Victoria House in Whitefriars | An unusual blend of 19th century architecture
The story of a former Fleet Street printing house.
Many of the surrounding streets of Fleet Street have the industries of law and the press to thank for their many architectural designs. Although the newspapers and publishing houses have moved on, their legacy in the area lives on through their former offices. One of these buildings, the former Argus Printing Company, now survives as a great example of Victorian commercial architecture and is now luxury apartments. Located on the corner of Temple Avenue and Tudor Street in the district of Whitefriars, is a building now known as Victoria House.
The name Whitefriars comes from the former friary, which stood in the area from the 13th to 16th century. Following the dissolution of the friary, the area swiftly went from religious to run-down. At the time, it was located outside the jurisdiction of the City of London so became a magnet for the badly-behaved. The area was known as ‘Alsatia’ and was renowned for its criminal population. However, the Great Fire of London of 1666 provided an opportunity for officials to clean up the area as it was rebuilt.
By the 17th century, Whitefriars became a hub for trade with its many warehouses and wharves. Horwood’s Map of 1799 shows Grand Junction Wharf, Weft & Coves Wharf and White Friars Dock around the site of current Victoria House. Although today, Tudor Street is just over 300 metres long, on Horwood’s Map the name only leant itself to a short stretch of the eastern end. Meanwhile, the western end leading into Inner Temple was called Temple Street until it was renamed as an extension of Tudor Street in the 19th century when the area was altered by construction of the nearby Victoria Embankment in the 1860s. It was during the 19th century that the area of Fleet Street and the surrounding streets – including those in Whitefriars – became a hub for London’s booming newspaper industry. The Victorian era saw the establishment of buildings for both the editorial and production of newspapers and magazines.
One of the Victorian buildings established for this burgeoning industry was Victoria House, home to the Argus Printing Company. Journalist and politician Harry Marks (1855-1916) established the Argus Printing Company (APC) in 1887 to print his Financial News daily newspaper, which had been founded three years earlier. At its launch, the original Argus printing plant on Bouverie Street wasn’t very large, featuring one machine and rotary press which could produce 12,000 eight-page papers hourly. By 1887, the success of the Financial News meant the APC could buy a larger machine by Hippolyte Auguste Marinoni (1823-1904), which doubled the hourly output. Within a few years, the Bouverie premises were too cramped for the volume of production required so a new site closer to the Thames was acquired in 1891.
English architect and surveyor Charles Valentine Hunter (1842-1914) was commissioned to design the new building. Hunter was an elected associate of RIBA and had a practice in Queen Victoria Street. Living in south London, he designed many commercial buildings in the area, including warehouses and shops, as well as an extension to the London & County Bank (now demolished – see 1905 archive of the building), all in Brixton. Hunter’s design was an unusual mix of classical and commercial-style architecture and built between 1896-1897. The foundations were built by Messrs Greenwood, while the structure was constructed by Patman and Fotheringham. The ground floor features a rusticated stone façade with round arched windows and doors. Dotted in between openings are keystones with grotesque faces, while the corner features a winged Argus perched on a carved shield – the insignia for the printing company. From the 1st floor and upwards, the red brick frontage is a more industrial look, topped by a balustrade parapet to the roof. If you look up, you’ll notice the Ruabon terracotta dressings.
By then, Argus Printing Company now had 48,000ft of office space, with plenty of space for numerous rotary presses and Linotype machines. It wasn’t long before other magazines and newspapers started being printed in the building, including the Observer and the Illustrated London News. Over time, other publications began sub-letting space in the building, including United Newspapers and the Geographical Museum. Argus also owned another building next door at 15-17 Tudor Street, which was demolished in 1987 (see an archive photo of it in 1969). Among its neighbours were other printing presses, including Co-operative Printing Society, the Daily Mail, Marshall Printers, and John Dicks Press.
In 1958, Argus moved on as the decline of Fleet Street’s newspaper industry continued (see an archive photo of the building in 1971) as the press moved elsewhere. In 1981, most of Tudor Street was designated as part of the Whitefriars Conservation Area, followed by the building being Grade II listed in 1997. During the ’90s, the Argus Printing building was renamed Victoria House and was used as a Salvation Army homeless shelter. In the early 21st century, the building was redeveloped into luxury housing. Today, flats in the building sell for between £900,000 to £1.3million.
- Victoria House, 23-27 Tudor Street and 8-10 Temple Avenue, Whitefriars, City of London, EC4. Nearest stations: Blackfriars or Temple.
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Posted on 26 Feb 2021, in Architecture, History, London and tagged City of London, Fleet Street, Victorian. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Victoria House in Whitefriars | An unusual blend of 19th century architecture.