Maersk House

1974 as Beagle House, Richard Seifert & Partners, architects, demolished 2017-18

Browne & Eagle Warehouse at 22-26 Leman Street, 1869-1956
Contributed by Survey of London on April 10, 2017

On this site a five-storey warehouse was built in 1869 by Holland and Hannen for Browne & Eagle, local wool merchants. Conveniently situated to receive goods from the docks and two nearby railway depots (Haydon’s Square, Minories, and later the Tilbury extension), the building was one of the first in a series of warehouses purpose-built for the firm in East London. Its form was to prove typical of other wool warehouses in Whitechapel of which only a couple remain today, see for example Loom House at 101 Back Church Lane. Unadorned brick elevations were punctuated by large windows and loophole bays, which, alongside wall-mounted cranes, allowed for the haulage of goods to and from every floor. This site was especially suitable because of frontages to Leman Street and Camperdown Street (formerly Duncan Street), as well as to Braham Street (formerly Nelson and then Beagle Street) and a narrower passageway spanning between Camperdown and Braham Street, both of which had been made private to provide exclusive access to the warehouse’s west and north elevations. The west end of Braham Street was blocked for many decades by Pickford’s White Swan Yard depot. The footprint of Browne & Eagle’s warehouse was large and Holland and Hannen were caught out in relation to its height (see figure 1). Having originally constructed a seven-storey warehouse, the building firm was convicted by Thames Police Court for exceeding the limits of the approved cubical area for such buildings as allowed by the Building Act and forced to take down the upper two floors. Accommodation expanded to include a further warehouse, veterinary forge and house on the north side of Braham Street. The farriers and house occupied the east end of the street, whilst the long narrow wool warehouse the west half. This warehouse, again built by Holland and Hannen, was linked to the southern warehouse by an iron bridge 25ft above the street. By 1878 the company also held warehouses at Haydon Street, Minories, Hooper Square, Alie Street and Back Church Lane, the latter two also built by Holland and Hannen in 1875-6 and 1889-1890 respectively. Premises at Durward Street had been added to the collection by the time the business changed hands in 1896. Although no longer associated to the Browne or Eagle families, the original company name was retained. ‘Beagle’ reportedly a derivation from ‘Browne & Eagle’, the firm’s long-running occupation of the site having been acknowledged when Nelson Street had been renamed Beagle Street in 1893. Only on its widening in the mid-1960s did it become the western extension of Braham Street.1

Figure 1: OS Map of 1890s showing footprint of Browne & Eagle's warehouse

Partial rebuilding of the northern Braham Street warehouse was undertaken in 1923 by Walter Gladding & Co. of 188 Whitechapel Road. However this building was destroyed by a high explosive bomb less than twenty years later in April 1941. It seems that the damage extended to two four-storey houses with shops (nos 18 and 20 Leman Street) and the Baker & Basket public house (no. 16 Leman Street) all at the north-east corner of the Braham Street, Leman Street, Camperdown Street block, and around which the Browne & Eagle warehouses were wrapped. In 1943 the surviving southern warehouse was requisitioned for use by the US army and returned to the company in July 1945. By the 1930s Browne & Eagle held a further four terraced houses on Alie Street (nos 9, 11, 13 and 15) which were occupied during the war by rent controlled tenants. The company was also in possession of the single-storey shed at 12 to 14 Camperdown Street which had been parcelled with Pickford’s goods depot and was most likely used for vehicle storage. In 1939 Browne & Eagle were refused permission to set up a slaughterhouse there but by 1945 one was in operation.2


  1. PoDs 1878, 1892; MBW, 10 Dec 1869, 7 Jan 1870; London Evening Standard, 26 Feb 1896; DSRs; LMA, MBW/BA/24596 

  2. DSRs; Southwark Local History Library and Archive (SLHLA), A119/138, A119/24 

Amalgamation and Building Beagle House, 1956-1974
Contributed by Survey of London on April 10, 2017

