Monday, 20 May 2013

Art Deco London : 51-54 Gracechurch Street

Almost opposite the building I am currently working in is another fine example of Art Deco architecture. It's modest size and location, next to a complex and busy road junction, perhaps causes it to be ignored among other buildings of the same period in the city, such as nearby Adelaide House mentioned in an earlier post. However, on closer inspection it reveals a wealth of interesting Art Deco ornamentation that possibly warrants an elevation in it's status and interest.

51-54 Gracechurch Street, City of London
51-54 Gracechurch Street, London.

Despite much Googling, inspection of the outside of the structure and even inquiring with the building's reception desk, I could find no information about it's history.
So, having reached a dead end, I decided to contact the planning department of the City of London, in the hope that they would not be too busy to answer my trivial questions and after a few days of waiting, they very helpfully provided the information I was after and suggested some additional references that could be helpful in the future.

51-54 Gracechurch Street, City of London
51-54 Gracechurch Street, West Elevation
From the information provided the City of London, the architect was one Leo Sylvester Sullivan (1878-1964), and the date of construction circa 1928-30.  This architect is also responsible for other better known, listed buildings in the City and West-End (future posts to come) as well as many civic projects around the country.  He also attended school with Sir Winston Churchill in the 1900s.

The building sits 8 storeys high and 9 bays wide and it likely to steel framed with the front clad in Portland stone.  The nine bays are separated by ribbed piers with the outer four piers emboldened to provide vertical framing of the frontage.  The metal window aprons  were once ornamented but have been unsympathetically replaced, along with the windows at some point, which is likely the cause of it's lack of listed status.

51-54 Gracechurch Street in 1974. Copyright City of London - Collage project

A carved pediment above the ground floor has a parallel zig-zag or chevron dancette with a chain-like pattern above.  This chevron pattern is repeated around the entrances and also the north-side elevation of the building.  At the top of the stone facade and between the fifth and sixth floors are two rows of carved heads.  Each appears to be unique, but they are a little too high to observe with my phone's camera.

One interesting detail is the parallel chevron dancettes framing the door ways feature convex and concave half-round carvings.

The north side and rear of the building is accessible via Talbot Court.  The side appears to be clad in terracotta with the lower windows and entrances framed again with chevron moldings and also beak-head stops.

Beak-head stops

Terracotta moldings
Finally, the rear of the building is stepped down to meet the roof heights of neighbouring properties.

Rear North-side elevation.

That about wraps things up for this building.  I may write more about Leo Sylvester Sullivan's other buildings in my immediate area as I photograph and research them.  

His other buildings that I know of so far are...

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Art Deco London : Adelaide House

I had been meaning to write a post on Adelaide House since I first took notice of it a few weeks ago, whilst out one rare and sunny lunch-time looking for remnants of Roman London.  What prompted to get it done today was some seeing this incredible vintage film footage which is doing the rounds on-line this week.

The video appears to have been on-line for a while on Vimeo, but the news and social-media world seems to have found it again this week. (See references at the foot of this post).  The footage was shot by Claude Friese-Green, a pioneer of colour film in the UK.

Adelaide House, London Bridge
Adelaide House.  Southern aspect from London Bridge.

Adelaide House is located in one of London's most prime positions on the north-east shoulder of London Bridge. It, in fact, replaced an earlier building of the same name on the same site, which was named after King William IV's wife, who, in 1831 had performed the opening ceremony of the adjacent London Bridge.

Designed by the Scottish architect Thomas F. Tait, of the firm Sir John Burnet & Tait, and completed in 1925, it was a pioneering building in many ways.

Firstly, it was, at the time of construction, the tallest office building in London.  By today's standards, at only 11 storeys high (45m / 148ft) this is hard to imagine.  However, the video footage above allows it to be seen in the context of that period and clearly shows a brand new Adelaide House. And in a panning shot of the city skyline there are only the spires of churches and The Monument itself to be seen towering above the London roof-line of the time.

It also was the first building in the UK to have air-conditioning, a mechanised internal mail system. It was the first in the city to use stone cladding over a steel-framed structure.  There was even a putting green on the roof.

Entrance to Adelaide House
Main entrance on the Western side of Adelaide House

The stone work is broadly Art Deco in style, with, fashionable at the time, Egyptian references and many other ornamental details.  The entrance from London Bridge pictured above features bold pseudo-Doric columns in contrasting black granite.  The main exterior is faced in white Portland stone, with the base and a frieze around the ninth storey in grey granite.

North aspect of Adelaide House
North aspect of Adelaide House on Lower Thames Street.

Interestingly, the east side of Adelaide House is faced in plain brick, and was only exposed after the post-war demolition of a neighbouring building.

As can be seen in the photo above and below, Adelaide House is sited extremely close to the ancient church of St Magnus the Martyr (once situated on the roadway to the Old London Bridge).  This was controversial at the time of construction, and The Times
commented that "the new 'architectural Matterhorn' ... conceals all but the tip of the church spire".

St Magnus the Martyr, with Adelaide House in the background
St Magnus the Martyr, with Adelaide House in the background.

