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Although widely overlooked by many people, The BT Tower in Fitzrovia has an intriguing history. The structure was previously known as the GPO Tower, the Post Office Tower and the Telecom Tower. The main part of the structure is 177 metres (581 ft) high, with a further section of aerial rigging bringing the total height to 191 metres (627 ft).
When the tower was completed in the 1960s it was the tallest building in both London and the United Kingdom, titles it held until 1980.
The tower was originally commissioned by the General Post Office (GPO) to support microwave aerials which carried 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. Its modern style was considered quite radical for 1960s London and was full of technical equipment and power exchanges.
The construction cost around £2.5 million, when tower was officially opened to the public in 1966 it also included office space, viewing galleries, a souvenir shop and a rotating restaurant on the 34th floor, called the Top of the Tower. The rotating restaurant would make one revolution every 22 minutes. Entry to the top of building is by two high-speed lifts which reach the top of the building in just under 30 seconds.
The tower achieved some popularity until a bomb exploded near the restaurant in 1971. The restaurant was eventually closed to the public for security reasons in 1980 and public access to the building ceased in 1981.
Rather strangely considering it was a London landmark, the location of the tower was designated an official secret. This led to the urban myth that the tower did not appear on London maps. Whilst the tower may not have appeared on some maps, it did appear on a number of other maps including Ordnance Survey maps.
The tower is still in use as a major UK communications hub which carries broadcasting traffic and relays signals between broadcasters, it is also used occasionally for corporate and special events. The BT Tower was given Grade II listed building status in 2003. The tower has appeared in a number of films and TV shows.
The BT Tower is now overshadowed by other tall buildings in London, but when it opened it was the ‘Shard’ of its time with thousands of people visiting the restaurant and the viewing platforms. It remains a curious part of London history being a landmark that is widely ignored by Londoners and visitors.
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