In a deal that was met with some surprise and industry interest, Browne & Eagle amalgamated with tea merchants Colonial Wharves in 1956 to form a new company, Colonial & Eagle Wharves Ltd. The Nautical Magazine reported that the two companies were ‘among the most prominent wharfingers and warehousemen intimately concerned with the storage and lighterage business on the London River’. Wool, tea and other food stuffs such as canned fruits were to be handled by the newly formed company, a key aim of the merger being the ‘concentration of particular commodities under one roof’. Recognising the need to modernise warehouse practices, Colonial & Eagle sought to streamline its operations and use of property. The warehouse on the north side of Braham Street, empty since 1941, and 12 and 14 Leman Street were sold to the LCC in March 1956. The sites were cleared for the widening of Braham Street to facilitate the Gardiner’s Corner one-way traffic system between Leman Street and Mansell Street. Colonial & Eagle also considered the sale of the Alie Street warehouse (no. 3) but negotiations failed and it was retained.1

With money in hand from war damage reparations and the sale of the northern warehouse, the Board focussed on redeveloping the vacant corner plot once occupied by the Baker & Basket and 18 to 20 Leman Street. Designs for a five-storey warehouse and office block were drawn up by Stock Page & Stock and a tender of £84 922 from Y. J. Lovell & Co. was accepted ahead of the cheapest, £81 346, submitted by Holland, Hannen & Cubitts. Experienced in warehouse design, Stock Page & Stock were responsible for what was deemed ‘a model five-floor warehouse and office building’ for Pawsons and Leafs, built in Shoreditch six years later and still standing. Their scheme for Colonial & Eagle made provision for a ground-floor garage, first-floor offices and boardroom, with the remaining three floors for storage. The garage was expressed as a podium of coloured tiles that curved smoothly around the corner of Braham and Leman Streets (see figure 2). On its completion in December 1957, the company’s registered office shifted from Walsingham House, Seething Lane, to this new building, known as Beagle House.2

Figure 2: Photograph of Beagle House taken from Leman Street, c. 1958 (Collage 118708)

The name Beagle House stuck, but any trace of Browne & Eagle was soon left far behind in a trail of corporate mergers and take-overs. In 1961 Butler’s Wharf acquired all the ordinary stock of Colonial & Eagle Wharves rebranding itself as Butler’s & Colonial Wharves Ltd. Alongside Beagle Shipping Ltd, this company was one of a collection of enterprises purchased by Wharf Holdings Ltd, a diversifying transportation business. Under the direction of Wharf Holdings, Butler’s & Colonial Wharves invested in buying up smaller transportation businesses and acquired shares in companies such as James Warren & Co., Canadian Railways and Wintle’s Transport then also backed Shell and BP a few years later. Shortly after becoming Butler’s & Colonial Wharves Ltd, the Alie Street warehouse was finally sold. Plans for an office conversion including an expansion of the IBM ‘machine room’ preceded plans to redevelop the whole Braham Street, Leman Street and Camperdown Street block, first raised in 1964.3

Four years later, a substantial rebuilding consisting of a new nine-storey warehouse and showroom was proposed following designs by Trehearne & Norman, Preston and Partners, but this scheme was not taken forward. Instead, Compass Securities entered into an agreement with Wharf Holdings to lead the redevelopment of the site, intending to prioritise office rather than commercial space. Compass were granted the pre-requisite governmental ‘Office Development Permit’ for the site by ensuring the building was pre-let to Overseas Containers Ltd (OCL), but were frustrated by difficulties in obtaining planning permission for their designs and it seems abandoned the project. In response, the architect Col. Richard Seifert was engaged by Wharf Holdings to push through a successful outcome for a new scheme on account of his well-known fluency in the planning codes. An experienced negotiator, Seifert built his case on the detrimental local effects of the traffic management scheme the GLC had recently imposed at Gardiner’s Corner. Economic arguments that the offices would bring further employment to Tower Hamlets, and that OCL would contribute to national export figures, were also compelling and planning permission was granted on appeal. With an eye for exploiting the property potential of London businesses, Jeffrey Sterling’s investment company Sterling Guarantee Trust acquired the lead shares in Wharf Holdings Ltd after approval for Seifert’s scheme. Demolition of the old Beagle House and its warehouses began in 1971. The new Beagle House opened in January 1974.4


