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Notes on the Geography of The United Kingdom: London 7: Commercial

We come to the world of getting and spending.

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The United Kingdom: London 7: Commercial picture 1

The famous Leadenhall Market opened in 1881. That's misleading, because poultry has been sold on the site since at least 1345. The site's roots go deeper still, with the Roman forum adjoining this site and with a Roman basilica, a covered hall measuring 500 feet by 150, right on the spot. The name Leadenhall comes (can you anticipate it?) from the lead roof of a market destroyed here in the Great Fire of 1666. The present market, showing perhaps the influence of the Milan Galleria, was designed by Horace Jones, who also had a hand in the Tower of London Bridge (see London 1: Docks) and the Smithfield Market, coming up later in this file. Only a few of the Leadenhall shops sell food these days; there are offices upstairs.

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One of the market's entrances. Ever succinct, Pevners writes: "Tall, narrow gabled houses of brick in C17 Dutch taste, with slim tourelles poking up in the returns, frame the frontispiece proper. This is of stone, raised high up on a girder visually supported at each end by iron columns and brackets: an improbable inhabited storey and mezzanine, then a broad curly gable and urns. Raised lettering in the lower panel, as gloriously commercial as a circus poser, spells out the name (London 1, p. 310).

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An even earlier arcade, though not one with such deep roots, was this, the Burlington Arcade designed by Samuel Ware for Samuel Cavendish. It was built between 1815 and 1819 and stands on a former garden of Burlington House. The facade, added in 1911 by E. Beresford Pite, is snickersneed by Jones and Woodward. They dismiss it with one word: "gross" (p. 213).

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The skylights and glass fronts were functional, however, and they would be emulated through the 19th century.

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Here, for example, is the Royal Arcade of 1879, on Old Bond Street. The prestigious adjective comes from Queen Victoria's patronage of Brettel's, a shirtmaker occupying one of the shops. Pevsner's verdict: "a tasteless Victorian facade with much female sculpture." (vol. 1 of 1973 ed., p. 626)

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Inside, a demonstration of the power of skylights.

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And this? It's an afternoon view of the city's wholesale meat market, the mornings-only Smithfield Central Market, opened in 1883 and designed by Horace Jones, the same who did the Leadenhall Market. In 2013 Ballymore, an Irish company that had owned the market since 1998, sold it to Ashkenazy Acquisitions, the American owner of Boston's Faneuil Hall. Price: 110 million pounds.

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The cross-axis and elevated "buyer's walk."

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Pevsner asks: "Need the C19 ironwork have been painted so gaudily?" (1;339).

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The outside is simpler, though not utilitarian.

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The dimensions are an impressive 631 by 246 feet. Money could have been saved by skipping the trim of Portland stone, not to mention the tiddly urns up top.

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A view from the other end. The market was linked by hydraulic elevators to a subterranean world of railroad tracks and a four-acre freight station and slaughterhouse. The market receives goods today by truck, and the underground railroad space is now used mostly for parking. The building on the right is the Triangular Block, mostly a fish market; a poultry market was on the other side of the General Market.

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A surviving plaque on the Triangular Block.

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The Central Cold Store, one of several beef-storage plants.

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Ceramic tiles.

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Globally, the department store makes its appearance in the mid-19th century. London was a bit late on the scene but made up for a slow start. Today its most famous department store is Harrod's, opened in this building in 1905. There had been a previous Harrod's on this site since the year of the Great Exhibition, 1851, however, and the company traced its roots back another 25 years to a young Henry Edward Harrod. The last Harrod retired in 1889, and shares were floated. In 1959, control passed to the House of Fraser, a competitor. In 1985, the Fayed brothers bought control of the House of Fraser. In 2010, Qatar Holdings bought the Fayed interest. The Gulf's money has to go someplace, after all, and it seems drawn to famous bits of real estate like children to lollypops.

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The architect was C.W. Stephens; the facing material was pink Doulton terracotta; the style was "an eclectic amalgam of Second Empire and Baroque."

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Another department store and another (very different) style. This one opened in 1909, shortly after Gordon Selfridge fresh from America with his fortune from Marshall Field. Selfridge hired Daniel Burnham to put some spine in the design. Pevsner writes that the result was "a department store the likes of which London had not seen before... [one in which] Burnham's big booming voice is still recognizable throughout" (I, 609). Behind the fancy columns is a steel frame designed by Sven Bylander, a Swede living in New York. A couple of years earlier, he had engineered the Ritz Hotel, London's first big steel-framed building.

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A successor without such grand ambition. Perhaps the owners remembered that Gordon Selfridge, though providing in his store not only a restaurant but a library and a "silence room" with comfortable chairs, lost his store in 1941 and died flat broke in Putney half a dozen years later.

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Just down Oxford Street from Selfridge's, this is the intersection with Regent Street, created in 1813 when John Nash built a street from the Regent's Park south to Piccadilly. You might think that Selfridge or Burnham had Nash in mind when they set to building. Not that everyone approved of Nash. As early as June, 1826, the Quarterly Review mocked Nash with this doggerel: "Augustus at Rome was for building renown'd, / And of marble he left what of brick he had found; / But is not our Nash, too, a very great master?-- / He finds us all brick and he leaves us all plaster."

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The four nearly identical buildings at this intersection of London's two busiest shopping streets were finished by Henry Tanner in or after 1913, a bit after Selfridge's store. This particular corner, at the northeast, was then bombed in the war, and the facade was rebuilt as it had been. The other corners, by the way, are occupied by H&M, Benetton, and Tezeni, an apparel chain ubiquitous in Italy.

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Fast forward to London's first regional shopping center, Westfield London, opened in 2008.

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We're on our way to the indoor section. An unhappy Jonathan Glancey, writing in the Guardian when the mall opened, called it "a cross between a giant 1980s airport terminal and well, a big, brash, and shiny shopping mall of the sort you might expect to find anywhere today from Des Moines to Dubai via Shanghai and Sydney."

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Splash! The roof is by Knippers Helbig, a German company. Call it a sign of Euro-integration.

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We need a place to rest, and this will do. It's the Athenaeum Club, which opened in 1830, when London had few if any hotels. It's a reminder of the classical fixation of the Victorians, not only because over the door there is a gilt statue of Pallas Athena but because the blue-painted frieze copies the one that once wrapped the Parthenon. The attic was added about 1900.

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The apogee of clubdom, at least by square footage, was this, the Automobile Club, opened in 1911 at 80 Pall Mall. "It gave entry to clubland to people who could never claim the social status, so important to most people at the time, which would secure membership of White's or even of the Reform further along Pall Mall from the R.A.C. site... It was a palace among clubs, [with] restaurants, a swimming poool, a big gallery for concerts and receptions, racket courts and a gymnasium.... By the 1920s it had a membership of 20000 and, if by that time the status of 'motorist' meant little, the membership of a West End club still meant much" (Alistair Service, London 1900, 1979, p. 153).

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The pediment sculpture shows a cherub putting the pedal to the metal. Thank Ferdinand Faivre, who also worked on the Cairo Museum and the palace at Versailles.

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The club today has no connection to the at-your-service automobile club that operates nationally, but it does keep a handsome Rolls in the lobby. OK, you're right: very handsome.

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Big hotels arrived with the railroads, and London soon had at least seven, each attached to a different station. By 1875, Building News could write that "railway termini and hotels are to the nineteenth century what monasteries and cathedrals were to the thirteenth century. They are truly the only real representative buildings we possess." Here, from an angle emphasizing the roof, is the most spectacular of them all, the Midland Grand Hotel, designed by George Gilbert Scott. It operated as a hotel from 1878 to 1935. Why did it close? One reason is very simple: although it had fireplaces in every bedroom, it had plumbing in none. Even if guests were happy with chamberpots, by the 1930s the hotel couldn't afford the servants needed to carry them back and forth, along with tubs and basins. The building was converted to railway offices, which carried on until 1980, when the building failed to meet newer fire codes. Was it the end?

