Views of Euston, looking to the past

The original station at Euston opened in 1837, in time for the coronation of Queen Victoria. The 70 foot high Euston Arch formed the entrance to the station. By the 1930s however the decision had been made to tear down the building and replace it: however, with the advent of the second world war, this was delayed until the 1960s when the West Coast Mainline was electrified.

The Euston arch was in the way of the new station and consideration was given to moving it elsewhere.  But in a money-saving exercise, the then Secretary of State for transport announced that the arch would be demolished: rebuilding it would cost £190,000 at the time: demolition would cost £12,000.  The rubble was dumped in a river in east London.

A colour brochure published for the opening in 1968 described new station glowingly, in terms that are familiar to anyone reading HS2 Ltd literature:

“This publication marks a unique occasion in the history of transport in this country – the complete reconstruction of the first main line railway terminal to be built in London…

“…The rebuilding of Euston Station, under active consideration for more than 50 years, has been undertaken as part of the London Midland Region’s main line electrification scheme which links London, the West Midlands and the North-West.

“Here was a challenge indeed for the railway architects – to produce a new station bold in design and layout and in keeping with a new railway era. As a result, an imaginative and distinctive design has been produced making the station the most modern rail terminal to be found anywhere, with many features including an underground car park.”

Once again, moves are afoot to rebuild Euston station.  If HS2 goes ahead, there will need to be extra platforms, but designing it is proving tricky for HS2 engineers.  Two different designs have been made public and rejected by HS2 or the Department for Transport: a third unpublished design has also been ditched due to publics with the budget.  The next is due for September or October this year.

In the HS2 referendum debate, transport minister John Hayes, in language that would have fitted in to the 1968 brochure praising the current Euston design proclaimed:

“I am absolutely determined that the development of Euston should be ambitious and bold in the way she described. I am absolutely determined that we should end with something that takes its inspiration from the arch. We do not want some vile, low-budget, modern monstrosity… So, I will not be constrained in my ambitions in the way she says, and I could hardly be so, given that I claimed earlier to believe that politicians in this place should be bold, courageous, ambitious and inventive. I want a neoclassical building on a grand scale at Euston, and it does not take a lot of working out to realise that the inspiration—the genesis for that—should come from the redeveloped arch.”

This plan has not met with universal delight, even amongst those who like railway heritage.  The Camden Railway Heritage Trust have told the Camden New Journal that they will campaign to block plans to rebuild the Arch, describing it as a “solitary monument”.

According to the New Journal

But Mr Darley, chairman of the Trust, said his body would rather the arch is returned in pieces and left in Euston Square Gardens as seating – as a reminder of its destruction.

He said: “This is an irrelevant and unnecessary diversion from creating a modern world class station and protecting Euston Square Gardens as a public open space in front of the station. …

“These would be a stark reminder of the monument’s destruction, creating a classical vista not unlike the ruins of the Roman Forum, as well as provide public seating.”

With the number of attempts to design the next iteration of Euston station, it seems its beyond the capabilities of HS2 engineers to create something within the £20,000 million budget.  Meanwhile the Euston Arch Trust (who say rebuilding the Arch will cost £10 million) will be having an exhibition in Euston gardens in March.

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