Art Deco London : Adelaide House

Introduction

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.

London Bridge, London (1926) – Claude Friese-Greene
Published by the BFI

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

Southern aspect of Adelaide House, facing on the River Thames.
Southern aspect of Adelaide House, facing on the River Thames.

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. 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 golf putting green on the roof.

Main entrance of Adelaide House on London Bridge, EC4.
Main entrance of Adelaide House on London Bridge, EC4.

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.

Adelaide House, northern aspect fronting Lower Thames Street, London, EC4
Adelaide House, northern aspect fronting Lower Thames Street, London, EC4

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”.

Church of St. Magnus the Martyr, with the Eastern aspect of Adelaide House in the background
Church of St. Magnus the Martyr, with the Eastern aspect of 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, international Law firm, Berwin Leighton Paisner.

References:

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 http://www.skyscrapercity.com.

London Bridge looking north dating from c1927.
London Bridge looking north dating from c1927.
Source: Lost London thread on www.skyscrapercity.com

And from the same thread, an earlier photo of the same scene dating from c1905, showing the previous Victorian Adelaide Buildings.

London Bridge looking north dating from c1905.
London Bridge looking north dating from c1905.
Source: Lost London thread on www.skyscrapercity.com

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