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BT Tower

Note: this article is about the most famous BT Tower. There is also a BT Tower in Birmingham; see BT Tower (Birmingham), and a shorter version on a hill-top on Cannock Chase, Staffordshire; see BT Tower (Cannock Chase).

BT Tower seen from Soho, about 0.5 mile to the south

The BT Tower in London, previously the Post Office Tower, is a strikingly tall cylindrical building at 60 Cleveland Street, W1. The main structure is 175 metres tall, with a further section of aerial bringing the total height to 188 metres.

History of the Post Office Tower

The tower was commissioned by the General Post Office (GPO). Its primary purpose was to support the microwave aerials then used to carry telecommunications traffic from London to the rest of the country.

The tower was designed by the architects of the Ministry of Public Building and Works: the chief architects were Eric Bedford and G. R. Yeats. Typically for its time, the building is concrete clad in glass. The narrow cylinder shape was chosen because of the requirements of the communications aerials: the building will shift no more than 25 cm in wind speeds of up to 150 km/h. Initially the first sixteen floors were for technical equipment and power, above that was a 35 metre section for the microwave aerials, and above that were six floors of suites, kitchens, technical equipment and finally a gridwork aerial. To prevent heat build-up the glass cladding was of a special tint. The construction cost was 2.5 million.

Construction began in June 1961. The tower was topped out on July 15, 1964 and it was operational from October 8, 1965. The building contractors were Peter Lind & Company.

The tower was officially opened to the public on May 16, 1966. As well as the communications gear and office space there were viewing galleries, a souvenir shop, and a slowly rotating restaurant, the "Top of the Tower", on the 34th floor. It made one revolution every 22 minutes.

An IRA bomb exploded at the tower on October 31, 1971 and it was subsequently closed to the public for security reasons. The restaurant closed in 1980 and non-company access to the building ceased. In 1981 it was superseded as the tallest building in Britain by the NatWest Tower.

The London BT Tower today

When the GPO telecommunications services were split off in 1981 (in advance of the 1984 privatisation) the tower was renamed the London Telecom Tower. After the rebranding of the company in 1992 it became the BT Tower. The building is still not open to the public. The restaurant has been re-opened, and is now used by BT for corporate entertainment: since the re-discovery of spare parts for the mechanism, they even rotate it occasionally.

The tower is still in use, and is the site of a major UK communications hub. The tower carries broadcasting traffic and relays signals used by the BBC and other television broadcasters.

The BT Tower was given grade II listed building status in 2003.

See also: