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A Private View: how a historic office building offers respite from the modern world

This apartment – once the HQ for Christ’s Hospital, then the offices for a bank – has had more lives than most. And when Pollyanna Deane fell for it, it gained another, becoming a home for the lawyer – and her ultimate refuge

Words
Charlotte Rickards
Photography
Ellen Hancock
A Private View: how a historic office building offers respite from the modern world

Pollyanna Deane likes to walk. And while working in the world of law – one of corporate greys, slick glass and even slicker suits – she walked each evening for 22 years, back from the office to her apartment on Great Tower Street. Approaching home, the view of the nearby Tower of London and the spire All Hallows, the oldest church in London, “restored my soul every night,” she says.

Just next to Tower Bridge, in the heart of the City, Great Tower Street calmly sits near the waters of the River Thames, a tonic to frenzied urban living. Designed by architect Arthur Conran Blomfield (known for his work on the Bank of England), the flat has been decorated by Pollyanna much like a cabinet of curiosities. There’s a handsome obelisk, objets d’art, books and more chic chinoiserie than you can shake a stick at – there’s no denying Pollyanna’s penchant for paraphernalia and period features. “History was my favourite subject at school. I’m fascinated by old things and by old buildings,” she adds.

But don’t think of this apartment as a dusty mausoleum of theatrics. Rather, Pollyanna has produced her whimsical Wunderkammer of space to be an expression of herself, her life and her mark on the world. She recalls something a neighbour once said to her: “It was never a home before. And you made it one.”

Now, as Pollyanna’s career and her time in London come to a close – and she puts the apartment on the market – she shares her story of Great Tower Street.

“More than two decades ago, I saw an advert in the Evening Standard for the flat next door. I thought it looked interesting. Different. But I didn’t want to get into any kind of bidding war. It just so happened that this place came on the market at the same time. I walked in and immediately thought: ‘I have to have it.’ I lived on baked beans for quite a long time after that but I loved this place, so it was worth it.

“The building was constructed in around 1914 for the trustees of Christ’s Hospital. Down by the river, this area was where the Tudor institution, founded by Edward VI to care for and educate poor boys, had originally been so it made sense to put the offices here. The living room is where the boardroom was, and the bedrooms are in what used to be the chairman’s and secretary’s offices. Then the building was taken over by NatWest as a treasury function; there are still bank-vault doors in the basement. There’s also about a foot of concrete separating us from the pub downstairs. A law in the 1970s required it for buildings that carried money. It certainly makes for good soundproofing. It’s remarkably quiet.

“When I moved in, I didn’t have an interior designer; I did it myself and accumulated pieces over time. Over 22 years, I’ve let objects layer; I’ve travelled lots too. I bought a Russian painting in Cyprus for the living room, which arrived home as a rolled-up canvas. The Japanese woodblock prints came from California. And I grew up in Hong Kong, which explains all the chinoiserie.

“My father, who practised woodwork, would have described the listed oak panelling as ‘millimetre perfect’, so I think it’s nice I’ve paired it with several pieces of furniture he restored by hand. The only thing I added was a gas fire with a copper fender so that I could use the fireplace.

“The living room lends itself to entertaining. I’ve often had big Christmas parties here. My friend would come over to play the piano and we’d all sing. When I retired, one of my colleagues wrote to me and said one of their most enduring memories of their career was singing carols at Great Tower Street. I even hosted a fashion show here once. The statement staircase helped.

“Previously, the kitchen was fitted using a computer-generated system, which meant it ended up looking rectangular with just one long worktop. I changed the units so they matched the odd shapes of the room. I made them taller too, since the ceiling is so high. My builder said they’d never seen so many cupboards. I put mirrored glass behind the splashbacks, as it does lovely things with the light.

“I love going to the Globe theatre, because I can walk there and back. It makes me feel like someone from Shakespeare’s time, since that would have been the case for theatregoers then. There’s also St Dunstan-in-the-East just around the corner. The church was bombed during World War II, but it has a peaceful garden I go to.”

“Great Tower Street has been part of me. It’s part of my DNA. I hope somebody will love it as much as I have.”

Great Tower Street, London EC3

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