In 1879 the Prudential Assurance Company entered its new head office, Holborn Bars, designed by Alfred Waterhouse, one of the most popular and successful architects in the UK, particularly well known for designing the Natural History Museum and Manchester Town Hall. 'Chief Office' had the latest modern conveniences: hot running water, a pneumatic tube system and – from 1881 – electric lighting. Lady clerks had their own entrance, staircase, library, roof promenade and dining room and left work 15 minutes earlier to avoid 'consorting' with the men.

Watercolour of Holborn Bars by Alfred Waterhouse (1879)

By the early 1900s Prudential insured one third of the UK population – and the building at Holborn Bars had grown to accommodate the business. On the site were a staff restaurant (for the ladies), a chapel and a hall for meetings and entertainments. The interior decoration of moulded plaster, mahogany counters, marble mosaics and tiled walls was of the highest standard. The tiles made a clean and hygienic working environment for staff. Waterhouse and his son went on to design 21 other offices for Prudential all over the UK, in the same distinctive Victorian Gothic style. During the 1930s the original 1879 block was re-built-large open plan floors were designed in the Art Deco style by the architect EM Joseph to accommodate new punch card machinery used in Prudential's administration.

Board Room chimney tile at Holborn Bars

By the 1980s, new technology meant that Holborn Bars needed a complete refurbishment. The design, by Prudential Architects and the EPR Partnership, retained the original features of the Waterhouse and Joseph designs but equipped the office for modern working practices. HM Queen Elizabeth opened the new building in October 1993. In 1999, Group Head Office was relocated to Laurence Pountney Hill; however Holborn Bars still remains as a landmark building.

Holborn Bars architectural plan