A meandering trail to track a clock and its host building, or: How to spend 10 1/2 hours researching one building

Trafalgar hotel clock

Nota bene:  If 10 1/2 hours were not enough, I went back to the drawing board and discovered the Cross Street Building after all, by locating an additional newspaper item.  See that information further down in the discussion.

Buckle your seat belts, this one is a bumpy ride. If you have been to London or are from London, you may want to laugh out loud at me, or at least chuckle, but remember Louis L’Amour said,

The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast and you miss all you are traveling for.

So yes, after hours of sleuthing, driving the great 3D London Google map, and looking up newspaper archives and British history, I do know where this building is, and its current use today.  That is the easy part, so I will get to that first.


By Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK – The TrafalgarUploaded by tm, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27908605

No longer The Trafalgar Hotel, it is currently owned and operated as the Trafalgar St. James in the Curio Collection by Hilton Hotels.  Although extensively renovated inside, it retains the historic facade.  Now is where the history of that historic facade gets murky, depending on which source.  Since most online news items do not cite sources, one cannot check for accuracy of the information, and we all know that just because it is online does not mean it is accurate.  Some sources proclaim this to be the former home of the Cunard Shipping Company, however Historic England includes a photograph of a portion of Cockspur Street (the area that extends toward the rear on the far right side, with portions of the building barely visible) that identifies the Cunard Shipping Company as occupying a building further up the block.  Other reviews of Cockspur Street in those archives indicate Cunard Steamship AKA Cunard Shipping was located in several different buildings on Cockspur, but I did not locate any showing it in this location.  A check of the Google maps street view shows the old Norway House (visible in the historic photo at the link above) as currently the home of Thai Square Bar and Club at the end of this block. Cunard occupied the building now holding Garfunkel’s Restaurant, Dent in the shorter building between Cunard and the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, which was labeled as the Cockspur side of the historic photograph.

This ad and photograph appear to be the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company’s new 1927 building, known as America House—but they are NOT.  The news items located it at Cross Street in Manchester.  A Google drive of Cross Street Manchester section shows no building that looks like this one, nor buildings with any similarities in the event it was renovated.  It does however, look exactly like the building now known as Trafalgar St. James on the corner of Spring Gardens and Cockspur.  Charing Cross is near Trafalgar Square, but this building is in Westminster, not Manchester.  The headquarters were formerly located at Albert Square, near Cross Street Manchester.  And aye, there’s the rub in this story!

I found a newspaper item describing the new Manchester offices (pictured above),

…which occupy a commanding position in Cross Street…a fine seven-storey structure, which, by its height, its design, and its facing with Portland stone, will form a conspicuous addition to the leading buildings of the city.  It was acquired by the company from the Manchester Corporation in 1914, when the Cross Street widening scheme required the removal of certain buildings.  The site has a frontage to Cross Street of 105 feet and to South King Street of 40 feet.  The main entrance…at the corner of these two thoroughfares.  The elevations have been designed upon the lines adopted for the Royal Mail Company’s office in Cockspur Street, London.  (Royal Mail House, Nov 1, 1927, the Guardian, p. 13)

The Royal Mail Steam Packet Company was established in 1839 in Liverpool, with a location in London.  By 1921, the London location was identified on Cockspur Street, which would match with the historic London photograph, but had to have been in a different building if this was completed 1927.  A 1926 photograph shows this building as “A view from Cockspur Street showing America House, the premises of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company at the junction with Spring Gardens.

The only architectural information were vague descriptions of Italian influences with Art Deco flourishes.  The 1927 Guardian item indicates the architects as Messrs. Grace and Farmer of London.  As to any connection with Cunard Shipping Co., I find nothing in the newspaper archives to support that.  After the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company suffered financial losses that wiped out their capital in 1933, the company moved toward liquidation, completed in 1934.

Clock detail Trafalgar

And now, London and Manchester both are laughing, as am I.  Nonetheless…it is the trail I have been on for so long, and enjoyed it along the way to the end of the trail…or at the end of the trail for now.

This entry was posted in Art Deco architecture, Italianate architecture, London and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to A meandering trail to track a clock and its host building, or: How to spend 10 1/2 hours researching one building

  1. peggyjoan42 says:

    A stunning building. I like the close up of the clock and the details above it. Looks like that bird on the top rail has a bird’s eye view of the world below. Thanks for the history lesson on this building. I am always interested in details like these on old buildings – no matter what part of the world they are located in. Glad you found this building. Liked the Louis L’Amour quote. My parents constantly read his books as I did.


    • Suzassippi says:

      My dad was an avid reader of Louis L’Amour, which is probably why I did, too. Somehow, this particular line in one of his books has stuck with me across time, and I use it a lot, and when I get impatient with getting something done, I try to remember that the doing is just as important as the got it done part. 🙂
      As to the bird, he does indeed. And a fairly recent addition to the building was a rooftop restaurant to which they added a retractable roof so diners can have that same splendid view of the area around Trafalgar Square.

      Liked by 1 person

      • peggyjoan42 says:

        Wow that roof top restaurant sounds wonderful. Louis L’Amour wrote some of his books in Arizona. He had a little cabin in the woods. He was alive and writing there when I lived in Arizona years ago. My mother had a signed picture of him and his cabin, but my brother managed to lose it after mom passed away. He inherited our parents property.


  2. Betty says:

    You are quite the detective! I visited London in 1979 (I think). I was with a tour group of college kids. We stayed at the Castle Hotel. The sink turned into a shower right in the middle of the room. I’ve wonder if the building is still there, or if I could find it. You make me want to look at my slides from that trip again. Thanks for your post, and have a good day!


    • Suzassippi says:

      Thank you, Betty. The Google maps for London have the 3D feature, so you can manipulate the map to look at it from all angles without going street view. It really helps if you know the general vicinity. If you find those slides, we will hope for a scan and a post? :). And thank you, I have had a great day today–I love being retired.


  3. Beth says:

    Yes, in our fast food world we tend to rush through everything. I’ve often been criticized in quilting classes (which I no longer take for this reason) of being too slow. No, if your rush through then you have no memories and no joy from the work you put into the project.

    And, I’ve spent some very enjoyable time researching a mystery building. This one had me wondering for a bit! Nice work!


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