Londoners who grew up in the 1970s and 80s share a widespread memory: When the newly built Natwest Tower (now Tower 42) was hailed as the capital’s tallest building, playground wisdom knew better. Another much larger building stood a little further west and north, one that was visible from viewpoints across London – but only if you weren’t looking for it.
They called it the Behemoth. Some said it was a ghost building, or belonged to another London altogether. Others spoke of stealth technology and MI5. But what recurs is the image of a strange and ethereal megastructure, haunting the vicinity of City Road along the border of Hackney and Islington.
A typical contribution to the ‘We Remember the Behemoth’ Facebook page reads:
“I grew up in Chingford and from Epping Forest you could see [the megastructure’s] silhouette clearly on smoggy days and misty mornings. From left to right you had the Natwest Tower, the Behemoth, the Post Office Tower. Even now, the Behemoth would be impossibly big, far taller and wider than anything else. More like some vast sci-fi castle really. You couldn’t see it when the sun was out though. A trick of the light?”
Until recently, the phantom skyscraper has been considered an historic phenomenon – a possible mass delusion that had its last manifestation in the shape of City Road Behemoth, a 1980 single by forgotten Chislehurst synthpop duo The Direct Lines.
But a recent video shared on TikTok is one of several reported sightings in recent years. It shows a view from Angel, down towards City Road Basin. The video was taken at night; high in the mist above the streetlights is an unmistakable – and unexplainable – mass of lights.
Could the City Road’s spectral megastructure be making a comeback?
London skyscrapers have lost their novelty. The slow trickle of construction between the Natwest Tower and the Gherkin (2003) has become a long-predicted torrent. New towers in the City, Canary Wharf, Vauxhall and elsewhere are no longer worthy of small talk. Strange structures continue to sprout around ‘Silicon Roundabout’, a half-realised corporate place-dream at the lower end of City Road itself.
Then there’s 22 Bishopsgate, which, lacking a quirky nickname, seems to have crept up on London barely noticed – though it is second only to the Shard in height. The uncertain City, unsure of its post-pandemic future, only serves to make such towers more ghostly.
If the City Road’s strange megastructure is reemerging into this scene, local residents will have to decide how they feel about it. It seems the vast shadow that haunted the dreams of 70s kids was not a source of unease for everyone.
Calling in to a London radio show on the subject, a woman who grew up nearby recalled the ‘Behemoth’ looming over her neighbourhood:
“I saw it sometimes. Only out the corner of my eye, but I saw it. Early mornings when I walked our dog, or coming home late from school in the winter months. But even when I couldn’t see it, I sensed it there, standing over everything. I liked it. It was comforting. A friendly watching presence, you know?”
- Candidate: The City Road Behemoth
- Type: Temporal Untethering (under review)
- Status: Active