I’m going to come out and say something unpopular: I like Euston mainline station. This opinion doesn’t necessarily align itself with popular discourse however and railway and architecture enthusiasts up and down the land will constantly lament the argued ruthless demolition of the Phillip Charles Hardwick original. Amongst many of the grand classical features lost to the 1960’s rebuild was the famed Euston Arch, a commanding portico fronting Drummond Street that properly announced the arrival of the London & Birmingham railway in a typically ostentatious Victorian style. It is often credited with being the greatest architectural loss to the railways, if not London, when the brutalist designers of the 60’s swept through town after the war pulling down these important bits of heritage.
Important they were, yes, but here’s why I like modern Euston and more to the point, here’s why I think it’s better than the original. Come the 50’s, Hardwick’s Euston had become grotty and worn out and was not fit for the demands placed upon it. This was after all the gateway to the West Coast Mainline and ergo the Midlands, the North and beyond. The replacement, designed by BR architects William Headley and MR Moorcroft, dragged Euston in the 20th century. A vast, bright concourse was constructed to welcome travellers in and out of the station, aided by the use of large windows and open spaces, this new space improved passenger flow and was easier to use and navigate. Instead of dumping you on a side street, the new entrance was moved closer to Euston Road, with an open square, shopping precinct and bus terminal incorporated into the design. The tube station was rationalised as well with a new entrance bringing you right up into the middle of the concourse, further removing the need for passengers to get in the way of road traffic. (Check out my video on Euston’s abandoned passageways). Even the taxi rank is hidden away underneath the station. All of this is incredibly clever, and I’m a big fan of joined up public transport integration with thought given to the user experience as a whole. It’s something the brutalist planners and architects of the 60’s were surprisingly good at, and we would do well in the modern era to celebrate and take guidance from their ideas.
The trouble with Euston is that if you’re going to bulldoze amazing architecture (and actually it’s perhaps important to note that in the 60’s nobody liked Victorian buildings) you better damn well make sure the replacement is something superior. And that’s where our 21st century opinions start to take over. Throughout the years it’s been adapted and bastardised to an extent that some of those clever design features have been detrimentally lost. We’ve built extra kiosks and advertising hoardings in the concourse, reducing the spread of natural light and making the station feel dull. The space outside has been built over with fences and railings making it harder to navigate and ugly to look at. The platforms too are chronically unloved and unwelcoming and on the face of it I start to understand why people think Euston is the worst of the termini.
With the advent of HS2 and the pending redevelopment of the station, I can however see us in 50 years time looking back at 1960’s Euston, just like we did with the Arch and Hardwick and think – actually, that wasn’t half bad, maybe we shouldn’t have pulled it down after all, maybe should have looked after it instead.
But then that would make me a hypocrite. Mourning the loss of what I feel is a 1960’s icon, would be no better than getting teary eyed about a grotty arch I never got to see. Maybe Euston is destined to be rebuilt over and over again, with nobody truly appreciating its merits and gems until it’s too late. And maybe that’s okay.
Image copyright A Carter – CallingAllStations.co.uk