  1. SLHLA, A119/138; The Nautical Magazine, Vol 175, Jan-Jun 1956, p. 78 

  2. SLHLA, A119/138; Collage 118708; Financial Times, 20 Aug 1963, p. 16; LCC Minutes, 25 July 1893, p. 825 

  3. SLHLA, A119/181 

  4. THLHLA, L/THL/D/1/1/228; Frank Price, Being There, 2002, pp. 301-2; ‘Planning Gain in Tower Hamlets’, PhD thesis, Linda Carole Johnson, Brunel, 1988, p. 157; Investors Chronicle and Stock Exchange Gazette, Vol. 17, 1971, p. 392; Accountancy, Vol. 84, 1973, p. 76. John Glanfield, ‘Olympia: Corporate History 1884-1999’ in Journal of Exhibition Study Group, Jan 2012. [Accessed online: http://www.studygroup.org.uk/Articles/Content/112/OLYMPIA%20 Corporate%20History%201884.htm] 

From Beagle House to Maersk House, 1974-2016
Contributed by Survey of London on April 10, 2017

Capitalising on London’s booming market for speculative office developments, Seifert and Partners had grown from twelve employees in 1955 to three hundred in 1969. Colonel Seifert estimated that his practice was responsible for over 700 office blocks and remembered of London ‘you only had to lay the first stone and the office was let. The demand was difficult to satisfy.’1 Yet while other Seifert buildings such as Centre Point and Space House remained controversially empty years after their opening, Beagle House’s immediate tenancy was sure. Overseas Containers Ltd (OCL) was made up of a consortium of four shipping companies, formed to take advantage of the new opportunities presented by containerisation in the mid-1960s. The growth rate of OCL had been exceptional leading to a congested head office and staff dispersed in sub-standard City offices. Also recognising the evaporation of the initial excitement associated with OCL’s establishment, the move to Beagle House was designed to endear employees to stay with the company. The Board considered that ‘provision of an optimum working environment for all levels of staff [is] the overriding objective.’2

The nine-storey office block was designed to accommodate 900 staff, with rooftop services concealed behind an extension of the angular faceted panels that enveloped its exterior. Some described Beagle House’s unusual plan as lozenge shaped, others ship shaped. The building was constructed with an in- situ reinforced concrete frame and slabs carried on piled foundations. Two solid service and circulation cores projected outwards on the narrow east and west ends, and eight structural columns spanned between the cores across the centre of the open-plan office space. The ground floor receded back from the building’s upper edge and was clad with granite, marble and mosaic. The main elevation above first-floor level rested on oversized angular columns and consisted of mosaic-faced precast structural mullions set with double-glazed aluminium windows. In place of 12 to 14 Camperdown Street, a modest canteen and garage of two storeys connected to the west end of the main block, clad in dark purple brick and crowned with six flagpoles (see figure 3). Despite assertions from Seifert’s staff that there was no ‘house-style’, repeated motifs such as angled pilotis, expressive facades and rhythmic concrete panelling are evident in many of the firm’s designs from this period. Ideas and technical details were carried over from one building to the next along with engineers and other design team members (figure 4). Long-time collaborators Pell Frischmann and Partners, engineers of the Nat West Tower, were also engaged at Beagle House. Structural glass balustrades were supplied by Pilkington based on tests already completed at Nat West and Centre Point. The project architect for Beagle House was Henry Grovners, who was also the lead architect on Corinthian House in Croydon. The construction process was not without its obstacles. The District Surveyor made several complaints about what he saw to be the low standard of workmanship of main contractors Sir Robert McAlpine and Sons in relation to the reinforced-concrete columns and walls, and the project ran behind schedule.3

Figure 3: Maersk (formerly Beagle) House photographed by Derek Kendall in early 2017

Figure 4: Facade detail of Maersk (formerly Beagle) House photographed by Derek Kendall in early 2017

Rather than utilise Seifert’s in-house team, OCL appointed their own interior designers, husband and wife consultancy Ward Associates. The Wards were favoured designers of passenger-ship interiors in the 1970s, proving themselves capable of considerable creativity in confined spaces. As a result of these ship interiors, Neville Ward was awarded the title of Royal Designer for Industry in 1971. The couple shared a London office with Wyndham Goodden, Professor of Textiles at the Royal College of Art, who designed the Chairman’s office at Beagle House (see figure 5).4

Figure 5: Chairman's office designed by Wyndham Goodden. Photographed by Millar & Harris c. 1974 (Historic England Archive, bb036029)

