"Wretched, Frightful, Monstrous" - How London's Iconic Landmarks Were First Reviewed

Last Updated 18 April 2024

"Wretched, Frightful, Monstrous" - How London's Iconic Landmarks Were First Reviewed

Just because they're iconic landmarks, doesn't mean they didn't have their detractors when they debuted. We've dug out some withering reviews on everything from Nelson's Column to the Walkie-Talkie.

Nelson's Column under construction
Nelson's Column aka a "wretched spindle". Image: public domain

"A frightful staring effigy": The original King's Cross

"A frightful staring effigy... executed in a style of grotesque vulgarity beyond anything I have caught a glimpse of in a waxwork or hairdresser's window." - Morning Post, 1835. More on this one here.

"Wretched spindle": Nelson's Column

"Nelson's Column is a sadly minikin affair. It is a miminy piminy business... [a] wretched spindle of a monumental column." - Weekly Dispatch (London), 1844

The interior of the Crystal Palace
This place is a FRAUD according to one Charles Sibthorp. Image: public domain

"One of the greatest humbugs": The Great Exhibition of 1851

"One of the greatest humbugs, frauds and absurdities ever known" - Charles Sibthorp, 1850 (which to be fair was before the Crystal Palace itself had been erected)

"Like a potent poison": Big Ben

"One, two, three and then such an awful, solemn, heart-rending sound; like a potent poison, the vibration penetrates every vein in the body; it strikes every nerve, it attacks and tries every fibre in the muscle, it makes your bones rattle and your marrow creep." - Manchester Times, 1856. More on this one here.

Tower Bridge opening ceremony with flags and barges
Tower Bridge: a discredit to its generation, I'm sure we can all agree. Image: public domain

"Monstrous": Tower Bridge

"What strikes one at present is that the whole structure is the most monstrous and preposterous architectural sham that we have ever known of, and it is in that sense a discredit to the generation that erected it." - Halifax Comet, 1894

"Ugly and monstrous": Royal Festival Hall

"In the course of a long life I have seen very many important buildings in this country and I question whether in 350 years there has ever been erected on the soil of this grand old country a more repellant, a more unattractive — unattractive is an understatement — a more ugly and more monstrous structure." - Conductor and composer Sir Thomas Beeching, as told to the Liverpool Echo, 1951

The library under construction
The British Library - NOT the King's fave building. Image: British Library

"A dim collection of sheds": British Library

"A dim collection of sheds groping for some symbolic significance" - Prince (now King) Charles, 1990s. He also likened its reading room to "the assembly hall of an academy for secret police."

"Laddish brick finger": Tate Modern

"If modern art is the new British religion, the Tate's Bankside gallery will be its St Paul's, its new cathedral - an angular dark block looking across the river, sticking one laddish brick finger up at Wren's serene dome." - The Guardian, 2000 (it should be noted this was a largely positive review of the gallery)

The Dome from above
The Millennium Dome aka "a sports stadium that nobody's going to use". Image: Debot via creative commons

"A pretty stupid thing to build": The Millennium Dome

"Imagine if you took loads of pound coins and built them all up in a column until they reached the height of Liberty Hall... it would be a pretty stupid thing to build. But not nearly as stupid as building a sports stadium that nobody's going to use." - Sunday World (Dublin), 2000

"A glorified, space-age Ferris wheel": The London Eye

"Consider as well the London Eye. A glorified, space-age Ferris wheel is may be, but it is one with adherents among all but the most cynical" - The Stage, 2000 (another overall positive review)

The inside of the Sky Garden
"It has no meaningful or enjoyable relationship to anything else". Image: Colin via creative commons

"Bloated, not elegant": The Walkie-Talkie

"It feels bloated, not elegant...  it has no meaningful or enjoyable relationship to anything else, either at street level or on the skyline." - The Guardian, 2015

Researched using the British Newspaper Archive.