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In 1933 the witty and wise chairman of the London and Midland railway told a meeting of architects, "Here I am responsible in less than sixty years, for a building which is completely obsolete and hopeless as an hotel, and even worse than useless as offices; will it be vandalism of the worst order to destroy it? We can either keep it for a revival of appreciation, with a dead economic loss for the site it occupies and the use to which it is put, or we can pull it down and impose on the site something that can be equally condemned in its turn in 60 years' time" (Stamp and Amery, p. 81). What did he do?

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Fast forward 70 years, and Harry Handelsman's Manhattan Loft Corporation steps forward to spend 200 million pounds on renovations. The building opened in 2011 as the St. Pancras Renaissance hotel, with rooms starting at 300 pounds a night. The upper levels were converted to apartments operating under the name St. Pancras Chambers.

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Detail of an entrance hall.

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The grand staircase. Caution: many of the bedrooms in the remodeled hotel are in a newly built west wing. Plumbing an old building is wicked expensive.

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An upper level of the staircase.

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Stars in the vault above.

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The first grand hotel not linked to a station may have been the Savoy, which opened in 1889 on the back of Richard D'Oyly Carte's profits from producing Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas. It offered electricity and bathrooms in most of the rooms, along with hot and cold running water all day long ("Oh bliss, oh rapture! Oh rapture, oh bliss!") It was managed from the outset by César Ritz until he was dismissed seven years later for filching booze in great quantity. The present entrance dates from 1930. The hotel today is managed by Fairmont Hotels for its Saudi owner, Al-Waleed bin Talal. (See Harrod's, above.)

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Ritz bounced back, opened a hotel under his own name in Paris and the Carlton in London, this this one, the London Ritz, with the steel-frame construction soon adopted by Selfridge's. Ritz never saw the hotel. It opened in 1905, long after Ritz's collapse in 1902, triggered it seems by the illness of Edward VII, which forced the cancellation of elaborate festivities at the Carlton. This hotel more recently has been owned by the reclusive Barclay brothers and has operated as a partner hotel of the Ritz-Carlton chain, itself a subsidiary of Marriott.

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One more hotel, the huge Hotel Piccadilly, which for all its size fell short of the ambitions of its architect, Norman Shaw. The hotel opened in 1908 but the right wing was never built because the owners could not afford to buy out the Denman House of 1903. It's there to this day, looking like the runt of the litter. The building in the distance was built in 1920 by Reginald Blomfield, Shaw's student. It housed Swan and Edgar, a deparment store.

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Here's the Piccadilly Circus face of that same store. It is shown here as a Tower Records, but that's ancient history. So was the building's brief run as a Virgin Megastore.

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Across the street is the old London Pavilion, in its day the city's fanciest music hall, covering an entire block. In 1885 "the owners obtained a cheap site lease by bribery, and rushed it up in four months and three days, working round the clock under electric lights" (6:452). Harry Lauder appeared here, and Noel Coward's On with the Dance premiered here in 1925. The Pavilion became a movie theater in 1934, closed in 1986, and since then has reopened in new guises more than once.

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We've ignored office buildings, but we can fix that, starting with the remarkably preserved 16th century Staple Inn Buildings on Holborn and at the old boundary of the City. The building was restored in 1886 and again in 1937, and only this facade is original.

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Close up.

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A note.

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The view from the building's courtyard.

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What were later office buildings like? If the builder was short on land, the result could be like this pinched facade from 1913, on Coventry Street. "Ouch!" the building seems to say. "Stop pushing!" Inside, each floor would have a large room reaching from the bay window back about half way to the building's rear wall. On the right wall there would be a staircase rising to a corridor serving the back half of the building, with perhaps four smaller office rooms, one after another. Such a building might have 20 feet of street frontage but 80 feet of depth. You might wonder how KFC fits, but it occupies the building to the right as well. The building on the left is the former Rialto Cinema, also from 1913.

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Here's a small office building that not so long ago was a ticket office for Turkish Airlines. It's at Pall Mall 125 and, like the building in the previous picture, was completed in 1913. Style? Pevsner comes to the rescue: "rampaging Viennese Baroque" (6:340).

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Here, on Fleet Street, is the unusual Mersey House, completed in 1906 for the London office of the Liverpool Daily Post. To its left is the massive block of the Daily Telegraph, completed in 1931 and echoing Selfridge's department store, though in this case the columns are Egyptian.

