The story behind Fleet Street’s boldest art deco façade | The Express Building
Discover the history of this 1930s London office block, which was once home to Britain’s biggest newspaper.
Along Fleet Street is a bold Art Deco building, which stands out amongst its more muted, grey neighbours. No. 120-129 is a Modernist remainder of the street’s journalism heyday in the early 20th century. Until 30 years ago, the building was home to the Daily Express newspaper. Founded in 1900 by Sir Arthur Pearson (1866-1921), the Express was originally printed in Manchester before moving to Fleet Street in the early 1930s.
The bold black and glass building was constructed from 1930-1932 to a design by architects Herbert O. Ellis and W.L. Clarke. The duo were commissioned by the Express’s then owner, William Maxwell Aitken, Baron Beaverbrook (1879-1960) to extend the existing newspaper buildings towards Fleet Street. Their original designs featured a steel-framed structure, clad in Portland Stone. However, the narrowness of the plot and Aitken’s requirements for room to have printing presses in the basement, meant their first proposal was canned. Aitken then brought in London-born architect and engineer, Sir Evan Owen Williams (1890-1969) to improve the plans. Although he started out as an aircraft designer, Williams won fame with his buildings for the British Empire Exhibition in 1924 (including being the engineer for the old Wembley Stadium) and later designed the Dorchester Hotel, the Boots factory in Nottingham, the Peckham Pioneer Health Centre and the first section of the M1 motorway. Williams redesigned the building’s exterior, with black Vitrolite panels and chromium strips replacing the Portland stone façade. Meanwhile, Robert Atkinson (1883-1952) designed the ground floor entrance, with a chrome canopy and the Daily Express spelt out in Art Deco lettering. Atkinson’s striking lobby features two plaster reliefs – ‘Britain’ and ‘Empire’ – by British sculptor Eric Aumonier (1899-1974). as well as silver and gilt decorative features and a grand oval staircase. The finished building is widely considered one of the best examples of Streamline Moderne architecture in the capital.
The building was joined by neighbouring Aitken House to the east in the mid 1970s, erected on the site of some smaller Victorian buildings. It was clad in similar black panels to the original Daily Express building so the two buildings looked like one huge building on Fleet Street (see a photo in 1990). While the extra office space was needed for Daily and Sunday Express staff, Aitken House ruined the shape and symmetry of the original 1930s design.
In March 1972, the Express building was Grade II* listed because of its Art Deco features, as well as its concrete frame structure. After over 50 years on Fleet Street, the Express group followed in the footsteps of many other newspapers and departed the building in 1989.
By 2000, the building was entirely refurbished and neighbouring Aitken House was demolished. John Robertson Architects restored the original building, including the façade and glazing, as well as replicated and reinstated the lost Art Deco features of the lobby. Investment bank Goldman Sachs leased the building until 2019. It will be interesting to see which tenants move in next…
- The Express Building, 120-129 Fleet Street, City of London, EC4. Nearest stations: City Thameslink or Temple.
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Granada Tooting | A neo-renaissance cinema masquerading as a bingo hall
Tooting’s bingo hall started life as a cinema in the 1930s. Read about its history…
In cinemas’ heyday in the early half of the 20th century, there were film theatres on every high street, often several on the same road. However, in recent decades, a host of cinemas have been bulldozed or converted into bingo halls, churches and even pubs. However, while one such venue is no longer screening movies, the stunning, original interiors have been largely preserved.
In the heart of Tooting stands a very grand branch of Gala Bingo. Located on Mitcham Road, Gala is residing in the former Granada Tooting, a Grade I listed, Art Deco cinema. Although bingo players are welcome to visit during game-playing hours, I joined a guided tour early one Sunday morning during Open House London for a more in-depth look and to find out about the history.
The cinema was originally built as one of a chain, owned by Essex-born media baron Sidney Bernstein (1899-1993) and his younger brother Cecil (1904-1981). After his eldest sibling Selim was killed during World War I in 1915, as next in line Sidney inherited the family business following the death of his property tycoon father Alexander (1870-1922). The business included several music halls and the Empire group of ‘Kinemas’ in Ilford, Plumstead, East Ham, West Ham and Willesden. Together, Sidney and Cecil established the Granada Cinema chain – named after the Spanish city of Granada after the former had been there on holiday. Granada is home to the stunning Alhambra complex, so the name would have sounded very exotic to the average early 20th century Brit, most of whom would have never been abroad. Sidney wanted people to be drawn to the cinema itself, rather than the film, and thought of his businesses as temples of entertainment. Although his initial ‘Kinemas’ were converted music halls and theatres, his first purpose-built cinema was the Granada Dover, which opened in January 1930 (it was demolished in 2014). Read the rest of this entry
Shopping in style – Part 5 | An art deco gem, the Princes Arcade
The Princes Arcade is a 1930s shopping arcade in St James.
Decades before the likes of Westfield and Brent Cross came to London, those who wanted to shop in comfort headed to one of the capital’s arcades. Like the mega malls of today, these arcades featured numerous shops under one roof, providing a sheltered retail experience whatever the weather. However, as well laid out as these modern fashion meccas are, they just can’t compare to the historic and upmarket designs of the late Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods. As part of Metro Girl’s series on the historic arcades of Westminster, Part 5 focuses on the youngest, the Princes Arcade, which unlike the others, wasn’t purpose built.
Princes Arcade is part of Princes House at 190–195 Piccadilly which was originally built to house the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours. The building, designed by English architect Edward Robert Robson (1836-1917) and built by Messrs. Holland and Hannen, and Messrs. Peto Brothers of Pimlico, featured galleries, shops and a public hall. Robson was famous for his London state schools of the 1870s and early 1880s. The Piccadilly-facing ground floor featured six shops, with their own basements and mezzanine. On the façade of the building were eight portrait busts by sculptor Edward Onslow Ford (1852-1901). The building was in a prime location opposite the road from the Royal Academy and was opened by Prince and Princess of Wales (the future Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) in April 1883.
The main public gallery in the building was called the Prince’s Hall. However, by the turn of the 20th century, the Hall was joined with the Prince’s Hotel in the rear and it started being used as a restaurant. Between 1929 and 1933, the gallery building and the Prince’s Hotel underwent significant alterations, with the Princes Arcade being constructed at the time. The new arcade linked Jermyn Street and Piccadilly and opened in 1933. The Princes Arcade is roughly about 200ft long and features shopfronts projecting into the aisle on scrolled bracket. The southern part of the Arcade has a lower ceiling than the northern part, with the latter featuring decorative plasterwork with the Princes of Wales feathers.
In World War II, Princes Arcade fell prey to bomb damage in 1940, prompting repairs and alterations. The galleries of the Royal Institute were also damaged, reopening in July 1948. By 1972, the entire building was Grade II-listed – two years after the Royal Institute’s lease expired and they moved to the Mall Galleries near Trafalgar Square.
The Princes Arcade was renovated in 1983 and is now sporting a blue, grey and white colour scheme. The original lanterns were restored in 2011 and are now a dark grey colour. Today, the Arcade is home to Andy & Tuly, Barker Shoes, Bates Hatters, Christys’ Hats, Loake Shoemakers, Sage Brown, Segun Adelaja, Simply Gem, Smart Turnout, St Petersburg Collection, The Left Shoe Company and Prestat – Roald Dahl’s favourite chocolatier.
- Princes Arcade, Piccadilly, St. James’s, SW1Y 6DS. Nearest station: Green Park or Piccadilly Circus. For more information, visit the Princes Arcade website.
‘Shopping In Style’ is a series of blog posts on the history of London’s oldest shopping arcades. Read Part 1 on the Burlington Arcade here, Part 2 on the Royal Opera Arcade here, Part 3 on the Royal Arcade here or Part 4 on the Piccadilly Arcade here or Part 6 on the Lowther Arcade here.
To discover more retail history of London’s shopping arcades and department stores, click here.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
Sail back in time to the Golden Age Of Travel on the SS Atlantica
Why travel may be cheaper and more accessible these days, you can’t deny it was a lot more glamorous back in the 1930s. This Bank Holiday, why not sail back in time to the Golden Age of Travel on the SS Atlantica? On Saturday 28 May, the Silver Sturgeon will be transformed into a Thirties cruise liner for an evening voyage along the Thames. Hosted by Bourne & Hollingsworth, there will be live bands, cabaret acts, floorshows, dancing and drinks.
