The Mysterious History Of London’s Iconic BT Tower

(PCM) When the British Telecom Tower, often referred to as the BT Tower, was first constructed in 1965 it was initially kept secret despite the fact that it was nearly 600 feet tall and located in right in the heart of London. It was purposefully kept off of all maps and it was considered illegal to even photograph it’s magnificent architecture.

However, the BT Tower was not closed off to the public, in fact, it even featured a rotating restaurant on its’ top floor that anyone could visit up until it closed down in 1981. It was not until 1993 that the BT Tower was finally acknowledged when MP Kate Hoey using parliamentary privilege in 1993 stood up and said the following during a Parliament meeting:

 “Members have given examples of seemingly trivial information that remains officially secret. An example that has not been mentioned, but which is so trivial that it is worth mentioning, is the absence of the British Telecom tower from Ordnance Survey maps. I hope that I am covered by parliamentary privilege when I reveal that the British Telecom tower does exist and that its address is 60 Cleveland Street, London”

The BT Tower was not always known by that name, as its’ original creation was sanctioned by the General Post Office and it was then known as the Post Office Tower. It was originally constructed to handle the nation’s communications traffic, hence why the mid-section of the structure is donned with microwave aerials. This is also the reason why the building was kept secret for so very long. In addition to handling London’s communications traffic, the microwave aerials also transmitted military signals as well. The tower had the ability to handle up to 150,000 simultaneous telephone conversations and 40 television channels when it was originally constructed.

Currently, all of the microwave aerials have now been removed from the BT Tower as we have entered the digital age of the communications. The tower is still the home to the Mediahive digital content management system which has an amazing storage capacity of 3.6 petabytes, which is the equivalent of 3,600 terabytes.

Many were curious as to why the building, which was initially considered an eye-sore by local residents in the late 60’s, was created in a circular design. This was not just for aesthetic purposes. It was due to the threat of nuclear attack during the Cold War era. Architects Eric Bedford and G.R. Yates discovered that the only buildings that were able to  survive the nuclear blasts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the  round ones. The round shape of those buildings allowed the blast wave to move around them rather than being hit with a direct force.

The revolving restaurant on the BT Tower’s 34th floor would make a full rotation every 22.5 minutes giving diners a spectacular view of the London skyline. In 1971 the BT Tower was the target of an IRA bomb which was placed in the men’s bathroom of the restaurant, however even after that threat the restaurant still remained open until 1981 when it was closed down due to ongoing security concerns.

The restaurant still exists to this day, but is now only opened up for corporate events and occasionally to the public to celebrate various historic milestones. The BT Tower was named a national monument in 2001 and in 2009 it was given another revamp when a 360 degree LED light display was installed, known as the “Information Band”. It is the largest of it’s kind in the world and is used to release special announcements such as the birthsof Prince George and Princess Charlotte and to celebrate Queen Elizabeth as the longest reigning monarch.