FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Open House London: 55 Broadway

Posted in England, London by folkestonejack on September 19, 2015

The headquarters of London Transport at 55 Broadway is one of the city’s many architectural masterpieces of the twentieth century but as a working office it has rarely been open to the public. Among the few occasions the doors have opened to the public are the wonderful Open House London weekends and we were lucky enough to have secured places this year.

55 Broadway: Headquarters of London Transport

55 Broadway: Headquarters of London Transport

The building was constructed between 1927-1929 to a stepped cruciform art-deco design by Charles Holden over the top of the pre-existing underground lines. The driving force behind the building was Lord Ashfield, a man of the people, who saw to it that the foundation stones were laid not by any celebrity but by a long serving housekeeper of the company and by the foreman of the stonemasons working on the site. Today, the building is a grade 1 listed building and much admired.

Although the striking art deco styling of the building would have been quite different to anything around it at the time, most attention was focused on a naked sculpture by Jacob Epstein that adorned the building. In the end a compromise was struck and a bit of chiselling kept the neighbours happy!

The building also includes eight sculptures representing the four winds, created by Eric Gill, Henry Moore, AH Gerrard, Eric Aumonier, Allan Wyon and Samuel Rabinovitch. There are some lovely additional details, such as London Underground roundels on the drain pipes.

The clocktower at 55 Broadway (the hands of the clock are currently away for restoration)

The clocktower at 55 Broadway (the hands of the clock are currently away for restoration)

The building received a direct hit from a bomb in 1940, causing substantial damage, but after the war the patchwork of brick repairs was replaced by Portland stone. In the 1980s an extensive refurbishment saw many sympathetic alterations to the building, including the creation of a reception area (where once there had been a passageway) which you would never guess was such a recent addition. The planned redevelopment of the site will see the reception removed and the restoration of the original axial circulation.

Our tour gave us an insight into the workings of the building as an office, which included water fountains. a shelf for flowers and a mail drop on each floor’s lift lobby. The mail chute was particularly marvellous – you just dropped a letter into a chute and it descended all the way to the post room. Sadly, the days of the building as an office are numbered – later this year London Transport will be moving out and the building will be converted into luxury apartments. Thankfully, the proposed plans will preserve the historic elements.

The route we took through the building allowed us to see a number of the lobby spaces, the senior office suites on the seventh floor, the tenth floor gardens and the marvellous viewpoint at the top of the building (accessed by <a href=metal stairs through the boiler room). The views across Westminster from the top were truly stunning.

The view from the top

The view from the top

After leaving the marvels of 55 Broadway behind we made two further visits today, an hour long wander through the beautiful interior of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and a look at the newly restored Fitzrovia Chapel. It was particularly hard to believe that they seriously considered demolishing Gilbert Scott’s Foreign Office in the 1960s, which would have deprived the nation of the wonders of the Grand Staircase and the historic Locarno Suite.

All the wondrous sights of the day made us truly grateful to the long standing efforts of Open House London and the volunteers who put their time into making this all possible.

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