The Builder questions the wisdom of plans for a tower twice the height of Big Ben next to Parliament
London has seen its fair share of heritage-harming tower proposals, but few come close in terms of sheer audacity to what was planned for Westminster in 1904. Concerns that Westminster Abbey was getting too cluttered with monuments and statues led to plans for a huge adjoining tower as an overspill.
At 168m in height, the Imperial Monumental Halls and Tower would have been by far the tallest building in London, nearly twice the height of Big Ben, taller than the Walkie Talkie and One Blackfriars are today, and would have dominated the entire Westminster government district. Its architects John Pollard Seddon and Edward Beckitt Lamb presented the idea at the Royal Academy, describing it as a ”worthy centre to the metropolis of the Empire”.
The Builder did not wholly approve. “The immense scale proposed for the tower has a little too much of “megalomania” about it,” was the verdict of the publication, though the writer was not averse to a similar scheme on a “somewhat more reasonable scale”.
Luckily for Big Ben, the plan proved far too expensive and never got beyond the concept stage.
News item, 26 March 1904
SUGGESTION FOR AN IMPERIAL MONUMENTAL HALL AT WESTMINSTER.
This grandiose suggestion for an English Walhalla, of which we give two illustrations, arose in the first instance from the exhibition at the Royal Academy, in 1901, of a small drawing by Mr. E. B. Lamb, representing a “design for a National Monument to British Heroes.” This fell in, to some extent, with a former idea of Mr. Seddon’s for a memorial hall at Westminster, and the two architects have worked out this scheme together.
From the plan it will be seen that the Hall is connected with Westminster Abbey, though the authors have not made the unwise pretence, which has been made by other projectors, that a new mausoleum connected with the Abbey offered an equivalent to “burial in Westminster Abbey.” The proposed Hall would stand on its own merits as a place of monuments to eminent Englishmen.
The following are the authors’ brief notes in explanation of their scheme:-
“This design is for a structure to contain monuments of high art to eminent men and women of all parts of the British Empire; that such will become a public necessity is certain, and no doubt will be called for before long. The site proposed by the authors, in the precincts of the Royal Abbey of Westminster, and of the Houses of Parliament, is fairly free and the only one fit for the purpose.” (Note. This site was proposed for the memorial to the late Queen Victoria, but not considered appropriate for that, and rightly so for many reasons.)
“The whole group of buildings would form a worthy centre to the metropolis of the Empire ‘upon which the sun never sets,’ and in historic and religious interest could not be rivalled. Grandeur of scale and costly execution would, of course, be essential to the structure; yet the design could obviously be carried out in sections and by degrees. The idea, at any rate, the authors hope may lead to some adequate conception of a proper realisation of that ‘Imperial thought’ which has become dear to the heart of the nation and the Colonies of the British Empire.”
The authors must, of course, be prepared at once for the criticism that their tower as proposed would have the result of dwarfing the Victoria Tower and the Houses of Parliament generally; and, indeed, apart from this consideration, the immense scale proposed for the tower has a little too much of “megalomania” about it. A leading architectural feature on a somewhat more reasonable scale might be just as effective. But in other respects, and in regard to the plan particularly, we think the idea a very fine one, and well worthy the serious attention of the Government and the country, at least as to the main idea suggested.
Even if this precise plan were not carried out, it would be something gained if the Government were induced to secure the land for such a purpose, instead of allowing it to be built over as private property. Westminster Abbey being now practically filled up as regards space for burials and monuments, we ought to contemplate the erection of a national Memorial Hall, and there is no place so suitable for it as Westminster, the historic centre of the capital.
The larger drawing has recently been exhibited, with others, in a studio near Sloane-square. The smaller one, the illustration of the scheme as it would appear from below Westminster-bridge, was specially made for us by Mr. E. B. Lamb, in order to show another aspect of the proposed grouping. As a picturesque sketch, made at the last moment, and in a wonderfully short time, it says much for its author’s powers as an artistic draughtsman.
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