Think of Agatha Christie (without the murders!) as you don your finest garbs and quaff a glass of champers on deck as you watch the sun setting and cruise past London’s iconic landmarks. The river yacht will be given a 1931 makeover with curving balustrades, portholes and pristine white tablecloths. There will be three bars, serving classic cocktails and plenty of champagne.
The entertainment will follow a traditional 1930s ship itinerary when the elite would party the night away on the high seas. Guests will take to the dancefloor as live bands and singers bring the music of the era to life. Or step back and watch spectacular floorshows or cabaret acts.
Guests are expected to wear ‘At Sea Formalwear’. Men are encouraged to dress in dinner suits with starched collars, while the women should think of silk, fur and Art Deco jewellery as they recreate the glamour of Thirties screen stars Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn or Vivien Leigh.
- SS Atlantica sets sail on Saturday 28 May 2016. Embarkation 8pm at The Savoy Pier, cruise departs 9pm. Nearest station: Embankment or Charing Cross. Tickets: £35 (general admission) or £40 (general admission and dance class at 7pm). For tickets phone 0207 724 1617 or visit the SS Atlantica website.
For a guide to what else is on in London in May, click here.
Eltham Palace | A trip through history from Tudor kings to an Art Deco makeover
Centuries of history at this stunning, south-east London gem.
Eltham Palace is one of South London’s best kept secrets. After visiting the stunning palace and gardens for the first time last summer, I was surprised that the palace isn’t higher up on visitors’ to do lists when it comes to the capital. Unlike many palaces across the country, what makes Eltham unique is the amalgamation of two different, iconic periods of architecture – late Medieval and Art Deco. It sounds like an unusual mix, but thanks to the Courtaulds, who were responsible for the restoration of the original buildings and the creation of the 1930s home, they complement each other.
Located just four miles from Greenwich, the original Medieval palace was initially a moated manor house which was given to King Edward II (1284-1327) in 1305. During the 14th to 16th centuries, the house was used as a royal residence. King Edward IV (1442-1483) added the Tudor Great Hall in the 1470s, which still stands today and has the third largest hammerbeam roof in England. The hall was frequently used by a young King Henry VIII (1491-1547) – then Prince Henry – during his childhood.
When the riverside Greenwich Palace was rebuilt in the late 15th century, Eltham’s popularity with the royals began to drop. After the royal family ceased to use Eltham as a royal residence from the 16th century onwards, the Medieval and Tudor buildings went into decline. The estate was ravaged during the English Civil War, stripping the land of trees and deer. Following the Restoration, King Charles II (1630-1685) bestowed the ruined palace on Sir John Shaw (1615-1680) in 1663, who went on to build a separate dwelling, Eltham Lodge in the Great Park. The old palace buildings were then used as a farm, with livestock actually living in the Great Hall. In 1793, artist J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) painted the Hall full of haybales. In 1828, the Great Hall was lined up for demolition, however a campaign to save it resulted in a restoration, despite it continuing to be used as a barn. The estate remained in the Shaw family until the 1890s, by which time only the ruined Great Hall, the 15th century bridge across and the moat and some walls remained. By the 19th century, Eltham’s estate had been greatly reduced, with only two small areas of 21 hectares and 29 hectares featuring parkland.
It wasn’t until the 1930s that the fortunes of Eltham Palace turned around. The estate was acquired by the wealthy Sir Stephen Courtauld (1883–1967) and his wife Virginia (1883-1972) in 1933. A new private house was built on the site of the original adjoining the Great Hall. The new house was designed in the Art Deco style with Swedish architect Rolf Engströmer (1892-1970) creating the stunning Entrance Hall, featuring wood panelling and a domed roof. They also restored the Great Hall and added a minstrels’ gallery, as well as extensively relandscaped the grounds. The Coultards remained at Eltham during World War II, with Stephen firewatching from the Great Hall’s roof. Like much of south London, the Hall was bombed in September 1940 – with some of the scars still visible in the woodwork today. The Courtaulds ended up leaving Eltham before the war ended in 1944, with it then being acquired by the Royal Army Educational Corps, who remained on site until 1992. Some of the upstairs quarters in the house today are as they were during the Army’s residence, while the ground floor and master bedrooms have been restored in the style of the Courtaulds.
