Is This London's Oldest Skyscraper?

By Zoe Craig Last edited 6 months ago
Is This London's Oldest Skyscraper?
Adelaide House. Photo by Geoff Holland.

Built between 1920 and 1925, Adelaide House, perched proudly on the north-east shoulder of London Bridge, is London's oldest skyscraper.

Standing at just 11 storeys high, you might think this claim is rather optimistic. But when it was completed in 1925, it was the tallest building on the river, at 43 m (140 ft) tall.

And more important than its height (although you can argue, like architect Owen Hatherley, that anything more than 10 storeys tall is a skyscraper) are the materials that go into making each of those 11 storeys.

Steel frame

Adelaide House was the first building in the City to use the 'steel frame' building technique we now see in building sites across London.

Adelaide House. Photo by David Bank.

It was this new method of building taller structures, pioneered — believe it or not — by a mill outside Shrewsbury, that went on to shape the skyscrapers in New York and Chicago, and then throughout the world.

All mod cons

Its structure wasn't the only thing that gave Adelaide House a distinctly cosmopolitan outlook.

Other American-style attributes, like central ventilation (an early form of air conditioning), an internal mail system as well as telephone and electric connections on every floor, meant the building was positively futuristic when completed.

Photo by Gábor Hernádi.

Why Adelaide?

As is often the case in London, Adelaide House has the same name as a previous building on the site; which in turn, was named after Queen Adelaide, King William IV's wife.

Queen Adelaide by Sir William Beechey. NPG London.

Queen Adelaide opened London Bridge, right next to Adelaide House, in 1831.

She also has a Southern Australian city named after her; and there seem to be other Australian connections with the building, as it features a row of stone coats-of-arms from Australian states across its entrance.

Adelaide House by Stuart Lee.

Much of the building is art deco style, with Egyptian flourishes. It was built at the height of London's Egyptian mania, sparked by the discovery in 1922, of Tutankhamun's tomb.

Barefaced beauty

Another quirk can be seen on its eastern side: it's faced in bare brick.

Adelaide House, pictured from the south bank of the Thames, showing its plain eastern facade.

The unadorned side was never really meant to be seen; it was only exposed after the next-door building was demolished after the second world war.

Bees and tees on the roof

It might seem that adding beehives and golf courses on the top of London buildings is a rather 21st-century phenomenon.

But Adelaide House was there first, with a fruit and flower garden gracing its top, as well as beehives and an 18-hole mini golf course.

British Pathe filmed the golf course in 1925; while footage of the beehives was taken in 1937.

Adelaide house today

The building was Grade II listed in 1972. Today it's occupied by Berwin Leighton Paisner. The law firm conducted a £19.2m renovation of the building between 2005 and 2007, stripping Adelaide House back to its shell and core, floor by floor, while the business carried on, on the surrounding floors.

Last Updated 03 April 2017