Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Faraday House, Queen Victoria Street EC4

Possibly the nastiest, flashiest and most offensive building in London is Faraday House. It caused outrage when it was built in 1932, sticking up right in front of St Pauls. Legislation quickly followed banning high rise buildings along certain key views over London, but the opportunity was not taken to demolish the bloody thing as it had been built not by greedy developers but by the government! Yes, Faraday House was designed and built by the Office of Works as the City of London's telephone exchange. The architect was one A.R. Myers.
It has one redeeming feature, a line of rather jolly carved keystones over the ground floor windows. To a casual glance they look like traditional outcrops of fruit and veg, but they are actually telecommunications apparatus including telephones, undersea cables, and even relays. One shows electrical signals girdling the earth, girdle girdle girdle, as E. L. Wisty put it so memorably. The arches at either end have the head of Mercury, the messenger of the gods, with his winged helmet. His caduceus, a winged staff with two serpents entwined round it, is reproduced in bronze.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've just seen your blog about Faraday House for the first time today,when I was trying to get photos of the old telephone exchanges within.
I thought your comments were a bit vitriolic,because as I remember it,it was a very nice building,and quite "art deco" in style.
I was a telephonist there from 1949-1952.
If you know or f any photos from that time,I would be pleased to hear from you.
Sorry you don't like the building
but everyone to to their taste.
Yours, J.S.

IRENE SMALL( NEE COZENS) said...

I LIKED THE BUILDING AND WAS THERE EVERY DAY IN 1958 TO 1960 AS A TELEPHONE OPERATOR FOR THE GPO, VERY NICE PLACE THE ONE I WORKED FOR WAS SHERIDAN EXCHANGE INSIDE THE FARADAY BUILDING ALSO, IT WAS VERY MODERN FOR ITS TIME AND CLEAN AND WELL CONSTRUCTED THERE WERE SO MANY THINGS ABOUT THAT PLACE I LOVE, THE CAFETERIA WAS VERY LARGE I REMEMBER THAT AND THE SWITCHBOARD ROOMS WERE VERY LARGE AND HAD MANY SWITCHBOARDS, A FEW SUPERVISORS AND A GREAT CHIEF SUPERVISOR HER NAME ESCAPES ME BUT I REMEMBER SHE WAS QUITE TALL FOR A WOMAN , THE ROOM & THE PEOPLE WERE TERRIFIC, THE FRIENDS I MADE THERE WERE GREAT A FEW I CAN NAME JANET FISHER, MAUREEN BLACKER ARE TWO I REMEMBER WELL, SUCH GOOD TIMES THERE !!

Anonymous said...

I also loved the building. So many corridors and stairways. I worked there, from 1970 until 1975. I began in the continental exchange 5m and 4a, then into the French speaking side, 3m and 4m. We had to speak French to Moscow, Warsaw, all the Balkans, Switzerland as well as most of europe. I remember a chief supervisor called Miss Halsey, who had short cropped grey hair and wore black clothes all the time. Strange ! I loved working with different nationalities, there were a lot of Mauritians, who spoke French. Also Italians and Spanish telephonists. A great atmosphere there. Yes they were large rooms. I remember it also housed the international directory enquiries.
The lifts were extremely antiquated with the iron grates. I remember they were elderly men who operated the lifts.
The cafeteria was up on the 9th flr with lovely views of St Paul's and across London.
This was my first job after leaving school at 16. I am proud of having the experience of talking to europe. I also travelled to several countries after becoming friends with other operators across europe.
Yes, they were good times.
The building today with it's green roof stands out proudly as part of the London landmarks.

Judith hale said...

I also worked there from 1960 to 1962 my first job and I loved it,in those days you could change your job really easily,I remember doing a personal call to elvis when he was in the army in Germany the highlight of my life,also to Marion Brando,I met many friends one I still keep in contact with,but would love to meet up with Diane parsons,havent seen her for 44 years if you,read this Diane I was Judith masters, please leave a message hear for me

Anonymous said...

I worked in the Continental Exchange from 1949 until 1954. You had to have a minimum of School Certificate French and a Belgian lady called Madame Block gave an intensive course of French to bring you up to a sufficient fluency to be able to work in French. The switchboards were very high, each marked with the name of the town or country you were working with.
It was a lovely job and I found it very romantic to work with operators all over Europe. I made friends with a Paris operator called Ginette and we visited each other. Eventually I was so obsessed with the French language and culture that I went to Paris, stayed with Ginette's family until I found a job as an operator in the Indian embassy in Paris, where I found myself on the other end of the line, answering
"L'ambassade de l'inde" when called by operators in London. Wonderful days!

Pauline

Peggy Stevens said...

How I remember Madame Blok I enjoyed her classes. I found it interesting to work there. I moved over to International - I got an extra pound a week as a linguist(cute word)













Technical Officer BE said...

IRENE SMALL said that she worked in Sheridan Exchange inside Faraday Building. I think you will find that Sheridan and Garrick Exchanges were in TCN Judd ST., Kings Cross, not in Faraday. The switch-rooms were indeed large, 212 positions in each but some of the switch-rooms in Faraday were larger again. I worked in both Building during the late 50's and Sixties.

Anonymous said...

I have just found out that my late aunt, Isabelle Becherel, worked at the Contintental Exchange from Sept 1951 to Feb 1953. She was born in Mauritius, so was a French speaker and operator.

Nessa Haworth said...

Just found this site after researching Faraday house where my late father in law worked for many years. We think he was a Supervisor or deputy chief at the the exchange for over 30 years, maybe between mid 1950 to mid 1980s. Be great if anyone remembers him. His name was Eric Haworth. Thanks

Anne Dunlavey said...

I worked as a linguist from 1961 to 1963. It was my first job and I loved it. I made many friends there - Angela Horsenell, Zeta Lowther, Carol Fincken among others. I remember the huge switchrooms and the (sometimes) strict supervisors. We had to ask for a run through when we needed to pay a visit and we were all addressed by our surnames no matter how young we were. Happy days!