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The building has a Nile ripple, too.

What would be the ideal neighbor for a newspaper? Enter the King and Keys pub, which opened in 1884. That's 50 years before the Telegraph building, but never fear: the paper had been here in other buildings from 1863. Pevsner says that the pub building was "spoiled in 1995, when the front was painted a queasy green." He's not much happier with the Queen of Scots House next door, which he calls "mercilessly gothic." The building dates from 1905; Pevsner says that "the statue of Mary Stuart was the romantic idea of the developer, Sir John Tollemache Sinclair M.P." (1:500-01)

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If more land was available, and money to match, the result might be something like the massive Pearl Assurance building on High Holborn, completed in 1919. Since the 1990s it has been the Renaissance London Chancery Court Hotel.

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The Prudential Assurance building on Holborn across from the tiny Staple Inn remains what it was, not only the home of an insurance company but one of London's Victorian Gothic showpieces. Built piecemeal between 1876 and 1901, it established what became the company's house style.

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Another view. Pevsner writes of the "long symmetrical facade of fiery red brick and red terracotta, amply gabled, and with a big central window crowned by a pyramid roof with spike.... all done from the best models. Yet the sheer multiplication of the motifs deprives them of their efficacy" (4:302).

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Courtyard view.

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This is the Collcutt Building of 1901, commissioned by Lloyd's Register for its offices. Thomas Edward Collcutt was told to design a building of grandeur, which apparently meant an Italian palazzo. A later addition, by Richard Rogers, rises immediately behind.

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"...polished up the handle of the big front door..." or something like that.

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Here's something more exotic. It's the former Britannic House, built as the headquarters for what was then the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. As the picture indicates, the Moorgate Station is within the building, but the building also fronts more scenically on Finsbury Circus. The architect was no less than Edward Landseer Lutyens; the date of completion, 1927.

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On that curved facade there are larger-than-life statues of Britannia and a bare-chested Indian water carrier. They're the work of Francis Derment Wood.

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Britannia.

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The Indian water carrier.

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Wood also did this figure of a woman carrying a baby.

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Eric Raymond Broadbent added several smaller figures above the building's arched entrances. Here, reputedly, a Persian.

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An Egyptian.

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Such buildings fell out of style a few years later, when they were displaced by Art Deco, which proved to be an amazingly popular style in the London of the 1930s. One of its monuments is next door to the Savoy Hotel, where the Shell Mex House opened in 1931, along with "Big Benzene" up top. Shell Mex had been formed in 1921, after Shell in 1919 bought the interests of the Mexican Eagle Petroleum Company. The Mexican industry was nationalized in 1938, but Shell-Mex continued as a UK marketing company operating jointly with BP until 1975. The building then became the headquarters of Shell UK until Shell left in the 1990s. The building is now called 80 Strand and is full of publishers belonging to the Pearson Group, which is all a bit mysterious if you recall that Weetman Pearson was the owner, long ago, of Mexican Eagle. Disentangle that!

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Deco brings us here. In the distance, The Daily Telegraph sulks, upstaged by this much flashier building covered with black vitrolite and chrome. The building is now occupied by Goldman Sachs, which suggests that Deco is dated but still cool.

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Not so cool, Centrepoint was built between 1963 and 1967. The architect was Richard Seifert. The London County Council had given permission for the owner, Harry Hyams, to greatly exceed the usual height-to-frontage limit of 5:1 because Hyams proposed building on only a part of the tract. In exchange for this lease, the LCC would be paid 18,500 pounds annually until 2112.

Then Hyams the smart cookie took charge. Though the building sits atop a prime location (the Tottenham Court tube station), it sat empty for a decade. Hyams wanted it that way. Rents were rising rapidly, and they would be controlled once the building was occupied. Besides, so long as it sat empty, Hyams did not have to pay taxes. Smart move: the building cost 5.5 million pounds but appreciated to 20 million before the first occupant moved in. Tenants in 2011 included Saudi Aramco and Petrochina, but the building in 2012 was being at least partly converted to apartments.

