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Bush House, London, UK

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Bush House

Bush House is currently the home of the BBC World Service. The World Service (originally called the Empire Service) moved into the building in 1940, and will be staying until at least 2012. Bush House stands between Australia House and India House on the semi-circular island of buildings called Aldwych, in Westminster, London.

The Building

Bush House was built by the Bush Terminal Company of New York, and opened between 1923 and 1935. The building was planned in 1919 by American businessman Irving T Bush, who wanted to build a trade centre where buyers could purchase goods in one place. Accommodation was planned, also exhibition galleries, conference rooms, reference libraries, a club and a restaurant. American architect Harvey W Corbett was brought in to design it, and work began.

The building consists of a central block with four wings. At the end of 1921 while the Centre Block was being built, the market slumped and caused the original purpose of the building to be reconsidered. The centre block could not be altered, but the plans for the wings were adapted for use as offices.

Centre Block opened in 1923, and boasts marble walls and floors. Portland stone was used to build it, the floors were made of Indian Hardwood, and the foyers all have Travertine marble on the floor. The foyers are heated by radiators set inside the stone walls, with grilles letting the warm air through into the rooms.

The main entrance is very grand, with two statues and four big columns reaching half the height of the nine-storey building. Inscribed above the doors is the legend To the friendship of English Speaking Peoples. This is rather ironic considering that the World Service broadcasts not only in English, but in 42 other languages as well. The statues symbolise Great Britain and America; they each hold a flaming torch and a shield which have the British lion and the American eagle on them. In between the statues is an altar embossed with a Celtic cross. They are made of Indiana stone, and are expected to have a lifespan of two centuries.

The North-West wing opened in 1928, followed by the North-East wing in 1929. It was in that year that Bush House was declared 'the most expensive building in the world', at a cost of $10,000,000. The South-East wing was opened in 1930, with the South-West1 wing lagging behind until 1935.

Fascinating Facts

  • Bush House is not owned by the BBC. It is leased by the World Service.

  • While The Strand was being excavated in 1930 to build the eastern wing, a marble head was discovered. Carved from Carrara marble, it depicted a Roman man with a rather grim expression. Despite some slight damage, the head now sits in Centre Block stairwell.

  • There was once a small 'acoustically perfect' theatre in Bush House. It could hold 100 people.

  • In June 1944 a bomb landed in Aldwych outside Bush House. Three staff were severely injured, another 40 sustained minor injuries, and one of the statues had its arm destroyed. The arm was replaced 30 years later by an American businessman who saw it while he was visiting his daughter in London. He happened to work for the Indiana Limestone Company, and persuaded his employers to send a replacement, and a stonemason to attach it.

  • There is a small reminder of the original plans for Bush House; a small arcade that has eight shops in it is on the ground floor. The entrance is on The Strand, and is open to the general public.

1This wing is occupied by the Inland Revenue.

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