The building’s peculiar shape made provision of individual offices difficult, only a handful were designed, those clinging to the outer corners of the building. The open-plan interior was at first regarded as a six-month experiment in part, to ease anxiety from middle-level managers about the shift away from traditional layouts (see figure 6). The top floor however was exclusively dedicated to upper-level management and company directors, each of whom was afforded the privileges of a separate office illuminated by plastic- domed roof lights and access to a serviced dining room reserved for their use (see figure 7). Deep storage units divided each pair of offices leaving the open-plan central space to be occupied by secretaries (figure 8). Addressing the concerns of managers on the lower floors who were uneasy about the loss of visual and acoustic privacy, Ward Associates fashioned ‘carefully arranged enclosures’ using screens, planting and storage cabinets (see figure 9). Outside Beagle was skeletal and grey, while the interior was decorated in trendy hues of brown, orange and blue, each floor differentiated by a unique colour scheme. Floor-to-ceiling length curtains lined exterior walls and defined meeting spaces. There were coffee areas, a lounge, snack bar and the licensed subsidised canteen, while conference rooms were fitted with well- stocked bars, all intended to provide OCL workers with ‘a high degree of home comfort’ (see figure 10). As computers and machines increasingly invaded the office environment, the interior-design press claimed that the general introduction of plants to interiors compensated for ‘the ever increasing emergence of soulless concrete edifices all too common today.’ They noted that ‘where a plant will survive so an office-worker’. The entrance hall was graced with a wall-mounted model ship and an interior fish pond.5

Figure 6: Ward Associates' design for a typical open-plan office floor. Photographed by Millar & Harris c. 1974 (Historic England Archive, bb036033)

Figure 7: Bar area for directors on the eight floor. Photographed by Millar & Harris c. 1974 (Historic England Archive, bb036022)

Figure 8: Typical director's office on the eighth floor. Photographed by Millar & Harris c. 1974 (Historic England Archive, bb036024)

Figure 9: Storage cabinets and plants defined spaces within the open-plan layouts. Photographed by Millar & Harris c. 1974 (Historic England Archive, bb036027)

Figure 10: Typical communal lounge area on open-plan floors. Photographed by Millar & Harris c. 1974 (Historic England Archive, bb036037)

At this time interior designers were increasingly engaged in office designs that prioritised the comfort of workers and new mechanisms for climate control also worked to humanise working environments. Reflecting the forward-looking spirit of OCL, the new Beagle House claimed its own technological innovations in this respect. Writing in 1975, Interior Design regarded it as ‘London’s first privately developed Integrated Environmental Design (IED) office building…without a doubt, one of the most advanced buildings in the country’. Suspended ceilings throughout Beagle House provided air-conditioning to all spaces powered by a roof-top plant. Teething issues were resolved by mechanical engineers Thom Benhams who were supervised by OCL’s appointed Barlow Leslie and Partners. A resident engineer, responsible for the system’s ongoing maintenance, was allocated a first-floor flat in the building. A press visit in July 1974 sponsored by the Electricity Council resulted in widespread reporting of the project in service journals. No major changes were made to the interior layout until 1977 when the computer room doubled in size, the air conditioning capacity was increased, and the company purchased the freehold of Beagle House from Sterling subsidiary Town and City Properties.6

One of the original four investors in OCL, P&O, secured full ownership of the company by 1985. In 1996 what had become P&O Containers merged with Dutch firm Royal Nedlloyd to form P&O Nedlloyd and two headquarters were retained, one in Rotterdam, and the other at Beagle House. Following this, in 2005 PONL was taken over by their rivals Moller-Maersk and Beagle House was renamed Maersk House.7


  1. BL, National Life Stories Collection: Architects’ Lives, Richard Seifert, 1996 

  2. Elain Harwood, Space, Hope and Brutalism: English Architecture, 1945-1975, 2015, p. 401; Caird Library and Archive, PON/1/3/10 

  3. Concrete, Vols 5-6, Oct 1972, p. 41; Alan Bott, British Box Business - A History of OCL, 2009; Private conversation with Ewan Harrison, 22 Feb 2017; PONL Heritage: https://sites.google.com/site/ponlheritage2//news/lastfew weeksforformerlondonhq; THLHLA, L/THL/D/1/1/228 

