This is the second of my blogs about iconic London buildings of which I have models made by the talented Timothy Richards. Last week I looked at Temple Bar, which was dismantled, taken out to a countryside park and more than a century later returned to London, albeit in a new location. This week I look at Euston Arch, made by Tim in support of the campaign to return the old Euston Arch to London. It already looks good at home!
In the way of progress
The demolition of Euston Arch in 1961 was a cause célébre and for many a low point with respect to the preservation of architecture in London. Ok, I know that when it was demolished it wasn’t universally loved: all the pictures show it rather dirty and shabby cramped into the maze of roads and buildings around the station. Like Temple Bar it was big and grimy and in the way of progress.
The likes of Betjeman, Pevsner et al were unable to stop its destruction. Its loss indeed was a “catalyst for a new phase in heritage campaigning, research and practice” according to Dr Ruth Adams of King’s College London.
Demolition of our railway infrastructure
It was also in the era when the railways themselves were facing wholesale demolition as part of the Beeching plans. I was then living in a village near my birthplace town of Banbury, and even the brand new concrete Banbury Station nearly got the chop.But the newly built was saved. Indeed the process is now underway to reinstate some of the lost railway links in the region including the so-called Varsity line between Oxford and Cambridge.
One thing that attracts me to Tim Richards’ model is that Banbury is included in the little list of station names running along the bottom of the model. Those station names can still to be seen today on the two lodges, on the Marylebone Road, the last vestiges of the old Euston Doric grandeur, one hosting one of London’s most popular pubs, the Euston Tap. The proposal is to rebuild the Arch between the two lodges. Some disagree with the whole idea, including the Londonist article – whose tag line “We might not be entirely serious” I do like – but I don’t think the need to remodel the popular Euston Tap pub is enough of reason not to stop the return of the Arch: after all, the Tap benefits from being housed in a wonderful old Doric lodge instead of being a charmless bar in the modern station.
A watery grave
Unlike Temple Bar, featured in my Building Blog 1, on demolition Euston Arch was not re-erected in some country park (though it was considered) but was dumped in the demolition contractor’s back garden or in East London in a feeder river to the river Lea – which is where historian Dan Cruickshank found it in 1994. Witness his excitement just before the 6th minute of the video as a chunk or Doric column is raised from the deep to appropriately monumental music! 60% of the stonework still exists, which would make a sizeable contribution to a reconstructed Arch. The ironwork gates are at the National Railway Museum in York.
The new Euston: to be or not to be?
It’s taking a while to get the Arch back on its feet – though my model has brought it alive at home. Controversy is back because Euston is slated to be the terminus for HS2 – though I understand they’ve picked the wrong place for the HS2 to come into London and Sadiq Khan is pushing to terminate HS2 elsewhere. But Euston will certainly be revamped as part of the new Crossrail, so lots of plans to demolish the dreadful jumble of tower blocks and coffee chains cluttering up the front of the station. I’m looking forward to seeing how they juxtapose the Arch against the new modern idea (as has been done pretty well at Kings Cross).
HS2 creates news in the villages around Banbury too. Like all mega projects (from basements to transport networks) it’s not just the end result that arouses the ire of many, it’s the megahassle and disruption of having things built – the lorries, the noise, the dirt – and the huge uncertainty as plans rumble on and off. So it’s probably just as well that we moved from our village home in 1959 because the HS2 lorries are slated to rumble along the road at the bottom of the garden. Great foresight Mum and Dad. We moved to the next valley which was lovely and peaceful. Mind you the family finally upped sticks from there in the 1990s not long after the new M40 was rumbling half a mile across the fields: we noticed the sound, like a permanent wind, more than the change in the view.
Only the future will tell
But back to Euston Arch. Not a fussy piece of architecture, straightforward Doric columns, imposing, pretty impractical, but creating a sense of place. Like Temple Bar, if restored I’m sure only people will pass beneath it. They are planning a basement for it too, so I hope it is well supported!
Adapt or die
More next week, when we’ll look at my Timothy Richards model of Covent Garden’s Floral Hall, the first of two buildings which have been saved from destruction by changing their use.
Meanwhile, if you are wondering about how many other great buildings have disappeared then enjoy this video accompanied by some great spiritual singing: presumably if you can’t depend on Bejteman to save you then you need to call for higher assistance…