Former County Fire Office | Look Up In Piccadilly Circus
Ah Piccadilly Circus, that tourist hotspot that most Londoners just barrel through as quickly as possible – head down – or avoid altogether. But, there’s always something to admire if you look up and the former County Fire Office recently caught my eye…
Standing just before the majestic sweep of Regent Street in Piccadilly Circus, you might have noticed the Former County Office, but how closely have you looked?
First things first, this isn’t the original.
Regent Street was first laid out in 1819 by John Nash, but after 100 years it was almost entirely replaced by new buildings.
Here’s an image from 1837 of the original County Fire Office, shown on the far right hand side.
Image from Wikimedia Creative Commons
The County Fire Office was a fire insurance company, founded in 1807 with a focus on the counties and specialising in insuring country homes and farms.
The clue is in the name, it was originally made up of noblemen and gentlemen from a number of counties including Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Middlesex.
They moved to the newly built 50 Regent Street in 1819 but also had a few offices in the City of London as well as others throughout the UK.
The County Fire Office became a Limited Company in 1905 and the following year was bought by Alliance Assurance Company.
The current buildings dates from 1924-7, designed by Ernest Newton who didn’t stray too far from the original with the ground level arcades.
The sculpture on top – an image of Britannia and logo of the company – was also rebuilt, designed by Hermon Cawthra.
The County Fire Office had this building as their head office until 1970.
Today the Grade II listed building is part of the Hotel Cafe Royal, but is quite separate from the rest of the building.
It houses their luxury spa; Akasha but inside retains some of the original features like the gorgeous helical stairs.
So perhaps pause and look up next time you’re in Piccadilly Circus!