This is a modern alley that passes through a controversial building and is named after a family that owned land in the area some 900 years ago
Bucklersbury Passage passes through the middle of No 1 Poultry, the postmodernist cluster of a building next to the Bank of England that replaced the much loved neo-gothic Mappin and Webb building on the corner.
The Mappin and Web building actually occupied only about two-thirds of the site that’s now filled by No 1 Poultry, as there was a side road behind which was built over. That road Bucklersbury, was remembered though in this new alley which was cut through the ground floor of the new building.
The lost road and replacement alley are both named after the Buckerel/Bucherel family who are said to have owned land here from the 1100s.
Their fortified house (bury), possibly called Servats Tower, was sold in 1183 to Hasculf de Tania. The house was acquired by Queen Isabella in 1317 and housed the Great Wardrobe until 1333. In the early 1500s, Sir Thomas More lived here in a large house where his four children were born. In Shakespeare’s time, the street was known for its apothecaries, and in ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ he mentions the peculiar smell of Bucklersbury.
The site of the modern building and alley has been a block of shops pretty much since Tudor times, although it changed a bit, and the arrival of Queen Victoria Street cut a large slice off the southern side, not a lot changed until the 1960s.
The first attempt to replace the Victorian building would have seen it replaced with a tall very much of its time black skyscraper. The sort of building that’s been torn down elsewhere now as an eyesore. Its only redeeming feature was that being very tall meant it could occupy less space on the ground, and would have created a wide open square next to the Mansion House.
It never happened, and it wasn’t until the 1990s that the current building was constructed on the site, being completed in 1997 after one of London’s largest archaeological digs of the time. Whisper it quietly, but as much as I like a bit of gothic, I like the postmodernist replacement a lot more, and a large part is thanks to the profusion of angles and shapes on the building.
So much more interesting to look at than the long line of uniform windows of the older building or the square box of a skyscraper that had been planned.
To bring light into the offices, an atrium sits in the heart of the building and is linked to the outside by the newly created Bucklersbury Passage.
The passageway punches through the building, with a ziggurat of a space that looks more like the entrance to an ancient temple than a modern office.
The vast numbers who walk past may have never popped in, which is a pity as the atrium in the centre is a triumph of contrasting designs that somehow still manage to work together.
The blue ceramic tiles supplied by Hathernware clad the offices above and sit as inserts within the sandstone-clad circle, and all are supported by the simple grey concrete pillars that give the atrium its structure at the lower levels.
A glazed central pit lets light down into the basement below.
The building, No 1 Poultry was given heritage listed protection in 2016, mainly to prevent changes that would have destroyed the atrium.
Sitting above the northern entrance are a series of terracotta panels rescued from the old building. They were created by the sculptor I.C. Kremer in 1875, and it’s said that the panels were supposed to be carved from sandstone, but the English stonemasons went on strike, so they were cast from terracotta clay in Belgium instead.
The panels depict a number of royal processions that took place through the City of London, including Edward VI, Elizabeth I, Charles II and Victoria.
It’s very easy to miss, but just below the panels, one of the stones in the pale banding has been inscribed with a message that tells the story of the panels.
Something that you won’t see though is deep beneath your feet — the river Walbrook which runs pretty much underneath the alley, which is a nice echo of the blue tiles used in the centre of the atrium.