85 Fleet Street
-A little information on the building, its architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, and its current use.
By 1920 Edwin Lutyens was one of the most celebrated architects in Britain. He had become a public figure through his work in New Delhi and with the success of his Cenotaph in Whitehall, which had won universal approval. But he had built very little in London until big city commissions in the 1920s and 30s gave him the chance to treat buildings as architectural sculpture and to develop his influential ‘elemental’ style.
His first City building was Britannic House in Finsbury Square, built from 1920 to 1924 for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company – one of the grandest buildings to be constructed in London. This was followed by the Midland Bank’s Head Office in Poultry in 1924 and another Midland Bank in Leadenhall Street in 1928.
His last commercial building in the City was the Reuters and Press Association headquarters at 85 Fleet Street, built in association with the architects Smee and Houchin in 1935. It is very different in style, seeming almost modern in its design. This impression is created by the horizontal strips of metal-frame windows and the fact that there is no crowning cornice. There are many subtleties: the Doric base is rusticated with a deeply cut central doorway which is a tour de force in itself. The doorway is flanked by tapering pilasters resting on circular discs and the capitals of the disappearing pilasters, at the corners of the entrance, extend and turn into mouldings which then join the lower half of the great circular opening above the door. A bronze figure of Fame sits within the circle. Above, the main façade is heavily battened tilting backwards, with shallow pilasters between the windows which taper from a width of 136cm (4ft 6ins) at their base to (116cm) 3ft 10ins below the parapet. The windows also decrease in width as they rise. At the top, Lutyens plays a characteristically geometrical game, creating a recessed, two-storey structure with a concave front and pediments, crowned by a circular drum without a dome.
The site was a difficult one as it was very close on its east side to Christopher Wren’s St Bride’s Church. Lutyens managed it in a well-mannered way, placing two wide, plain pediments on his east elevation which flank the elaborate spire of the church when viewed from a distance. The central dip in his roof was also placed immediately behind the spire. He created an open passageway right through the Reuter’s building from Salisbury Court on the west. This is exactly on the axis of the main door of the church and widens at its eastern end so that the entrance can be seen.
Two public houses also had to be incorporated on the ground floor of the building. The White Swan, whose entrance faced St Bride’s, was located where the Lutyens Restaurant’s Dining Room is now located and The Cogers was sited right at the back of the building and entered from Salisbury Square. (The name ‘Cogers’ comes from ‘cogitate’ – it had been a place for discussion, food and grog since the mid 18th century.) Lutyens must have had fun designing its façade, which consists of large discs between key blocks, the discs set on tapering pilasters which in turn rest on smaller discs – patterns which were later much taken up by the Post-Modernists. Could they be exclamation marks?
Inside, Lutyens designed the main entrance lobby, with apses to the left and right, leading to a small hall and staircase – all clad in Travertine. A jolly wooden postbox-cum-clock, which used to stand in the hall, can now been seen in the entrance hall of the Lutyens Restaurant.
In 1939 the building became home to Reuters and the Press Association, and latterly Thompson Reuters before they moved to Canary Wharf in 2005.
Refurbished and re-opened in June 2008, the upper floors are now the offices of various lawyers and bankers.
Occupying a large part of the ground floor and basement of the 85 Fleet Street building, Lutyens Restaurant, Bar and Private Rooms was designed by Sir Terence Conran, together with the Conran & Partners team, and was opened in the late summer of 2009. The design encompasses the Conran idiom with subtle Art Deco and Modernism influences and it also includes some Lutyens references and furniture. The restaurants four private dining rooms are each named after great buildings that Lutyens designed, and the glass walls to these rooms include etchings of the original architectural drawings.
Art from Sir Terence and Lady Conran’s private collection is displayed throughout the restaurant and club. The most significant piece is a new painting by Pop artist Allen Jones called ‘Surprise, Surprise’. A collection of Samuel Pepys and Lutyens literature is available in the club – Samuel Pepys was born at the same address on 23 February 1633. There are also two interesting portraits of Lutyens and Pepys located just inside the restaurant’s entrance on St Bride’s Passage. Several old photographs of the building, portraits of Baron de Reuter and Vanity Fair cartoons have kindly been provided by Thompson Reuters and can be viewed in the bar and members’ club.
85 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1AE
Telephone 020 7583 8385 Facsimile 020 7583 8386
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