London’s First Skyscraper
The gorgeous building located at 55 Broadway in London started buillding in 1927 and was finished in 1929. It was commissioned to be the new Headquarters for the Underground Group (now known as TFL Transport for London) as they were expanding rapidly and needed a proper Head Office building.
It is 53 metres above street level, which of course seems like nothing now but at the time it was considerable. Being the tallest building of the City at this time, it is now known as London’s first skyscraper.
I had the opportunity to visit the insides of this building thanks to the Hidden London Team.
London’s Transport museum organises tours like this and visits of closed Underground stations all around London and all through the year.
As a History freak I just had to sign up for one of their experiences.
55 Broadway is located above St James’ Park tube station and the group was to meet inside to get visitors pass. Straight away I noticed the very Art Deco style of the building. This 14 storey building has the shape of a crucifix and its silhouette is somewhat reminiscent of a cathedral or a church. The architect, Charles Holden applied a series of tiers to offset the building’s higher levels, creating a teraced pyramid that allowed sunlight to reach the streets below.
We had a few minutes to admire the view from the rooftop level on 14th floor and I have to say this was frankly breathtaking and a privilege to be able to see this. I always find so much pleasure to look at London when it’s basking under the sun like that morning.
Inside is as impressive yet simple. Marble covers the ground floor entrances, corridors and upper-level (where the executive work) lift lobbies. I loved the doors made out of bronze, wood and glass too and the amazing (amazing!) 7th floor wood panelled east wing!
The directors offices and genrally upper levels were very impresive with big bay windows that allow daylight to enter the offices. Everything is made to maximise movement and freedom of the employees and the building was very modern at the time with its own heating system, telephones and electricity everywhere.
There was even a neat canteen for staff and executive directors had their own dining room!
There is no 13th floor and you can guess why and the highest level served by lifts is the 10th floor and it was reserved as an executive dining room.
If you go check the building out, you’ll notice a few statues on the façade and these have received both praise and criticism when the building was finished. The critics were pretty violent and many members of the public were shocked by some of the statues, particularly Day and Night by Jacob Epstein.
55 Broadway has 10 sculptures on its façade. Jacob Epstein’s ones were very controversial for the time and attracted lots of negative press and was branded as “shocking and scandalous” The Daily Express described the statues as a “prehistoric blood-sodden cannibal intoning a horrid ritual over a dead vctim” That was for the Night statue, the critics for the Day statue were even worse.
These sculptures are now celebrated and symbols for artistic freedom.
There’s so much more to say but the best is go for a tour there yourself. If I sparkled your interest enough to go there, you won’t be disappointed and the guides were most helpful and knowledgeable.
St James Park tube station, London
Sources from the guided tour and brochure given by the Hidden London Team.
Hidden London by London’s Transport museum
Tour duration: 90 minutes approx.
Tickets: Adult £33.50; Concession £28.50 (+ £1.50 booking fee per transaction)