The blog of the Euston Arch Trust campaigning for the rebuilding of the Euston Arch destroyed when Euston station was redeveloped in the 1960s. A proposed redevelopment of Euston offers the chance to rebuild the arch. A rebuilt Euston Arch would be an outstanding gateway to a new Euston Station.
Monday, 18 August 2008
Euston: time to rebuild this colossus
Why is a treasure of the steam age languishing in a canal? Martin Gayford reports
"Railway termini and hotels are to the 19th century what monasteries and cathedrals were to the 13th century. They are the only real representative buildings we possess." So wrote Building News in 1875. Many, looking at the refurbished St Pancras, would agree: that is universally agreed to be among the architectural masterpieces of Victorian Britain. It is less well known that an equally imposing monument of the railway age now lies - or most of it does - at the bottom of a canal in east London.
The Euston Arch used to stand a few hundred yards to the west of St Pancras: huge, austere, and magnificent. It was 70 feet high by 44 feet deep. "Between the fluted columns, each eight and a half feet in diameter, which formed the main carriage entrance," wrote John Betjeman, "might be glimpsed the green hills of Hampstead beyond." For over a century this was the first sight of London for travellers from the North West. When it was new, crowds flocked by omnibus to see this wonder of the age.
Its destruction in 1961 was one of the first and sharpest battles in the late-20th-century conservation wars. In fact, the outcry that it provoked was an important factor in preventing the destruction - now inconceivable - of St Pancras and King's Cross. But now there is a chance that the great arch may rise again. This is an opportunity, as Tim Knox, director of Sir John Soane's Museum, says, "to right one of the great wrongs of architectural vandalism to London in the Sixties".
The Euston Arch was constructed in 1837 by the architect Philip Hardwick as the grand entrance to the first railway terminus ever built in a capital city. The world's first trunk line, as Betjeman put it, was from London to Birmingham, and Euston the forerunner of all grand stations. It was, not surprisingly, idiosyncratic. In the 1830s, the new stations were thought of as the modern equivalent to the gates of ancient cities. Accordingly, Hardwick produced a Doric portico or Propylaeum of the kind that might have been seen in a classical Greek town, but on a colossal scale. It was the first great architectural monument of the age of steam.
At first, the arch was not universally liked. Augustus Welby Pugin thought it a grotesque example of architectural showing off, a "Brobdignaggian absurdity", a monstrous portico "for the cabs to drive through". But Pugin, apostle of the Gothic, was wrong. Hardwick's arch was a superb late example of neo-classical design - London's closest rival to the masterpieces of Karl Friedrich Schinkel in Berlin.
It stood for 124 years - somewhere around the southern end of the current platforms eight and nine - until British Railways decided to redevelop Euston. At first it was proposed to move the arch and re-erect it on a different site. This could easily have been done, but BR concluded it would be too expensive. A deputation, including Betjeman, pleaded with the then prime minister, Harold Macmillan, but got nowhere.
"Macmillan listened - or I suppose he listened," the architectural critic JM Richards recalled. "He sat without moving with his eyes apparently closed. He asked no questions; in fact he said nothing except that he would consider the matter." Macmillan, born in 1894, was of the generation which wanted to escape, not preserve, the 19th century.
And so the arch was demolished. Some of the stones ended up in Bromley, in the garden of the demolition contractor. Then, in 1994, the broadcaster and architectural historian Dan Cruickshank discovered that about 60 per cent of them had been used to plug a large hole in the bed of the Prescott Channel, a canal that runs into the River Lea in the East End. Part of a fluted column was raised, and - Cruickshank told me - turned out to be "in extremely good nick, with the surface tooling intact from 1837".
Cruickshank, who has been crusading on this issue for many years, feels it is "incredibly important" that if the arch is reconstructed, as much as possible of the original fabric - grit stone from Yorkshire - should be used. One of the imponderables is how damaged the rest of the dressed stone may be.
Last year it was announced there is to be another redevelopment of Euston, in 2012. This creates a real chance that the arch could return from its watery grave. That could be, as Cruickshank argues, a great asset. "It would make the new station internationally significant and much talked about," he says.
An important factor will be the attitude of London's new mayor. The arch - ancient Greek, yet in its time a great symbol of modernity - ought to be a perfect cause for Boris Johnson, classicist and modern-minded conservative.
The above piece can also be viewed via the link below:
Friday, 1 August 2008
Thanks to the work of Joe Robson (http://www.joerobson.co.uk/sai/home.html) we now have a fantastic computer generated image of what the arch would look like if rebuilt between the two existing lodges on Euston Square.