viewing gallery – in October, 1971, and took two years to repair. Despite this – no-one has apparently ever claimed responsibility for the bombing, public areas continued to remain open until the restaurant closed in 1980 and access to the observation gallery ceased in 1981 (although the restaurant is still used for corporate and charity events).

Originally known as the Post Office Tower, the tower has had many other official names since it was built including the Museum Tower, the London Telecom Tower and the BT Tower while staff suggestions at the time it was being constructed included the Pointer, Spindle, Liaiser and Telebeacon. Interestingly, the tower was apparently designated an official secret when built and didn’t appear on Ordnance Survey maps until after MP Kate Hoey, following on from other members who had “given examples of seemingly trivial information that remains officially secret”, told Parliament of its address – 60 Cleveland Street – in February, 1993.

The now Grade II-listed tower, which is located just off Tottenham Court Road in Fitzrovia, remained the tallest building in London until it was overtaken by the NatWest Tower in 1980. The last of its famous satellite dishes were removed in 2011.

Its wrap-around LED light display, officially called the Information Band, went live in 2009. It has since carried special messages on occasions like Remembrance Day and Valentine’s Day as well as an Olympic countdown and even the first ever tweet sent by the Queen (a message to mark the opening of the BT-sponsored ‘Information Age’ communications gallery at the Science Museum in 2014).

The tower has featured numerous times in literature and film, the latter including Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

PICTURES: Top – BT Tower with Wembley in the background (Robert Speirs, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Right – View of BT Tower from The Monument (Dun.can, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

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This Fitzrovia pub, famous for its literary connections (more about those in a moment), takes its name from a popular 18th century military hero.

marquis-of-granbyJohn Manners, the Marquis of Granby, played a key role for Britain during the Seven Years War – between Britain and her allies and France and hers – and, thanks to his popularity among the soldiers who served under his command, had numerous pubs named for him (he apparently also had a hand in setting up many old soldiers as publicans).

In his most famous battlefield exploit, while leading a series of cavalry charges at the Battle of Warburg in 1760 (in actions which saved the day), he apparently lost his hat and wig and was forced to salute his commander, Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, without them.

All of which explains why the pub sign doesn’t show him wearing a hat and why soldiers from his former regiment, the Blues and Royals, have the unique privilege in being able to salute while not wearing headwear. The fact Manners was bald also apparently led to the coining of the phrase, “going at it bald-headed” – a reference to his fearlessness.

The pub, located at 2 Rathbone Street (on the corner with Percy Street – the address was formerly known as 38 Percy Street), is famous for its literary clientele during the years between the two World Wars – among those who drank here were writers Dylan Thomas and TS Eliot. They apparently shared the space with some low-level gangland figures.

For more, see www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/london/themarquisofgranbyrathbonestreetlondon.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0/

BT_Tower-1This West End district, located between Bloomsbury, Marylebone and Soho, probably owes its name to the Fitzroy Tavern, a public house which in turn is believed to owe its name to the Dukes of Grafton, whose family name was Fitzroy.

The Fitzroys (the name derives from  a Norman-French phrase and was typically associated with base-born royal sons), owned land in the area until the end of the 1800s.

The family first become associated with the area after the Manor of Tottenham (more on that name in an upcoming post) came into the possession of Henry Fitzroy, an illegitimate son of King Charles II who became the Earl of Euston and later Duke of Grafton.

Incidentally, the grand Fitzroy Square, developed by the duke’s grandson, and Fitzroy Street are both also named after the family as are numerous other locations in the area including Grafton Street.

Fashionable as a residential area in the 1700s, the houses were gradually transformed into workshops – the area was noted for furniture-makers in particular – or cheap tenements and it’s during this period in the early 1800s that artists like John Constable were living in the area.

The name Fitzrovia apparently became popularised for the district which in the inter-war years, due to the community of artists and writers that met at the pub; it is said to have first appeared in print in the 1940s. Among those who were associated with the area during this period were the likes of writers Dylan Thomas and George Orwell and artists like Roger Fry and Augustus John.

More recently the area has become home to numerous media companies, particularly TV-related companies, and still hosts ample pubs, restaurants and cafes.

Notable buildings in the area include the BT Tower, a communications tower completed in 1964 which was until 1980, the tallest building not only in London but in the UK (and from where panoramic views could once be had – sadly it’s been long closed to the public).

Fitzrovia is also home to the quirky Pollock’s Toy Museum.

PICTURE: David Castor (caster)/Wikipedia

• It includes everything from the iconic Lloyd’s Building in the City to the former Strand Union Workhouse in Fitzrovia which may have inspired scenes in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and the red phone boxes which sit outside the British Museum in Bloomsbury. English Heritage this week released it’s London List 2011 which documents the more than 100 sites in London which have been awarded listed status by the organisation last year. They include 19 Underground stations (among them that of Oxford Circus, St James’s Park and Aldwych), four war memorials (including the grand Central Park War Memorial in East Ham) and two schools as well as various cemetery monuments (including at Highgate and Brompton Cemeteries, and Bunhill Fields Burial Ground) and parks (the status of Green Park was upgraded to Grade II*), religious and commercial premises, public libraries and homes. To download a copy, visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/london-list-2011/.

It’s just one week to go until the Open House London weekend when more than 750 buildings of all sorts open their doors to you. We’ll be talking more about some of the special places open this year in next week’s update – this is, after all, one of our favorite London events of the year, and while, if you haven’t already entered, you’ve missed on the balloted openings, there’s still plenty of places where you can simply turn up on the day (and entry to all is free). If you haven’t already bought one, you can buy the Guide online – just follow the links from www.openhouselondon.org.uk. It can also be picked up free at some participating London libraries.

• Dame Ida Mann, Oxford’s first female professor and a pioneering ophthalmologist, has been honored with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at her childhood home in West Hampstead. The plaque, which was unveiled by an Australian opthalmologist who worked with Mann, Donald F. Ezekial, last week, has been placed on a house at 13 Minster Road where Mann lived from 1902-1934. Mann was born in West Hampstead and lived there for 41 years before eventually emigrating to Australia. For more on blue plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk.

• On Now: Motya Charioteer at the British Museum. Best be quick for this one, the charioteer, on loan from the Museo Giuseppe Whitaker on Motya, is only around until 19th September (that’s next Wednesday). The stunning statue, displayed near the sculptures from the Parthenon, dates from about 460-450 BC and is generally credited as one of the finest examples of Greek marble sculpture to have survived down the ages. It is believed to depict the winner of a chariot race and is likely to have been commissioned to commemorate a victory by a participant from one of Sicily’s Greek cities. It was found in Sicily in 1979. Admission is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.