diamond geezer

 Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Random City of London ward (10): Lime Street

My tenth random ward may be small but contains the City's tallest and third tallest buildings, with the fourth already rising alongside. It's also home to the Lloyds Building and Leadenhall Market so has plenty of big-hitters... but not a great deal more because that's where massive redevelopment gets you. It's also badly named because, following several boundary changes, most of Lime Street now lies outside. [pdf map] [10 photos]

Lime Street ward is the heart of the City's skyscraper cluster - the peak towards which all the glass towers rise. That's because it lies in the developmental sweet spot, just out of reach of protected views of St Paul's Cathedral and also light on heritage buildings in need of preservation.

At number one in the loftiness chart is 22 Bishopsgate, a recently-completed behemoth not quite interesting enough to have earned its own nickname. It's notably bulky as well as tall, all the better to squeeze in as much office space as possible. Its fat shaft eventually peters out above the 48th floor, with a viewing gallery and sky bar nearer the 278m summit. This urban cliff-face is the replacement for an even taller building that never got built because the money ran out, the Pinnacle, whose aborted lift shaft stood watch over the end of Threadneedle Street for several years. Sometimes the path from demolition to topping-out moves at glacial pace.

The upper reaches of 22 Bishopsgate are so bland that the developers have sought to brighten up downstairs with splashes of vivid colour. Large glass canopies extend above the main entrance, speckled with dots in tropical shades, a theme continued in the wall-hangings and portraits displayed around the lobby. The number 22 has been painted in jaunty blue onto various pillars, because that's the best branding the building can muster. Circling the perimeter is a fresh ring of City bollards, some so fresh they still have their plastic wrapping, while a dark alleyway threads underneath the southeast corner. Just walking through on a Sunday morning triggered the interest of a pair of security guards who popped out to see what I was up to, so I'm not buying the 'friendly community' shtick on the development's website.

Next step down in the skyscraper mountain is 122 Leadenhall Street, or the Cheesegrater as it's better known. Its characteristic wedge-shaped profile was Richard Rogers' attempt to nudge the upper storeys away from the dome of St Paul's as seen from Fleet Street, which at 225m high it would otherwise have marred. The atrium is raised above the ground and reached by escalator, opening up a large public space at ground level which at present is uncannily empty. A row of painted ventilation funnels stands out, but check out the wall to one side for a discordant heritage nod - a classical statue and a replica maypole. The former came from the P&O offices that once stood on the site while the latter recalls a medieval erection on a nearby street corner. Ian Visits, naturally, has the backstory. Head round the back and you can see all the liftshafts highlighted in yellows and oranges, plus the control panels that keep the Cheesegrater ticking over, because this building was designed to have its innards on view.

Coming up on the rails is 8 Bishopsgate, a 50 storey tower resembling three stacked boxes whose liftshafts currently max out at 16 and 21. That'll thicken the central cluster still further when finally complete. But even this soaring trio is due to be overshadowed by The Trellis, the intended replacement for the 1960s Commercial Union building, more recently known as the Aviva Tower. Expect an unthrilling cross-braced cuboid because the City's planning department didn't want to muddy the skyline with another funny-shaped crown. This 298m monster has had planning permission since 2016 but demolition hasn't started yet, let alone decanting the office personnel, so it'll be at least another five years before its potentially-unnecessary peak intrudes. If it does emerge, however, the appropriately-named cul-de-sac of Undershaft could back onto to four of the City's five tallest buildings.

Undershaft's other major building, by extreme contrast, is a medieval parish church. St Helen's is the largest such place of worship to survive the Great Fire and the Blitz, although two IRA bombs caused a fair bit of damage in the 1990s so there's been a lot of touching up. The interior's broad and spacious with two naves, all the better to cram in the four different congregations who turn up on Sundays. Parishioners were setting up for the main morning service when I peered in, with Mandarin, Informal and Contemporary gatherings due later in the day. Eminent 17th century scientist Robert Hooke was 'first laid to rest here' in 1705, as a plaque outside attests, although nobody knows where his bones ultimately ended up.
North of St Helen's the ward of Lime Street interlocks with the ward of Bishopsgate like a jigsaw piece. I failed to find much of interest here. A mothballed hotel. A golf lounge. A green wall. A barbers charging £21 for a signature wet shave. A TK Maxx with a notional upper limit of 111 simultaneous shoppers. A Veggie Pret. I mention these solely so that you don't think Lime Street's all big and ostentatious, not because they're especially noteworthy.

The only building in Lime Street ward with a Lime Street address is the Lloyd's Building, the architecturally-startling home of the age-old insurance underwriting company. It was designed by Richard Rogers in the 1970s, famously with all the key ductwork, pipes and conduits on the outside, and eventually completed in 1986. This maximises the amount of space inside for the Names to do their business, as you'll know if you've queued to make a pilgrimage on Open House weekend. The classical entrance to the former 1928 offices was left in situ alongside, but if you peer through the gates it looks like metal staircases and cylinders are growing organically beyond. Other fun things to do include watching the lifts going up and down, querying whether the building should have been Grade I listed quite so quickly and wondering whether Lloyd's insured themselves against the current calamity.

Which just leaves Leadenhall Market. This utterly glorious covered crossroads was designed by Horace Jones, the architect behind Tower Bridge, who replaced the former stone structure with a canopy of wrought iron and glass. It's probably the place in the City I've visited most often during lockdown, invariably exhilarated to have the entire place to myself because this permits photography that'd've been impossible in any other year. It's bad news for the retailers though, artisan cheesemongers or otherwise, as their normally captive financial audience continues to hunker down at home. Leadenhall's commercial team have attempted to encourage footfall by placing love poems in the windows of various vacant units and painting a handful of bollardtops pink, but my experience suggested their Valentine's promotion missed the mark.

Intriguingly only half of Leadenhall Market lies within Lime Street ward. It used to be three quarters until 2003 when a boundary review whipped away Lime Street Passage and all points east, but that's good news because I get to return to Leadenhall Market when Langbourn ward eventually crops up. It may not be quite so eerily deserted then.

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