London’s forgotten futuristic skyscraper that the public loved but was torn down just a year after it was built
London’s skyline has changed dramatically over the years. Buildings like The Shard, Gherkin and London Eye are all architectural masterpieces and are iconic to London. These buildings didn’t exist 50 years ago, but London’s skyline has continued to evolve to encompass old and new. However, if you were to see a photo of the London skyline in 1951, you might be confused to see a gigantic rocket-shaped sculpture and wonder where it stands today.
The Skylon was built in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain under the post-war Labor government. The futuristic sculpture that was suspended in the air stood 300 feet tall and weighed 100 tons. Philip Powell, one of the architects, described what it looked like: “At night it was lit from within by hundreds of bulbs, and by day when it was windy the air rushed through the aluminum louvers that ran along its center section, and made a hum.”
The festival was a huge success with the public with more than half of the population coming to see it. Robert Hewison, a cultural historian, said he remembered paying five shillings (25 pence) to enter when he was eight years old. He said: “Skylon was a really beautiful piece of architecture. It was the tallest structure in London at that time and it spoke of rocketry and space travel.
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But despite its popularity with the public, when Churchill returned to power he feared the futuristic sculpture represented socialist Britain and demanded the sculpture be taken down just a year after it was built. He claimed the festival was “three-dimensional socialist propaganda” and that the spider-like cables supporting it were “just like modern Britain – no visible means of support”.
Since the demolition there have been various rumors about the whereabouts of the sculpture, with some claiming it was dumped in the River Thames or buried under Jubilee Gardens at South Bank. BBC Radio 4 launched a campaign to find out exactly where it ended up but the result of their investigation did not lead to any impressive breakthroughs, instead the sculpture found its way to scrap dealers where it ended up then turned into cutlery.
However, in 2011 an original piece was found in the living room of a Londoner’s bedroom. The grandson of Percy Levy, a company manager hired to demolish the Skylon in 1952, revealed he owned part of the vertical structure. Nick Baughan said: “The company was given the responsibility to scrap it, and it flew a bit.”
Today you would have no idea that an iconic British monument stood in Southbank. Instead, a simple gold ring on the Queen Elizabeth Walk commemorates where the tower once stood. It reads: “I saw a blade rising in the sky held by almost nothing at all.”
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