I love to find things that are not quite what they appear to be. Given that there is a rather large subterranean London, the need to allow fresh air in, or expel foul out is rather important. The following is a list of my favourite (oh you sad man) ventilation systems.
The cast iron equestrian statue shows the City's gratitude for the Duke of Wellington's help in assisting the passage through Parliament of the London Bridge Approaches Act 1827, which led to the creation of King William Street. The granite plinth has the inscription "Erected June 18, 1844". This means that this memorial is quite a lot older than Bank station which opened in 1900. But there are definitely air vent grills all around the base of the plinth.
This statue of J.H. Greathead was unveiled by the Lord Mayor of London Sir Paul Newell on 17 January 1994. It has a granite plinth and a hollow Portland stone oval base, which has a bronze plaque on one side depicting a tunneling shield with an inscription that credits Greathead as being the inventor of the travelling shield that made possible the cutting of the tunnels of London's deep level tube system. Between the statue and the oval base is metal grill which goes the whole way round and functions as a ventilation shaft installed at Bank Junction, for the underground station, to meet safety standards introduced after the King's Cross fire in 1987.
Just around the corner at the entrances to Bank underground station the air vents have been cunningly disguised as the station name boards. The station’s DLR concourse, is 41.4 meters (136 feet) underground, and is the city’s deepest station below street level. As well as the mechanical ventilation there is another system at work. Anyone who has stood on the platforms will know that as the trains approach, it is preceded by a gust of warm air. The trains act as air pistons in the small tunnels, with the effect of pushing air ahead and sucking air from behind them.
George Yard which sits behind Gracechurch Street has several vents reminiscent of small spaceships. They are all different heights and have been decorated with flower beds and benches built around them. If you're tall enough you can look into the shorter ones, but all you see are coloured lights which automatically come to life at dusk. I have no idea what these are venting.
Gibson Square Gardens in Islington has one of the most pleasing vents masquerading as a classic Victorian folly. It’s a tastefully-rendered small brick building that sits in the middle of the charming park. There's no clue to its purpose other than frequent low rumblings from inside, and some tell tale litter and debris stuck inside the wire dome. It is actually a ventilation shaft that sits above the tracks of the Victoria line roughly midway between the stations King’s Cross St Pancras and Highbury and Islington. The decoration and classical brickwork is a bit of a con as this was built in the mid-1960s. We have the local residents of the time to thank as they vociferously objected to the big grey metal box which would have sat here and forced the authorities to build something more in keeping with the area.
In 2003 a pair of angel wings landed just behind Paternoster Square near to St Paul's Cathedral. I remember thinking at the time that they were quite stunning, but why tuck them away in a bit of a backwater between office blocks. The reason I found out later is that they are actually the cooling vents for an electricity sub station located below street level. The vents around the base of the wings which are made up of lots of isosceles triangles suck in cold air to cool the sub station, while hot air is piped out through the top of the wings.
Finsbury Circus Garden dates to 1606 and is the oldest public park in London. The architect, George Dance the Younger, while City Surveyor, laid out the Finsbury Estate as a residential suburb, 1775-1800. The obelisk commemorates him and sits just off London Wall. It disguises one of the ventilation chimneys installed after the Kings Cross fire enquiry.
I'll finish (thankfully) with one that has looked like one thing when first built, but has in the last few years taken on another appearance. When first installed near Bermondsey station this ventilation shaft and escape route for the Jubilee line always reminded me as a very large tin bath, the sort that used to be brought in to sit before the fire in Victorian households.
However, several years ago it was given a coat of paint, and now looks as if it urgently needs another. Now with mature trees it has the appearance of a secret garden and you can imagine a neatly manicured lawn within, complete with deck chair, umbrella and a large Gin & Tonic.