Since I started Secret London in 2005, I have become obsessed by statues (among many other things). Today, I was in Gibraltar House, on the Strand, from the fourth floor of which there is a clear view of the old Marconi House and, more important, the frieze around it at roof height. They show several groups of women among which the two panels above seem to represent different nationalities, from a woman with snowshoes (extreme left), through a European, an African and an Egyptian to a pair of Asians (extreme right).
The figures are by a relatively unknown artist called Hibbert C Binney and are a fairly typical but still lovely product of the Arts & Crafts movement of the early 1900s. They date to the original Gaiety restaurant building of 1906 by architect Norman Shaw (Savoy Theatre, New Scotland Yard). The restaurant struggled and closed down in 1908, becoming the headquarters of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company in 1912 and being renamed accordingly.
This is famous as the place where the newly-founded BBC made its first radio broadcast from in November 1922, using a transmitter built by Marconi. By December, the BBC staff of four were broadcasting for an hour a day to Britain’s 36,000 licensed radios.
After a while as the headquarters of the Ministry of Civil Aviation (and being renamed Ariel House) the building was sold off and demolished in 2007, but the Listed frontage was preserved.
(Architect Sir Norman Foster drew up the plans in 2004 to turn the site into a luxury hotel for a Spanish group. The project hit financial trouble in 2009 – like many other property developments – so the original 2011 completion date may be optimistic. The Aldwych Hotel will have 173 hotel bedrooms and 78 apartments, with restaurants, bars and a rooftop terrace.)
Conincidentally, I was on Piccadilly yesterday when I took a picture of another HC Binney work, high above St James’s. This is a group for the former tenants,, an insurance group, and they all look suitably hard-working and thrifty with a clear vision of the future (see below).
PS Marconi is also connected to Rathlin Island, where he made the first commercial telegraph transmission in 1898 – see my other website: www.raghery.com