Adelaide House is now a Grade II listed building, and underwent extensive renovation from 2005-2007 by the current occupier Berwin Leighton Paisner.

Daily Telegraph 14/May/2013
London Evening Standard 14/May/2013
English Heritage Listing

Update 2012-05-20:
I found some amazing historic photographs taken from scans of postcards or slides over on

London Bridge circa 1927  Source: Lost London thread on
London Bridge pre 1925.  Note the earlier Adelaide Buildings. Source: Lost London thread on

Thursday, 9 May 2013

London's Roman City Wall - The Obscured - Part 3

As a continuation of my quest to discover the hidden bits London's Roman City Wall (See Part 1; Part 2), I have targeted a number of other buildings located along the line of the eastern section of the Roman city wall.  

After much Googling (other search engines are available), I have found the information available about these potential sites to be obscure and sometimes considerably out of date.  However, not to be put off, I thought I'd use my lunch-hours gainfully and seek out these ancient remnants.

This post refers to a section of Roman Wall located under the appropriately named "London Wall House" located at the meeting point of Nos.18-20 Jewry Street and No. 1 Crutched Friars in EC3, London.

Crutched Friars
Crutched Friars
By the way, the Crutched Friars which give their name to the street are in fact derived from the House of the Friars of the Holy Cross. It seems the Middle English word for "Cross" was "Crouche" from the Latin "Crux" which readily gives the form "Crutched".

Back to the main point! Opposite these Friars is London Wall House, No.1 Crutched Friars.

Roman Wall House, 1 Crutched Friars, London
Roman Wall House
My usual method of entry was employed: asking nicely if they have a Roman Wall hiding in their basement, which in this case provoked immediate positive action from the very nice chap who answered the main door.

I mentioned to the chap that the information I had gathered said the wall was incorporated into the Directors' dining room in the basement, and so I was somewhat surprised when he grabbed a set of keys and led me back out of the building and further along the street to the entrance of a former nightclub known as Club II AD (That's 2 AD. See what they did there?). 

Club II AD
Club II AD
He unlocked the glass doors and we headed down stairs to basement level into the eerie gloom of the deserted former nightclub.  Light-switch duly located, I was escorted the length of the whole club and at the far north-east corner the wall was to be found.

Roman Wall at Roman Wall House
First sight of Wall behind former bar of club. Note the diagonal alignment with flooring.
The wall is on a diagonal alignment to rest of the building, which would mean this section is positioned just slightly north of the section under Emperor House mentioned in my earlier post, in order for the alignment of the two sites to make sense.  

Closer view of wall

From what I have found out it was discovered in 1905 and described then as a 12m (40ft) length of inner facing wall, standing to a height of 2.5-3m (8-9ft) with the base 2.6m (8.5ft) below the present ground level.  Above the usual triple levelling course of brick were four courses of squared ragstone, a triple bonding-course, size courses of squared ragstone and a double bonding-course with the usual offsets.

Detail view of Roman Wall

The wall is set on black concrete underpins, with the original red sandstone base missing.  The northern end provides a small cross-section of the wall.

Roman Wall at Roman Wall House

There was also an information panel next to the bar, but providing on general information on the London Wall rather than anything specific to the section on display.

Information Panel

So that's it for now.  I have still yet to get access to some wall sections under other buildings in this area and I hope to post the results when I finally do.

For more general background information on the city wall and Roman London please refer to the Museum of London's web site on this topic.  Better still, go make a personal visit to this often overlooked but truly excellent (and free) museum.


Friday, 3 May 2013

London's Roman City Wall - The Obscured - Part 2

Following on from my previous post about the Roman London city wall situated under One America Square, I endeavoured to find another hidden section, this time in Vine Street, as mentioned in the Museum of London's Roman Wall Wall guide as Panel 4, Emperor House.

Part of London wall walk guide, copyright Museum of London.

Other blogs has mentioned that panel number 4 should be visible in the small square on Vine Street, but on first inspection nothing was found in this area.  I enquired in the Emperor Bar, if they knew of a section of Roman wall, and they readily informed me that is was basically under my feet in the basement of Emperor House, the building that houses the bar and the offices of Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP at the time of writing.  So I asked at the main security desk in the glazed foyer about the wall and if access was permitted.  A very helpful security guard handed me a leaflet on the Roman Wall and provided me with a name and phone number to call to arrange a visit.

The next day, appointment arranged, I returned to finally see this elusive section of wall.
My contact appeared and guided me along a maze of steps, twisting corridors and fire-doors until we arrived in a rather gloomy and seemingly forgotten part of the buildings basement.

Here what can only be described as a whopping section of wall is located, along with, to my surprise the missing panel number 4 from the original London Wall Walk, propped us against a wall.

The illusive Panel Number 4

According to the guide, this section of was revealed in 1979-80 as a 10m (32ft) long and 3m (10ft) high section of city wall, along with a defensive ditch and the foundation a Roman bastion.  These bastions were a late addition to the city wall added in the troubled years of the 4th century AD.  There were at least twenty-two bastion located along the east section of the wall, spaced evenly approximately 70 yards (64m) apart.  This spacing being governed by the range that arrows could be fired to cover each section from bastion to bastion.

