White Star Line
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White Star Line Headquarters, Liverpool

The former headquarters building of the White Star Line, known as 30 James Street today, or often referred to as the White Star Building or Albion House, is including its basement and attic, a 10 floor building, located on the corner of the Strand and James Street, near to the Pier Head in Liverpool, United Kingdom. It was from this building in which the White Star Line was mainly managed, including at the time of the Titanic disaster in April 1912, where Titanic survivor and Managing Director of the White Star Line, J Bruce Ismay had his office, and it was near to the building where White Star Line's Liverpool ships docked.

Former headquarters of the White Star Line

White Star Line's former headquarters showing the side facing The Strand and partly the side around the corner on Moor Street.

White Star Line's headquarters had previously been nearby at 10 Water Street, located on the corner of Covent Garden and Water Street, next door to Cunard Line's then headquarters at 8 Water Street; both 8 and 10 have now long since been demolished and replaced with the building today known as 8 Water Street.

Their new headquarters building was designed by architect Richard Norman Shaw, with construction, under the supervision of architect James Francis Doyle, beginning in 1896 after the clearance of a warehouse previously occupying the site. The building was completed and ready to be occupied at the very end of 1897. Soon after the opening of the building Margaret Ismay, the wife of White Star Line's founder, Thomas Ismay, was given a tour of the building and noted that it was very businesslike, but she missed the cosiness of the old offices. With it being a substantial sized building, White Star did not need the use of the whole building, so some office space on the upper floors was let out to other businesses.

Bellow second floor level the building is faced with granite stone, from the second floor upwards, on it's The Strand and James Street elevations the building is faced with bands of Portland stone and red bricks. On its Moor Street elevation, located in close proximity to other buildings, above the granite stone is continuous light-coloured bricks except for near to the James Street corner which is faced with bands of Portland stone and red brick. Its remining elevation is almost entirely obscured today by the surface building above James Street underground railway station, of which the White Star building is now attached to; originally it was attached to the comparatively shorter in height offices of the Dominion Line which was itself attached to the original James Street station building. Narrow balconies are provided outside most of the windows on the second floor of The Strand and James Street sides and a narrow balcony extends around most of the fifth floor, except for side attached to the neighbouring building. The main entrance to the building is up a flight of steps from James Street, through iron gates and onwards into the building. The two turrets on The Strand Street corners are notable features of the building. Internally the building was given a rather industrial feel, the exposed iron work, surviving to this day on the ground floor being an example. An original prominent feature of the building was a large clock hanging from the turret on the corner of The Strand and James Street, at around the 4th floor; this clock, however, has disappeared from the building, presumably during or in the aftermath of the Second World War.

White Star Line' former head quarters on James Street

White Star Line's former headquarters as seen from James Street, showing the main entrance to the building.

The White Star building is noticeably similar to the Norman Shaw Buildings - formerly New Scotland Yard, the headquarters of London's Metropolitan Police between 1890 and 1967, located very near the House of Commons in London, alongside the River Thames; as the modern name suggests, it was the creation of the same architect as White Star's building. A second similar building was built next to the first in the very early 20th century to expand New Scotland Yard. Today both of the former New Scotland Yard buildings are part of the Parliamentary Estate and are used in connection with the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

Following the loss of White Star Line's latest ship, Titanic, on her maiden voyage, in April 1912, the White Star's Line's office in Liverpool would probably have been urgently trying to find out what had happened; while reporters and those connected to those onboard would have been doing the same. Three days after the disaster, The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that Liverpool had by the sinking "been plunged into a state of consternation", and that the White Star Line head office in Liverpool had no direct information other than what they had heard of being transmitted from Carpathia and others nearby to the American coast.

Cunard Line, White Star Line's main direct competitor, constructed their own substantially sized headquarters building, known as the Cunard Building, nearby to White Star Line's, during the First World War; faced with Portland stone, the building can be seen from the White Star building, being the middle of the three large buildings in a row located in front of but to the side of the White Star building, on The Strand.

The Cunard Building

The Cunard Building, as seen from the Strand.