  4. Caird Library and Archive, PON/1/3/12; Interior Design, Jan 1975, p. 35; Shipbuilding and Shipping Record, Vol 120, 1972, p. 69; Royal Society of Arts: https://www.thersa.org/about-us/royal-designers-for-industry/past-royal- designers 

  5. Caird Library and Archive, PON/1/3/10; Interior Design, Jan 1975, p. 33, p. 36 

  6. Caird Library and Archive, PON/1/3/12, PON/1/3/20; Interior Design, Jan 1975, p. 33; The Engineer, 15 Sep 1974, pp. 33-34; Insulation, Vols 17-19, 1975, p. 25 

  7. PONL Heritage: https://sites.google.com/site/ponlheritage2//news/lastfew weeksforformerlondonhq 

One Braham
Contributed by Survey of London on April 10, 2017

Standing aloof on pedestrianised Braham Street (since 2012 known as Braham Park), Maersk House faces imminent demolition in March 2017. After several false starts beginning in 2009, the site is being developed by Aldgate Developments and Starwood Capital. ‘One Braham’ will be a glassy eighteen- storey office block with commercial units to the ground floor. The architects are Wilkinson Eyre. On account of its height and position just outside the City of London, the present scheme was referred to Mayor Boris Johnson for approval, but he deferred the decision back to Tower Hamlets to determine in September 2015 and permission was consequently granted. In keeping with adjacent developments in Aldgate, the new building will triple the amount of office space available on the site in comparison to Maersk House. Commercial lets in the East End are once again in demand but it seems the lengthy association of the shipping industry to this area of Whitechapel will not be lost altogether. On their vacation from Maersk House in 2016 the Maersk Group moved to occupy 20 000 sq. ft. of office space in adjacent Aldgate Tower (2 Leman Street). ‘One Braham’ was scheduled for completion in 2018 but Brexit has reportedly caused American developers, Starwood, to re-assess their involvement in the scheme, leaving Maersk House to languish in uncertainty (see figure 11).1

Figure 11: Maersk House empty and cordoned off in early 2017. Photographed by Derek Kendall


  1. Tower Hamlets Planning Application Decision, PA/15/01209; Letter from Boris Johnson to Gareth Gwynne (Tower Hamlets), Sept 2015: https://www.london. gov.uk/sites/default/files/PAWS/media_id_153737/former_beagle_house_final_deci sion.pdf; Bloomberg, Jan 2017: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-01-23/starwood-said-planning- sale-of-london-tower-project-on-brexit 

Found Photograph, circa 1971 - Words by David Howells (2008/2009)
Contributed by David Howells on April 20, 2017

La forme d'une ville change plus vite, hélas, que le coeur d'un mortel.
-Baudelaire, Le Cygne.

The identity of the photographer is unknown to me, nor his or her purpose in taking the picture. In terms of genre it would certainly be considered a documentary image, and its exact location is quite familiar to me. But no other information attaches to it; apart from the stall - which explains itself well enough - there are no obvious signs as to what it is I should be looking at, or why. My purpose is not so much to look at the photograph as to inhabit it, if only for a few moments, in which case the less I know of such things the better...

In the background of the photograph, on the other side of the main road, a new office building is under construction, recognizable as Beagle House, a modernist design of Richard Seifert - 'the colonel' of London's post-war planning battles. It has recently been proposed for demolition, with approval from Tower Hamlets Borough Council. In 1971 the popular reaction to some of Seifert's more notorious projects - Centre Point, Euston Station - has not yet begun in earnest. The exterior is spanned by a technoid grid of interlocking modular cells; not inelegant, but the overall scheme is mediocre. For that reason Beagle House will probably escape the opprobrium but will not be missed, or even remembered, when it disappears again in forty-odd years' time.

The middle ground between the whelk stall and Beagle House is empty, save for the traffic moving rapidly past along Whitechapel High Street, and what must be a car park on the other side; the new building is actually further away than it appears to be. In 1971 the Aldgate road junction has recently been converted to a gyratory system, the last word in town planning following the publication of the Buchanan Report in 1963. For a post-war economy that can't actually afford much modern architecture, urban traffic systems knocked through nineteenth century cities offer a kind of modernity on the cheap. In 1971 all this is still new, and for a while, it even seems to work; the traffic is moving, after all. The Aldgate junction will eventually be restored to two-way traffic - Corbusier's 'pack-horse way' - in 2009.