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The highrise deluge came a later. Here's Britannic House, which served as BP's headquarters from 1967 to 1991. The building was refurbished and heightened in 2000, when it changed its name to CityPoint. (The no-space-between-the-words gimmick is juju to insure high occupancy rates.) The building sold in 2007 for 650 million pounds, a price that broke the record for the most expensive building ever sold in the UK. Most of the space is leased by a law firm.

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Here's the quickly iconic Gherkin, mundanely 30 St Mary Axe or (formerly) the London office of Swiss Re. Designed by Norman Foster's assembly line, the building opened in 2004 on the site of the Baltic Exchange, which had been destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1992. In 2007 Swiss Re sold the building for a near-record 630 million pounds to Evans Randall, a London group, and IVG Asticus, a German company.

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Another famous (or infamous) highrise: the Lloyd's Building, completed in 1984 and designed by Richard Rogers, who had previously collaborated on the Beaubourg or Pompidou Center, another inside-out building.

Pevsner catches us off guard with his enthusiasm: "The most consistently innovative building the City has seen since Soane's Bank of England...." Services are "piled up and clipped on, like the pipes and capsules of an oil-rig.... Pipes and ducts hurtle up the towers and snake out everywhere.... Rogers gave the City its first C20 building that can truly be called famous...." (1:314). The fat silver coins house a staircase.

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For better or worse, the facade of the earlier Lloyd's building is incorporated into the building.

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A bunch of daisies: Lloyd's in the middle, with the Walkie-talkie behind and the Cheesegrater in front.

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Here are two of those framing buildings.

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The Walkie-talkie, properly 20 Fenchurch, was completed in 2014 to a design by Rafael Vinoly. In 2015 it won the not-so-coveted Carbuncle Cup for being the worst new building of the previous year.

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No, the building on the left isn't drunk; it just looks that way because of the Cheesegrater, properly 122 Leadenhall. the building opened in 2014 and, like Lloyds, was by Rogers, here partnered as Rogers Stirk Harbour. Their headquarters are here; some ten floors are leased to Aon, an insurance company. The site was previously used for over a century by the fabled P&O shipping line. Pat, pat, nice girders: in 2017 CC Land Holdings from Hong Kong bought the building for $1.42 billion from British Land and the Ontario municipal employees pension fund.

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More glass, in this case the Wallbrook Building, empty for at least two years after its completion in 2010.

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Next door, more glass at Cannon Place, completed in 2011. The building was developed jointly by Hines of Houston and the London Underground, which has a station below, as does Network Rail. Michael Bear, the 663rd Lord Mayor of London, has described it as "esthetically stunning and... a tremendous addition to the city's streetscape." A Hines executive says, "We are incredibly proud of this building, which we believe complements its illustrious surroundings," but two years later it still sat empty.

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Tower Place, a property of New York's Tishman Speyer and completed in 2002 to a design by Norman Foster. A glass atrium separates two triangular buildings and is framed on this side by a glass wall 26 meters high. The space is occupied by Marsh & McLennan, an insurance and consulting firm from New York.

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Notice anything weird? There's Prince Albert waving, and behind him is The Daily Mirror Building of 1961. Designed by Sir Owen Williams, it has been described by engineers as an "unrivalled exhibition of concrete work."

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Here's Prince Albert and the same building, now cut down a few floors and wrapped in glass by Norman Foster. The building is now the headquarters of Sainsbury's.

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Water helps: here, office buildings line up at the dead-ending Paddington Basin, a spur off the Grand Union Canal, running from London to Birmingham.

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Feel sorry for the grass?

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"It's cheaper than a hotel."

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A few hundred yards upstream, the canal looks as it did before the glass boxes came.

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All these buildings are playing catch up with Canary Wharf, the cluster of highrises developed on the site of the old West India Docks. The view here is from Greenwich Park over the National Maritime Museum.

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The LDDC or London Docklands Development Corporation was created in 1981, the year after the West India docks closed. The corporation had the power to acquire land across an eight-mile swath from Wapping to Beckton. It began here, with the Isle of Dogs--not quite an island, but very close. Demand for buildings with large trading floors followed the deregulation of share trading in 1986, when there were no such buildings anywhere near central London. Canary Wharf was conceived to fill the need, and it was so important that the developers were able to get an extension built to the London Underground's Jubilee Line. It opened in 1999 and followed the still-earlier (and much cheaper) Docklands Light Railway, which ran to the City.

