7 Things You Didn’t Know About 55 Broadway
55 Broadway, the hulking stone mass above St James’s Park tube, is the historic heart of Transport for London, dating back to 1929.
As part of Hidden London’s tours of (usually-closed-to-the-public) transport sites, I got to have a nosey inside. Here are my favourite tidbits…
1. It’s London’s First Skyscraper
Now, before you question this statement, let’s talk about definitions. Sure, 55 Broadway was never the tallest building in London, even when it was first built.
Here’s a handy graphic:
But the term skyscraper refers to the way it was built; stone encasing a steel frame, the technique used to reach the dizzying heights of New York’s skyline.
Above is a plan of the ground floor, but in the bottom left corner you can see the steel frame in question.
The more obvious evidence inside though; lifts to reach the upper floors!
The only downfall of this is that you don’t get a glorious sweeping staircase. But don’t worry, you’ll get a staircase fix later…
2. The Sculptures Caused Outrage
When the building was unveiled in 1929, designed by Charles Holden. It wasn’t the architecture itself that prompted criticism. But the details.
In particular, the works of Night (below) and Day by Jacob Epstein. In all their naked, modernist glory.
One contemporary critic described it as a “prehistoric blood-sodden cannibal intoning a horrid ritual over a dead victim.”
Other newspapers advised men not to let women or children see these naked forms. A hilarious anecdote (which I desperately hope is true) is that Epstein had to shave around 2 inches of the young lad’s private parts (in Day above) because when it rained it created a perfectly arched jet of water onto the pavement!
3. There’s Serious Attention to Detail
Charles Holden, it could be fairly said, was a perfectionist.
The interiors show that as well as being sleek and modern, no expense was spared on the furnishings;
Bronze doors, travertine marble and walnut panelling all give it the feel of a 1930s luxury cruise liner.
Art Deco features abound, including the star burst motif;
As well as the more peculiar water fountains on each floor. We were told that the water is from an artesian well under the building. Disappointingly, it’s not fit for human consumption. I think this was only found out after a few years of use!
A more practical element was the mail sorting systems, post boxes on the doors!
And then there are the finishing touches, like door handles designed by Holden himself!
4. It Has London’s Nicest Fire Escape
I’ll say it again. This is a fire escape staircase, y’know the ones that are usually exposed concrete and strip lighting?!
Yet again, there’s a wealth of pride in design and attention to detail. We have elaborate railings, green chevrons pointing the way down and cheque on the edge of the stairs as a reminder to watch your step!
5. There’s Plenty Of Tube Geekiness
As you might expect, the HQ of TFL has some geeky transport throwbacks.
Just inside the entrance hall is a machine displaying – in an ideal world – that the trains were all running at regular intervals.
Each paper disc represents a tube line and they are marked with a ink dot around the edges to show when a train passes through a designated point, showcasing what a reliable service they were running.
There’s also a heritage tube poster, c.1931, before Harry Beck designed the iconic one used today.
6. The Top Execs Loved Carpet
Like any organisation, the Underground Group (as TFL was first known), was hierarchical. The most snazzy interiors therefore, were reserved for the executives.
And it turns out the top dogs were big fans of jazzy interiors…
The Executive Dining Club Room
7. There’s a Roof Terrace With Spectacular View
Not a huge surprise, I’m sure. But, given that until recently there weren’t many tall buildings in the area, it gives me a chance to share these shots!
Today Transport for London still owns the Grade-I listed building, but it’s becoming harder and harder for the building to stay fit for purpose as the head of a huge organisation. They’re looking to repurpose the building in a manner ‘that honours and complements’ its history, so I suppose we ned to simply watch this space!
If you fancy joining a tour you can find out more info here. I recommend signing up to their email list for updates when tickets go on sale.
Have you visited any other top transport sites?