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Nine Ceramic Panels at the Fleet Building, City of London

Description: Nine Ceramic Panels at the Fleet Building

Grade: II
Date Listed: 21 November 2011
English Heritage Building ID: 1402022

OS Grid Reference: TQ3158281394
OS Grid Coordinates: 531582, 181394
Latitude/Longitude: 51.5162, -0.1050

Locality: City of London
County: Greater London
Country: England
Postcode: EC4A 4AB

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Listing Text


A ceramic mural of nine panels, c1960, by Dorothy Annan. The building to which the murals are affixed does not have special interest.

Reason for Listing

* rarity: these signed and specially-commissioned panels, on a major thoroughfare in the capital, are unusual survivals from the period when ceramic mural-making was at its zenith
* artistic quality: each panel has a striking and highly distinctive design which shows the influence of various mid-C20 artists including Ben Nicholson, John Piper and Joan Miro;
* craftsmanship and materials: each panel is a bespoke and beautifully-made object, individually textured, painted and fired by the artist in her studio
* historic interest: the murals a testament to the atmosphere of optimism and excitement about the new technology and communications that was transforming Britain in the 1950s and 1960s.


The Fleet Building was built by the General Post Office and, when it opened in 1961, was London’s largest telephone exchange, known as the Central Telegraph Office. It was designed by WS Frost of the Ministry of Works, under the supervision of Chief Architect Eric Bedford (the architect of the Post Office Tower, built 1961-5, listed Grade II).

In 1960, the Ministry commissioned artist Dorothy Annan to design a ceramic mural for the Farringdon Street elevation of the Fleet Building, offering £300 per panel, plus the cost of materials and firing. When preparing designs, Annan collected photographs of radio and television aerials, wiring systems, and tele-printer keyboards, and visited GPO buildings for inspiration. The biscuit-ware tiles were manufactured by Hathernware Ltd, and Annan visited the company’s Loughborough studio and hand-scored each wet clay tile to her design. After first firing, the tiles were then decorated, glazed and fired by Annan in her studio kiln, before installation at Farringdon Street by Hathernware. The murals are signed and dated ‘DAnnan, 1960’ and were unveiled by the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Bernard N Waley-Cohen on 11 April 1961.

Dorothy Annan (1900 – 1983) was active from the 1940s, when her work featured in an Artists International Association exhibition in a London air-raid shelter, alongside that of Augustus John. Annan was a prominent member of the AIA, a left-of-centre political organisation which embraced all styles of art both modernist and traditional, and promoted wider access to art through travelling exhibitions and public mural paintings; other members included Ben Nicholson, Frank Auerbach and Eric Ravilious. Annan was a painter (her Still Life with Flowers of 1943 may be seen at The Potteries Museum in Stoke) and, from around 1945, began working with ceramics. Many of her commissions for murals were for schools (including the renowned Hertfordshire County Council schools built in the 1950s), banks (she was commissioned by Lloyds and the Bank of England) and public buildings (such as Durham University’s King’s College in Newcastle). She was married to the artist Trevor Tennant. The murals in the Hertfordshire schools have since been lost. Only three public murals by Annan survive: the Fleet Building, the three-panel work at King’s College in Newcastle, and a panel at Caley Primary School in Tower Hamlets, the latter probably commissioned by the London County Council. Her largest single mural ‘The Expanding Universe’, at the Bank of England, was demolished in 1997.


The Fleet Building has a long frontage to Farringdon Street, mostly blind at ground floor level, nine bays of which contain the ceramic panels. The bays are divided by stone-faced piers, with brown mosaic tiled reveals, and the mural tiles (which cover the entire width and about half the height of each bay) are set in a chrome surround about a foot from the ground, and are flush with the piers. Along the top of each panel is a chrome fascia and then a glass window, the latter mostly now boarded up. As the listing address clearly shows, it is only the panels, and not the building itself, which are listed.

Each panel comprises forty tiles, these measuring approximately 30cm by 46cm, arranged ten across by four down. The subjects are semi-abstract, some depicting particular items of technological equipment (including television and radio aerials, a cable, a telegraph pole, and a pair of buoys). Others panels are more impressionistic representations of communication technology (the seventh, for example, is inspired by the patterns produced in cathode ray osciligraphs). The basic palette of colours is muted in tone, but rich and textured, and includes whites, greens, blues, yellows, browns and greys. The artist's brushwork is visible and the work has a painterly quality. Patterns are created through a combination of applied colour and incisions or texturing to the surface of the tile. Representations of objects - aerials, generators, and pylon cables - are picked out in dense black. In their colours and style, the murals are resonant of the paintings of Ben Nicholson, who was a member of the AIA with Annan.

The nine panels were titled by Annan as follows (moving from left-right, or south-north): Radio Communications and Television; Cables and Communications in Buildings; Test Frame for Linking Circuits; Cable Chamber with Cables entering from the Street; Cross Connection Frame; Power and Generators; Impressions Derived from the Patterns Produced in Cathode Ray Osciligraphs used in Testing; Lines over the Countryside; Overseas Communication showing Cable Buoys.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.