Site Unseen: Colcutt Tower

Every month CabbieBlog hopes to show you a little gem of a building that you might have passed without noticing, in the past, they have ranged from a modernist car park; a penguin pool; to a Hanoverian gatehouse.

At nearly 300ft. Colcutt’s Tower is higher than the dome of St. Paul’s but the subsequent development surrounding the building has ensured the building’s total anonymity.

[D]ESIGNED BY by T. E. Colcutt, it was he I discovered who designed the Savoy, Simpson’s-in-the-Strand and the Palace Theatre. When completed Colcutt’s Tower marked Queen Victoria’s 50 years on the throne.

The Renaissance-style tower originally had two siblings each with copper roofs, the towers rising up above the Imperial Institute founded after the grand-sounding Colonial Exhibition of 1886. On the anniversary of Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, the tower was christened The Queen’s Tower.

The Imperial Institute was completed in 1893 and although regarded as Colcutt’s masterpiece a proper function was never found for its use. Its cavernous great hall was used for examinations and was notorious among students in the 1950s for its leaking ‘temporary’ plywood ceiling and the loose-bowelled sparrows that inhabited it.

In the 1960s the Imperial Institute was demolished despite protests led by the poet laureate John Betjeman. Only the single tower was spared, but as the buildings originally had propped it up the tower’s foundations had to be considerably strengthened thus allowing it to stand proudly on its own.

The only sign that this monument to colonialism exists, is when 11 times a year on Royal anniversaries its bells are rung much the surprise of local residents (who must wonder where the sound is coming from) and the sparrows.

Featured image: View from the top of Colcott Tower

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 16th July 2013

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