A recent trip to North London took your columnist very close to an iconic symbol of the capital’s 1960s skyline. What is now called the BT tower was first conceived in 1954 as a rapid increase in the use of telephones was underway and a communications mast was needed.
Originally it was called the Post Office tower and, at 177 metres, became the second tallest structure in London (after the Crystal Palace mast) and the tallest ‘building’ (i.e., with habitable floors which the mast does not have) in the country.
Before it was officially opened in 1965 by Prime Minister Harold Wilson, a man plunged to his death from the top of the tower the previous year, having walked past security guards without any checks. Hardly an auspicious start!
However, things improved in 1966 when Queen Elizabeth II paid her first official visit to the tower and had afternoon tea with Postmaster General Tony Benn and Billy Butlin (of the holiday camp fame)! Two days later, the tower was opened to the public and featured an exciting revolving restaurant at the top. At this time, it was a unique feature as no other building in the world offered something like this.
Unfortunately, a bomb was planted in the men’s toilets in 1971 and this led to the observation decks being closed for good. It was widely believed to be the work of the IRA (Irish Republican Army), though they denied any involvement, and, to this day, it remains a mystery. The restaurant remained open until 1980 when it closed its doors for good in what was now called the British Telecom Tower.
Effectively what was always simply a communications mast and undoubtedly used by the security services at various times, the BT Tower, as it is now known, is a Grade II-listed building but has been eclipsed in size by several skyscrapers across London. There are now an astonishing 118 buildings over 100 metres in the UK capital, but they are still relatively rare in the streets around Euston station.
Staying in this part of town, an old London boozer is looking at an exciting future with a reincarnation that incorporates another famous former venue. The Cross nightclub used to be located in railway arches near King’s Cross Station and was a famous dance and party venue from the 1990s until it closed in 2008. It had a cult-like following and its closure was mourned by many in the dance music scene.
Now, one of the original club founders, Billy Reilly, is planning on opening a new venue in a nearby, shut-down pub which was previously known as The General Picton and The Driver. On September 9, 2023, The Cross Pub will open, with bars, a restaurant and a roof terrace. Mixed venues such as this are increasingly popular in London with young people and families – and increasingly as daytime workplaces for those working from laptops and tablets.
Light in the darkness
One of the most iconic churches in London is St Martin-in-the-Fields on the north east corner of Trafalgar Square. The curious name derives from the time that the original parish church there was outside the walls of London and located in farmland and fields. It is difficult to imagine this now with no fields in sight and Trafalgar Square being the beating heart of the metropolis.
The beautiful church which now stands on the site was built between 1721 and 1726 and has featured in many books, TV programmes and films over the years, including Notting Hill, Doctor Who and A Room With a View.
This winter, it has become the venue for one of the most spectacular son-et-lumière experiences to hit the UK capital. ‘Space, The Universe and Everything’ has provided an opportunity to ponder humans’ relationship with the Earth and beyond, in a truly astonishing sound and light experience. Some of the lighting has been projected onto the outside of the Church, but the true delights lay within the building itself.
Intrepid visitors plunge into the crypt for an out-of-this-world trip around the stars with footage of the first space rocket launch. Then, upstairs, the creation of the world and the Big Bang are graphically projected around the windows and interior of this beautiful Georgian church, with the final image of Earth shown as if looking back from space under a galaxy of stars.
Artist Peter Walker said: “We are all responsible for this small planet that we started to explore in the 1960s. The artwork is about reflecting inwards as much as it is about reflecting outwards, and about how we take care of our small piece of the Universe.”
This bright, beautiful creation in a Grade 1-listed church, with tickets priced very reasonably at £10 (€11.27), has been a real delight for Londoners and tourists in the usually dark and cold first months of the year.
Holocaust Memorial Day has taken place in the UK on January 27 each year since 2001. It commemorates the victims of this dreadful attempt to destroy the Jewish race which saw more than one third of all Jewish people murdered. The date was chosen as it was on this day in 1945 that the most notorious of the Nazi death camps, Auschwitz, was liberated by the Red Army.
In South Kensington, most famous for the great national museums like the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum with their grand gothic and Victorian frontages, there has been an astonishing and troubling exhibition entitled ‘Seeing Auschwitz’ in a shabby former shop and soon-to-be entertainment venue.
Featuring the only existing photographic evidence of this sheer atrocity to humanity, perhaps the most remarkable thing is silence. As people look at the pictures, few, if any, can think of anything to say to each other.
Most of the photographs on display were taken by the notorious camp guards of the SS and the album containing them was only discovered after the war. The exhibition invites visitors to ‘critically reflect on the images, exploring what they really tell us’. Most good people would want to think simply ‘never again’ and then walking into the cold light of day will remember what is going on in the Ukraine in 2023! The exhibition hopes to tour the world and more information can be found at seeing-auschwitz.com
Richard leads parallel lives with homes and business interests in London and Portugal. He provides consultancy services to leading businesses in insurance and financial services, property and media sectors. He has four sons, two dogs and enjoys a busy family life. He likes swimming, keeping fit and an outdoor life.