Some things are more permanent than they seem to be. The shadows that fall forwards across the street from where I am standing are strangely familiar. I now realize that they are cast by some temporary hoardings immediately behind the camera. Behind them, just over my shoulder, is an empty plot, site of the original Aldgate East tube station that was abandoned in 1938, damaged by wartime bombing and demolished in the 1950s. In 1971 the site is still derelict, and will remain so. It will be briefly cleared of trees and undergrowth, as if for redevelopment, just before the economic concept of unlimited growth comes to an end in the global financial crash of 2008. The plot behind the hoardings will then gradually return to a state of nature, a Piranesian sump colonized by ferns, rosebay willow herb, ivy, and other self- seeded flora.

I have now been staring at this scene for rather too long - possibly longer than any of the other human beings involved, including the photographer - and a strange thought has crossed my mind.I cannot be sure, but the mauve of the sky seems to have shifted again in hue - slightly further towards the red end of the spectrum. My memory for colour is unreliable, but I suspect the light in this photograph is still changing, slowing down. Like a receding galaxy, this and other colour photographs of the 1970s continue to send their light towards us, but with a marked colour shift that registers their distance and the velocity with which they retreat into the past. Eventually, as the generations die out that were still able to make contact with these images by an effort of imagination and memory, they will become history: still extant but invisible to the naked eye of a present tense.

It is time to stop: the light is weakening now and this moment has come to an end.

Full text and photograph available here: http://www.eastendarchive.org/Collections/FoundImages.aspx

My mum at Beagle House and my life in shipping
Contributed by danny on Sept. 8, 2017

My mum, Rose McLaughlin, and originally from Donegal in the Irish Republic worked in Beagle House as a tea lady.

There were small pantries on each of the main office floors at the west end of the building. Here the tea ladies who were employed by Compass Services and wore a blue uniform, would stock a tea trolley that had an urn on it and then circulate around the floor providing tea and biscuits for free to the staff.

My mum worked as a tea lady there for a number of years until ill health forced her retirement in 1984. This was during OCL's occupancy of the building. At that time, OCL group owned the Thames Sailing Barge Will and my mum was invited sometimes with other groups of OCL employees, when that vessel was berthed in nearby St Katharine's Dock.

By coincidence, the Will was formerly known as the Will Everard and was previously owned by coastal shipping company FT Everard who were based at Greenhithe on the lower Thames. My dad, who was already courting my mum in late 1940s Donegal, went to sea and spent his whole Merchant Navy career with FT Everard.

When I left school at age 18 in 1977, I had a temporary summer job as a messenger working for what was The Far Eastern Freight Conference. This organisation, which was eventually outlawed by the European Commission, was a cartel of shipping companies that agreed rates for the shipping by sea of containers between the Far East and Europe. My job was to walk the confidential daily price lists to the member shipping companies.

One of the companies I delivered to was OCL at Beagle House. That gave me legitimate reason to go in and see my mum daily for a cup of tea as I did my rounds across what was still, then, the centre of the commercial marine business in Britain.

Maersk (formerly Beagle) House in December 2016, from the south-east
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Maersk (formerly Beagle House), facade detail
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Model of eighth-floor of Beagle House, c. 1974. Photographed by Millar & Harris (Historic England Archive, bb036034)
Contributed by Historic England

Maersk (formerly Beagle) House, from the south-east in 2015
Contributed by Lucy Millson-Watkins

Maersk (formerly Beagle) House in 2015, detail of north elevation
Contributed by Lucy Millson-Watkins

Maersk (formerly Beagle) House in 2015, from the north-west
Contributed by Lucy Millson-Watkins

Beagle House telephone switchboard team in 1984
Contributed by Sarah Milne, Survey of London

Open plan layout of ICM in Beagle House in 1991
Contributed by Sarah Milne, Survey of London

Beagle House, Leman Street entrance, 2005
Contributed by Sarah Milne, Survey of London

Maersk (formerly Beagle House), detail of east elevation
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Maersk (formerly Beagle House), north elevation
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Maersk (formerly Beagle) House in December 2016, from the north-west
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Maersk (formerly Beagle) House in December 2016, from the north-east
Contributed by Derek Kendall