55 Broadway gets Grade 1 Listed Status

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The DCMS have confirmed that 55 Broadway, the Headquarters of London Underground and for a long time London’s tallest building, has been granted Grade 1 Listed status.

Grade 1 effectively marks the building, completed in 1929, as one of Britain’s most important contributions to architecture. It’s a fair status for 55 Broadway to claim, as both inside and out it stands as a testament to both Charles Holden who designed it, and Frank Pick who battled to see it built to the high standard he envisioned.

Credit for some of the building’s architectural majesty must also be shared with the sculptors who contributed to the building’s artwork. Jacob Epstein famously contributed the statues of Day and Night, over which there was much controversy at the time (proving that “tabloid outrage” is by no means a modern invention) – mainly over the size of certain elements of anatomy on one of the figures from “Day.” It would ultimately be Frank Pick’s threatened resignation, combined with some begrudgingly made alterations by Epstein that would prevent a wobbling board of directors from ordering the removal of the statues completely.

In addition to Epstein’s works, around the building can also be found the various “winds,” contributed by Eric Gill, Allan Wyon, Henry Moore, A H Gerrard and Samuel Rabinovitch.

Epstein’s Day and Night

The building is no doubt familiar enough to most readers of this blog, but hopefully the selection of photos below give some views of the building that are still of interest.

As can be seen above, clad in Portland Stone, even covered in London’s modern daily grime 55 Broadway remains impressive.

The steelwork for the building’s internal frame was provided by Rubery, Owen & Co. The firm are still in business – although their Black Country steelworks is very much a thing of the past.

Above is one of Charles Holden’s architectural sketches of the building. Broadly speaking its identical to that which was built, although if you look closely you’ll see that some of the decorative finishes are different. To the bottom right can be seen the entrance to St James Park Station, which forms part of the building.

Image copyright TfL/London Underground

Despite some controversy, the building was quickly recognised as an impressive and iconic piece of architecture. The photo above shows it at night in 1929 shortly after completion. Whilst 55 Broadway is not “Art Deco” (although it is often misclasified as such), it most definitely carries a distinct feeling of the twenties and thirties.

Image copyright TfL/London Underground
Image copyright TfL/London Underground

Inside 55 Broadway was (and indeed is) no less impressive. Holden used travertine marble and the simple lines and aesthetics to give the interiors a very clean feel. This was complemented by details such as clocks, door furniture and a cornice. The First image above shows the entrance in 1929. The one beneath shows one of the ground floor passage ways in 1955.

Image copyright TfL/London Underground

Finally, the image above shows the second floor this is the 2nd floor lift lobby taken in 1929, showing that the building’s internal style was not confined to the public areas. Again, travertine marble floors and walls feature. Interestingly, eagle-eyed readers may notice that the lettering used in 55 Broadway (visible in this photo) is actually the Percy Smith variant of Johnson’s typeface. This was the slightly serifed version that Smith put together in the twenties, today it can still also be sees at Sudbury Town.

Thanks to Moe Quette for the non-LU photos

Written by John Bull
John Bull is the Editor of London Reconnections. A transport journalist and historian, his writing often focuses on the political or strategic challenges facing London's transport network and beyond.