Tooley Street is on the Change

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Above: View of the Shard of Glass from an exterior arch of Hay’s Galleria.

Yes – it is Tooley Street but not as we used to know it! The area has seen dramatic changes over the last few decades.

As we walk around London today, gawping at our first office block rising over 1,000 feet in height, we wonder ‘where is it all going to end?’. The answer, of course, is that there is no end. There will come a day when the buildings rise to over 2,000 feet, and so on. By world standards the Shard of Glass, whose exact height seems to vary according to which book on London’s architecture you read (let’s settle for 1,017 feet), is not really that high. Its certainly high enough for those of us who grew with most office blocks in the City of London only reaching five or six stories.

The world’s first skyscraper was built in Chicago in 1885. The breakthrough in construction was to use a steel frame and then add the exterior in whatever material was convenient. In passing it should be mentioned that even Tower Bridge (completed in 1894) was built on the same principle, with an inner steel frame – parts of which are permanently on show and painted light blue. The tallest building in America is now considered to be the new World Trade Centre – at 1,776 feet.

World-wide, the tallest building ever erected is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (United Arab Emirates) which is a staggering 2,717 feet in height, completed in 2010. As we look at the view of the Shard, taken from an arched entrance of Hay’s Galleria we have to wonder what the Victorians made of buildings like St Pancras Station and Liverpool Street Station. We have become so used to seeing Victorian buildings of that size that they no longer appear enormous. If you have ever viewed the Shard of Glass from a distance you have probably realised how it dwarfs the Guy’s Tower which stands next to it. Until the Shard of Glass was erected, Guy’s Tower seemed high. Now, from the viewing gallery of the Shard, you can look down on Guy’s and it looks so small.

The trap we all fall into is to thinking that what exists now is somehow final. Tudor citizens were amazed at the height of old St Paul’s Cathedral and of the size of the Royal Exchange. After the Great Fire of London Christopher Wren built the present St Paul’s Cathedral. Then came the Victorian era with enormous railway stations and railway trains moving faster than a horse! Some of us remember the opening of the high-speed railway lines with the ’125’ trains. In recent memory came HS1 – running to the Continent from the newly refurbished St Pancras International Station.

As we look south from Hay’s Galleria – erected by William Cubitt in 1856 – we need to realise that it was built just 20 years after London’s first railway trains started to run from the terminus at London Bridge. That railway only ran three miles, ending at Deptford. Those Victorians probably said ‘Whatever next – these railway viaducts running so close to the docks in Tooley Street!’ Well, that railway viaduct has continued in use until the present day. In 1864 the line was extended west, crossing Borough High Street and running to Waterloo East and Charing Cross. Today, as we look south at Tooley Street, we know that its ‘all change’ at London Bridge Station once more – with enormous entrances in St Thomas Street and in Tooley Street about to be completed for the new concourse under the rebuilt station platforms.

The world of the docks beside Tooley Street came to an abrupt halt in the 1960s. Suddenly Tooley Street lost all its vitality. It remained dormant until the 1980s when the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) started to refurbish its old buildings – like the Hay’s Galleria – and also built new offices. Hay’s Galleria opened to the public in 1987 and suddenly tourists wanted to visit Tooley Street. It was a concept that those who knew the street thought was a very strange idea. Now, of course, it is something Londoners have got use to. In the days of the dockers, nobody wanted to visit Tooley Street as a tourist, the area was so ugly and so dirty!

So, the picture at the top of this article is a sign of the future. It incorporates the new shiny offices called the Shard of Glass seen through an arch of Hay’s Galleria – a building that was erected when Queen Victoria was on the throne. London never stands still. We all thought that the concept of large new offices at Canary Wharf would remain on the Isle of Dogs. It started there but soon moved to other parts of London – including even Tooley Street!

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For subscription members there is a pdf (in Bugle format) describing the history of the whole of Tooley Street. It is the largest ‘Bugle’ produced so far – with four pages. It can be downloaded free from the usual ‘Members Website’. Anyone reading this article can purchase a pdf copy by making a request in the comments section and leaving an email address or emailing the author directly. Details will then be forwarded to you

-ENDS-

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