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Norman Shaw North

Norman Shaw North

Architect: Richard Norman Shaw. Date: 1888-90. Listed Grade I. Formerly New Scotland Yard.  

Norman Shaw North is a Grade I listed building which originally provided administrative headquarters for the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. Designed by the architect Richard Norman Shaw (1831-1912), and built between 1886 and 1890, the building was formerly known as New Scotland Yard. Shaw was one of the most celebrated architects of the Victorian and Edwardian periods following the success of his designs for country houses such as Cragside in Northumberland.

During the construction of the main low level sewer between 1862 and 1867 by the engineer Joseph Bazalgette of the Metropolitan Board of Works, with the underground railway (now District and Circle lines) built above the sewer, the land was extended eastwards out into the Thames to form the Victoria Embankment. A road and walkway was laid out on top and over 100 feet of extra grounds were also added.

The London Police headquarters was transferred from its old home in Scotland Yard at the North end of Whitehall where it had been established since the formation of the police, the ‘Peelers' in 1829. The Scottish architect Richard Norman Shaw designed in 1887 New Scotland Yard, a fortress for the Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police with Scottish-style tourelles at the four corners. Strong and original features such as this Flemish inspired gable with its enrichment of swags of fruit and flowers give a foretaste of the work of Sir Edwin Lutyens a generation later. For the lower stories, Cornish De Lank granite was quarried from Government quarries by convict labour [from the prison on Dartmoor / Bodmin Moor].


The building is the only other Grade I Listed building on the Parliamentary Estate other than the Palace and they were both listed on the same day in February 1970. The building was joined by a companion a few years later – Norman Shaw South - for the Receivers' Office, that is the fees office of the Police, but the asymmetry of this building contributes to a loss of power and individuality in its design compared with the original block. Cannon (sic) Row Police Station was added to the south of the site.


All three buildings were built partly on land which had been reclaimed from the banks of the Thames during the construction of the Embankment during the 1860s. Norman Shaw North was built on the foundations of what was to have been the National Opera House, a scheme which had been abandoned in the 1870s. The lower floors of the Norman Shaw buildings were constructed of Cornish Granite quarried by the prisoners of Dartmoor. Of red brick with Portland Stone bands and lively decorative detail, Dutch gables and tourelles, the style of the upper floors recalls the seventeenth century, together with Scottish Baronial architecture. An innovative use of steel supports formed part of the superstructure. Inside, the light and dignified interiors were plainly decorated with simple plaster mouldings. To connect the new building with its earlier partner, a high bridge was constructed over what used to be a public highway, whilst access to the Embankment was controlled by iron gates designed by Reginald Blomfield (erected 1904; Grade II*). A raised three-storey extension was provided between Norman Shaw South and 1, Canon Row during the 1950s.


The significance of Norman Shaw North lies in the fact that it was the first purpose built headquarters for the earliest Police force in the world. It was a monumental structure which was designed to repel riots, and so the appearance of a castle seemed appropriate. Furthermore, the references drawn from Scottish military architecture make a witty allusion to its location in ‘Scotland Yard', as well as the Scottish origins of Shaw himself. The building has suitably strong symmetrical elevations, like a fortress, to take command of its highly visible position on the River Thames. The bold, finely wrought stone details, stylistically an early example of the Baroque revival in British architecture, make it part of a genre of buildings introduced by Shaw which widely influenced both public and domestic architecture.


A further extension was built to the north of Norman Shaw North in 1940 and designed by William Curtis Green; the two buildings were connected by a bridge in brick and Portland Stone.


The buildings North of Bridge Street were all threatened with demolition during the 1960s, and were to be replaced by a vast National and Government Centre. Pressure to save the buildings on the grounds of architectural and historical importance prevailed, whilst the difficult economic climate during the oil crisis made their renovation more advisable.


When the Metropolitan Police moved to new premises in nearby Broadway in 1967, the Norman Shaw buildings were acquired from them for incorporation into the Parliamentary Estate in the early 1970s. In the 1980s, Richmond House was built to the west of Norman Shaw North to accommodate the Department of Health. To allow access to a new underground car park, anciliary buildings designed by Shaw including ‘The Bungalow' and its chimney were demolished; this had been the laundry of New Scotland Yard.


On the east façade overlooking the river, a memorial was set up to Shaw by W.R. Lethaby in 1914; the circular bronze relief is by Sir Hamo Thornycroft.