“I don’t know what London’s coming to – the higher the buildings the lower the morals”
Noel Coward, 1931
I have long wanted to do a behind the scenes tour in London but am rarely around for the open house weekends. Last year, I noticed TFL’s Hidden London events and so signed up to London Transport Museum newsletter so that I’d be the first to hear when new events were advertised and get priority booking 24 hours before they go on general sale.
We finally went on a tour at the end of February, having chosen 55 Broadway as the dates and price suited us best. This was once the headquarters of London Transport and as London’s first skyscraper, was controversial from the outset. It was completed in 1929 so I thought Noel Coward’s quote above was pretty apt! For much of the 19th century, the area was essentially a slum but the opening of St James’s Park station began to change this.
55 Broadway was designed by the architect Charles Holden, who’s modernist style set him apart. Frank Pick, Managing Director of the Underground, chose Holden as they shared a liking of matching form with function. The unconventional crucifix shape allowed a maximum amount of natural light into the offices. The other visionary instrumental in making 55 Broadway possible was Lord Ashfield, Chairman of the Board.
Holden commissioned seven of Britain’s leading artists to create ten sculptures for the buildings exterior. Eight of these represent the four directional winds, two each on the corresponding façade. Jacob Epstein was asked to sculpt Night and Day, which were widely criticised, resulting in Day (pictured above) having his appendage shortened…
Our tour started in the foyer, where I was intrigued by the clocks which showed how often tubes ran through various stations and in which direction. There were numerous old tfl posters, photos of various important people from tfls history and nice touches like the post shoots for internal mail. We were told about the hierarchy extending both to which floor your office was on to which canteen and toilets you were allowed to use!
We had booked onto the last tour of the day, starting at 16.45 at the end of February, and lasting for 90 minutes. As luck would have it, this meant that we reached the outside viewing deck for sunset and thus got beautiful views over London in the evening light.
As I’m very behind with my blog posts, we’ve already booked for more Hidden London events this year, with both Euston tunnels and Down Street to come. Hopefully our guides will be just as fantastic next time too!