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In 1987 the Canadian company Olympia and York, controlled by the Reichmann family, took charge of developing Canary Wharf. The company agreed to build 12 million square feet of office space, of which the most spectacular was this tower, One Canada Place, designed by Cesar Pelli and completed in 1991. (It would have been taller, but flight paths took priority.) A year later, Canary Wharf declared bankrupty. In 1995 it was sold to a consortium--what goes around comes around--that included Paul Reichmann of Olympia and York. In 1999 it became a publicly traded company on the London Stock Exchange. Two-thirds of it now belongs to Songbird, a beguilingly named consortium of Morgan Stanley and others; the other third includes Canadian investors such as Brascan and the Ontario Pension Fund. Twenty years after the project was undertaken, 40,000 people work in the docklands, and One Canada Place has replaced St. Paul's Cathedral as the most visible feature on the London skyline. The investors own another five million square feet of undeveloped land.

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Another view of One Canada Place, with the stupendously boring North Colonnade on the left. (For more on Canary Wharf, see London 9: East End.)

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Here's something with flair: it's the one industrial building we'll look it, and it's in Perivale, nearly ten miles west of Central London. The verb "to hoover" dates in British usage from the 1930s, when Hoover began its long domination of the British market, a domination probably greater than that which the company had back home in Ohio. Machines for the British market were made here from the 1930s to the 1980s.

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The architects were Wallis, Gilbert, who also did the London Coach Station, coming up in a few pictures.

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Glazed ceramic tiles are set in "snowcrete," a concrete formulated to stay white.

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Staircase at the end of the wing.

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The theatrical canteen, opened in 1938.

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The rear of the plant, including the factory buildings proper, was demolished to make way for a supermarket, which echoes the style of the preserved office building. Demolition of the whole site had been a very real possibility until Tesco bought it in 1989 and opened the store three years later.

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Time for a few transportation palaces. Here we're just a couple of blocks from Victoria Station. This is the rail station of the same name. Completed in 1932, it was the first building designed for that purpose in England. Pevsner points out that it hides its business very well, "leaving the buses to find their way out behind" (6:749).

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As it was; why the name was removed from the tower is anybody's guess.

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Almost across the street, Imperial Airways in 1939 opened its Empire Terminal, designed by Albert Lakeman. Trains left from here for both Croydon Airport and the flying-boat terminal at Southampton. Passenger check-in ended in 1980.

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The building has a much less glamorous occupant today.

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Speed Wings over the World, by Eric Broadbent. The figures are an adaptation of the logo used at the time by the company. Speedwings remains in use as the call sign for BA, just as Pan Am used to be Clipper.

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Jostling with the University of London Senate House and the much later Centre Point, here's another contender for the title of London's first highrise. It's the 1929 headquarters of the Underground Electric Railways Company of London, forerunner of the London Underground. It sits at 55 Broadway, atop the St. James station. In 2011 it was reclassified from a Grade II to Grade I protected building.

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The engineers had discovered modern design many decades earlier. Here, behind St. Pancras Station is the shed, 240 by 690 feet, designed by W.H. Barlow and completed in 1868. The ironwork was originally painted sky-blue.

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Modest only in comparison, this is the 1908 shed on the Brighton side of Victoria Station.

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The Paddington shed. The railway opened in 1854 as the London terminus of Isambard Brunel's Great Western Railway. The three wrought-iron barrel vaults are 500 feet long; their breadth varies from about 70 feet for the side vaults to over 100 feet on the central vault, shown here. A fourth vault, of steel, was added in 1916, and all the station columns were replaced in 1924. The railway gauge has been changed, too: until 1900 trains arriving here ran on Brunel's heroic seven-foot gauge.

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The Paddington sheds from the east.

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On the roof of one of the sheds there's a Victorian relic of the Great Western. "Lord, direct us in virtue and industry."

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A later generation's idea of a train station: the London Underground at Canary Wharf.


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