The wall taken facing SW. 

The bastion base protrudes by a about 4m-5m (12-15ft) from the wall and is clearly visible in the picture above and below.  It is interesting to note how the main section of the wall has been underpinned on modern concrete blocks set on a brick base.  The original Roman ground-level sandstone plinth is clearly visible sitting on the underpinning, as well as the red tile courses.  Some of the original rag-stone facing has been disturbed, which can be seen as more modern brick abutments and smaller less ordered in-filling.  On the information panel theses sections are drawn as empty.

Roman Wall, Emperor House, taken facing NW.
The basement did look like it had once staged the wall as a show piece as there was up-lighting and even a viewing platform on a slightly higher section of basement, where the last two photos were taken from.  However we could not easily locate the light switches.
The basement was otherwise like any other basement, a dumping ground for old desks and chairs, and the majesty of the this unique piece of history sadly not given the showcase it once had enjoyed.

Roman Wall, Emperor House, taken facing N.

Interestingly as I am posting this I notice that the wall is bathed in decent natural light and in fact no artificial lighting was on in that part of the basement.  This must mean there is partial visibility from above this section, which I guess is from the rear loading bay of the Emperor House, which is accessed from Jewry Street.

And finally, for now, at meeting point of Jewry St and Crutched Friars there is another clue to the history of the area.  Can you tell what it is yet?  I have a plan to visit this building at a later date... Update: Read Part 3

For more general background information on the city wall and Roman London please refer to the Museum of London's web site on this topic.  Better still, go make a personal visit to this often overlooked but truly excellent (and free) museum.


Museum of London - Site Record for Emperor House
nosilleg's blog with Google Map of the Wall Walk

Thursday, 2 May 2013

London's Roman City Wall - The Obscured - Part 1

After stumbling across some great articles in a number of blogs (See references) and a very useful article appropriately entitled The London Wall Walk on the Museum of London's website, I thought I would take it upon myself to trace the parts mentioned in the PDF booklet you can download.   They do state that the documented and signed walk was originally planned in 1984, and the other bloggers had mentioned some signs were no longer visible or indeed sections of the wall no longer accessible.

This seemed like a worthy challenge to complete this walk, and to try and locate and perhaps visit the sections the other blogs did not reach. 

The London Wall Walk map. Copyright Museum of London

I knew I had previously seen the locations numbers 1 to 3, which are the sections visible close by Tower Hill tube station, including Cooper's Row which is a huge section of Roman and Medieval wall in the courtyard of "The Grange City Hotel" (well documented and photographed in other blogs) but points 3a and 4 on the map, in America Square and Vine Street had me baffled.  The booklet text refers to a blue tiled information panel visible on the left in a small square on Vine Street just north of a street called Crosswall (There's a clue in the name).

Before putting foot to pavement I tried Google's StreetView and could not see where this sign was situated.  Some of the blogs I referred to alluded to this point too, and also referred to section "visible through a glass panel" in America Square on the south-side of Crosswall.

My secret plan was to use my advantage over the other bloggers!  That was to go there during my weekday lunch-hour when the offices hosting these hidden treasures would be open, rather than at a weekend when nearly the whole of the square mile is closed for business. 

One America Square

This building sits on a sizable chunk of the Roman City Wall mentioned in the London Museum leafet in section 3a.  From street level you can just see the top of the smaller northern section of wall in the basement though sky-light windows in the recess next to where the mini-van is parked on Crosswall in this photo.

One America Square looking SW

In 1987-88 excavations revealed a 32m (105 ft) section of Roman City Wall with a surviving height of 2m above the original ground level.  The wall was typically 2.44m wide with a sandstone base and regular tiled courses which can clearly seen in my photos below.

Section of Roman Wall, America Square, London
East side of Southern Section - Taken facing SW.
These sections are now a feature of a conference centre in the basement of the America Square development and a very impressive size and well cared for.

Section of Roman Wall, America Square, London
West side of South Section of wall. Taken facing S.
The original excavation also found a gravelled road of 7m wide, possibly used as a service road during it's construction.

A general information panel at the northern end of the southern section.
The smaller northern section shows the sandstone plinths at the base, marking the original Roman ground level of the wall.  This is the section that is just visible from street-level on Crosswall through the sky-light windows you can see at the end of the room.

Section of Roman Wall, America Square, London
Northern Section. Taken facing NW.

I was able to get immediate access to this wall by first asking at the security desk who pointed me to the reception of the conference centre.  The very kind receptionist was able to take me immediatly to view the wall, as the centre was not too busy at the time and most sessions were on a break for lunch also.  You may want to arrange your visit in advance if you have specific times or a number of members in your party.

Continue to Part 2, and Part 3.

References and inspiration:
For more general background information on the city wall and Roman London please refer to the Museum of London's web site on this topic.  Better still, go make a personal visit to this often overlooked but truly excellent (and free) museum.