In 1920 Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society purchased land at Bloomsbury Square from the Duke of Bedford. Whilst the Southampton Row side was vacant at that time, persuading a number of leaseholders to vacate their properties on the other three sides proved to be considerably more difficult. The result was that the grand building designed by Charles William Long had to be built in a peculiar fashion. Starting at the North and South ends, to meet in the middle on the Southampton Row side, but not to be completed at the centre of the Bloomsbury Square side for several years.
The spec for the building project was to "add to the dignity and beauty of the metropolis". By 1925 some members of staff had moved into Victoria House even though it was far from completion and, for a time, they had to reach their offices by ladder.
The first part of Victoria House to be fully completed was the Northern end in 1926 and the Chief Office department of Liverpool Victoria took occupation. The formal opening of the building by the Lord Mayor of London took place on 23rd June 1926; over a thousand people were in attendance.
One of the features of the new building was its halls, of which there were three; the South Hall, which still exists to this day, a similar North Hall and the Minor Hall. All three were located on the lower ground floor and the South and North Halls were equipped with superbly sprung floors for dancing. Today the South Hall is called the Ballroom.
On 8th August 1932 a second opening ceremony took place to celebrate the long awaited completion of Victoria House. During the speeches it was revealed that the building contained 125 miles of electric wiring, 5000 tons of steel frameworks, 5.25 million bricks along with Portland stone from the same quarry as St Paul's cathedral. In fact, once completed Victoria House was the largest office block in the country apart from Whitehall.
During the Second World War, the basements of Victoria House were converted into air raid shelters, first aid and gas-decontamination stations, Police and Fire brigade sub-stations.
These were all there to ensure that when Victoria House was hit by incendiary bombs they were dealt with speedily and efficiently. On one such occasion, when a high-explosive bomb smashed through the mansard roof, failing to explode, but lodging in a fourth floor office, the bomb was disarmed, hauled into a lift and transported to the ground floor, where it was loaded onto an Army lorry to be taken to Hackney Marshes to be detonated.
Garbe (UK) acquired Victoria House in 1999 and began a comprehensive development plan to create approximately 300,000 square feet of office, retail and leisure space. Garbe's approach was for minimal intervention on the facades, restoration of the art deco ballroom (the main hall), staircases and entrance hall whilst creating radically new internal spaces, which belong squarely in the twenty-first century.
It is within the atria that William Alsop the architect introduced the surprise elements. Two egg-shaped pods bracketed from the cantilevered floors and suspended in the atrium spaces.
These organic forms contrast sharply with the formality of the predominantly orthogonal layout and are a focus for the changing colours of directional lighting. Their functional role is that of meeting rooms, set apart from the mainstream offices; crossing into them via narrow walkways gives meetings a sense of occasion.
Today Victoria House is near full occupation and under the ownership of M1 Real Estate.