The West End Resident
Kirk Truman

The BT Tower – Fitzrovia’s Maypole

The years have gone by and I’ve heard, through and through, the words ‘Post Office tower’ by summer under the burning sun, the words ‘Telecom tower’ by winter under drifting snows.

The BT Tower Partially Covered In Cloud

The pinnacle of British Telecommunications rises right here in the Fitzrovia neighbourhood, finally the mysteries mounting amongst us all along the watchtower I seek to answer.

Over the years, I’ve heard reference in anything, from local gallery owner, Rebecca Hossack, referring to it as the maypole of the village, forward through to watching the 1966 ‘War Machines’ Doctor Who episodes which centre around the square and tower.

On the site of the BT Tower there had long stood a transmitter; running temporary cables between cameras at Westminster Abbey, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace and the BBC’s only transmitter at Alexandria Palace. In 1937, BT made history transmitting King George VI’s coronation live to homes throughout the UK. This broadcast was made from a much shorter steel lattice tower on the same site as the current. Soon after the coronation of the king, microwave radio technology replaced cable transmissions. Today, BT makes transmissions through fibre-optic technology where each cable is made of plastic, or glass, and is thinner than human hair.

The erection of the BT tower was delayed considerably by World War II. It was only after having been commissioned by the General Post Office that construction of the tower began in June 1961. Due to its height, its foundations sink down through 53 metres of soft London clay, formed of a concrete raft measuring 27 metres square and reinforced with six layers of steel cables. On top of this sits a reinforced concrete pyramid.

Originally designed by Eric Bedford, the senior architect behind the actual build was Mr. G. R. Yeats and, although construction of the tower was completed in July 1964, it wasn’t officially opened until over a year later by Prime Minister, Harold Wilson on 8 October 1965, and was made open to the public on 16 may, 1966 when it was operated by Butlins. The total cost of construction came in at £2.5 million pounds, with the tower being constructed out of a whopping 13,000 tons of concrete and steel, with 50,000 square feet being used for the exterior windows alone.

The assumptions that pass between us all here in Fitzrovia are of a disused tower, a revolving restaurant that hasn’t turned for decades. This tower, this maypole of our villages is alive. It is the beating heart that connects us all in our day-to-day lives and it’s right here in Fitzrovia! We go about our days and we look up to you. Under mist, rain and the heat of sun, we see you to know that we are home in Fitzrovia, all along the watchtower.

This article was written by Kirk Truman on April 18, 2018
Photo credit: Kirk Truman

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