Having been taken over by English Heritage in 1995, Eltham Palace and gardens are now open for the enjoyment of the public. The audio tour of the palace and grounds is really informative and, I believe, essential for any visit. There’s also a good café on-site when you need a rest, we had a really good lunch there.
- Eltham Palace, Court Yard, Eltham, Greenwich, SE9 5QE. Nearest station: Eltham or Mottingham. For more information, visit the Eltham Palace website.
To learn about the remains of King Edward III’s Manor House in Rotherhithe, click here or the remains of Winchester Palace in Southwark, click here.
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A look inside Battersea Power Station before the developers move in
Check out photographs of the derelict Power Station before the multi-million pound renovation and conversion to shops and homes.
Battersea Power Station has come to symbolise many things over the decades – industry, dereliction, Pink Floyd. Since it was decommissioned in 1983, Londoners have witnessed the iconic 1930s landmark lie ruined and neglected over the past 29 years – with the decline of the building sped up following the removal of the roof in the late ’80s (thanks Margaret Thatcher, for approving THAT decision!). It’s no surprise the Power Station has been on English Heritage’s At Risk register for a while.
Growing up in south London, I regularly passed the Power Station on the train or in the car as I made my way back and forth over the River Thames. Throughout my life there has been various plans – and long periods of inactivity – of what to do to the former station and its huge 39 acre site. In terms of the capital, the Power Station’s land overlooking the river is a prime spot of real estate and I think it’s a crime it has been left to rack and ruin for so long. Years of neglect mean the Malaysian consortium who bought the land in 2012 will sadly have to knock down the Grade-II listed chimneys and replace them with replicas.
Of course, the main obstacle of turning this huge space into something usable has been the cost. The Power Station has been owned by various companies over the years and at one point in the ’80s was going to be transformed into a theme park, a prospect which excited me greatly as a child at the time, but in hindsight I’m grateful it didn’t happen. So following the purchase of the estate earlier this year and a £400million plan to transform the building and surrounding area into housing, offices and commercial areas, I’m keeping my fingers crossed this plan actually reaches fruition. Preparatory work has already begun on what is the largest brick building in Europe, with the builders moving in next year to start the 800 residential units, with phase one of the project estimated for completion in 2016.
Although Battersea is one of our favourite landmarks now, when it was being built from 1929 onwards, many complained it would be an eyesore. Londoners moaned it would spew out pollution into the nearby areas and there were even fears it could damage the paintings at the Tate Britain gallery a short distance down the river. In an attempt to appease concerns, acclaimed architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960) was hired to design the Power Station. Scott, grandson of St Pancras architect Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878), was famous for designing the red telephone box, the Tate Modern building and Liverpool Cathedral. Construction of the A station started in 1929 and opened in 1933, with the creation of B station beginning shortly after the end of World War II and gradually coming into operation between 1953 and 1955. Once B station was up and running, Battersea had a generating capacity of 509 megawatts and was the third largest generating site in the UK and was the most thermally efficient power station in the world when it opened. Although Italian marble and Art Deco features were used in A’s turbine hall, Britain was too poor after World War II to afford the same lavish interiors for B.
Over time, the equipment became outdated. A Station was closed in March 1975, followed by B Station in October 1983. Following closure, there was talk of demolishing the Power Station, but it had been Grade II listed in 1980 ensuring its survival.
A few years ago, when Battersea was still owned by previous owners, Irish developers Real Estate Holdings, I was lucky enough to get the chance to visit the Power Station up close and see the plans. It was amazing seeing inside a building I knew so well from the outside – the Art Deco tile work, the ghostly wall markings of wrought-iron stairwells long since destroyed and the decorative wall in the old staff canteen. So here’s some of my photos of the striking station before it is transformed into a modern living and working space over the next few years.
- To find out more about the current plans for Battersea’s redevelopment, visit the official website.
For more of Metro Girl’s blog posts on London history, click here.