In the early hours of the morning on 14th July 1923, following a thunderstorm, a watchman in the nearby Mersey Docks and Harbour Board Offices (now the Port of Liverpool Building) noticed that the top of White Star's building was on fire and telephoned the White Star building's caretaker, who, along with his wife and grown up daughter were asleep in their living accommodation at the top of the building. After being warned, they quickly realised the fire was out of control, trapping them in their accommodation, and were forced to have to climb out of a window and on to the roof. The Fire Brigade attended, and eventually managed to get to the balcony on the fifth floor, bellow the roof, from where a rope was thrown up to the caretaker before a firemen climbed up to the stranded family on the roof and lowered them each down to the balcony before they were helped back down through the building safely to the street outside. The damage to the roof, the upper part of which was mostly completely destroyed, and upper floors was extensive. Given the quality of and height of the building as well as the actions of the fire brigade, presumably damage to the building as a whole was otherwise not too serious. Though smoke and water damage surely must have caused issues. The Daily Telegraph reported that the cause of the fire was believed to have been the result of lightning causing an electric wire to fuse and that the damage, which would be paid for by insurance, was estimated to be between £30,000 - £40,000 worth. They also noted that despite the events at the office, White Star Line's Cedric was able to depart Liverpool for New York on time. Presumably the damage was quickly repaired, and business brought back to usual at the office; despite the damage and problems it must have caused, the fire seems to have become a rather forgotten part of the building's history.

When in 1934 White Star Line merged its North Atlantic shipping interests with Cunard line to form the Cunard White Star Line, the White Star Line offices were closed, and its remaining staff and operations were merged into Cunard's Line's headquarters in the nearby Cunard Building.

In November 1934 a Liverpool estate agent placed an advert in The Times newspaper listing the former White Star Line offices as for sale. It was listed as being of vacant possession except for a small portion, suggesting that a small part of the building was still occupied, probably by other businesses using space White Star had not required; the same advert appeared in January, February and March 1935. It's not clear what become of the building immediately after this, but it appears throughout the remainder of the 1930s a number of businesses occupied perhaps small portions of the building.

Known as the Liverpool Blitz, during the earlier part of the Second World War, due to the importance of Liverpool's port, Liverpool suffered more from enemy air raid bombing than any part of the United Kingdom other than London. During a week of terrible heavy bombing throughout the first week of May 1941, known as the May Blitz, the by then former White Star headquarters was bombed, substantially damaging the building, including destroying its roof, completely overshadowing the previous fire in the 1920s; the building did however ultimately survive, perhaps due to its good construction, including the use of fireproof materials, and was eventually repaired. Especially considering the destruction surrounding the building - its immediate neighbours and many surrounding buildings were flattened, including the destruction of most of the original surface building above James Street Station - the White Star building was very lucky. The nearby Cunard Building - at that time the headquarters of Cunard White Star did survive the war intact.

The most notable legacy externally of the Second World War on the building today, is when looking up at the building from The Strand the gable at the top of the building has darker red bricks than the rest of the building, this is because it had to be replaced after the bomb damage. Although still of good quality, the new gable is of simpler design than the original. When the roof was rebuilt, the original individual dormer windows were replaced with continuous dormers along the roof; the outside of the building otherwise remains little changed since it was built in the 19th century.

White Star Line's former headquarters as it appears today

White Star Line's former headquarters as it appears today, with the altered gable at the top of the building.

In early 1945, as the Second World War was starting to come to a close, it was announced that the former White Star Line building had been acquired by the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, a subsidiary of Royal Mail Lines, and that it had been renamed as Pacific Building. The line's newspaper adverts included their new address as of April 1945. The Pacific Steam Navigation Company was a shipping line founded in 1838 and sailed to ports in South America.

By the end of 1949 Cunard had bought out the remaining White Star shares in Cunard White Star and Cunard removed the name White Star. Cunard Line remained in the Cunard Building until the 1960s when Cunard began moving the management of the line to Southampton, before putting the building up for sale in 1969; today it remains standing in Liverpool as an office building.

In June 1952 the former White Star building in Liverpool was made a listed building giving it statutory protection from being altered or ever demolished without permission from the local authority. It was recorded as a Grade 2* listed building, which is given to historic buildings of particular importance of more than special interest.

In 1965 Royal Mail Lines and its subsidiary The Pacific Steam Navigation Company were bought by Furness Withy and Company, who retained the building until around 1973.

In around 1975 the building was back in use after having been acquired by the Vestey group to house the offices of its shipping company the Blue Star Line, as well as Lamport and Holt, and the Booth Line. It was at this time that the building was again renamed, this time to Albion House. The new occupiers remained for many years.

After the Blue Star Line and its associates departed, the building later remained in use as an office building, but it seems for many years it was underused, and eventually became an unused empty building.

In November 2013 planning permission and listed building consent was granted for the building to be converted into an hotel. The former White Star Line building opened as an hotel known as 30 James Street in April 2014.

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