Six Reasons NOT To Rebuild The Euston Arch

oldeuston

The latest plans to build High Speed 2 and redevelop Euston Station contain a headline-grabbing detail: a rebuilt Euston Arch. The early-Victorian landmark was famously destroyed in the 1960s despite a fierce campaign from national treasures like John Betjeman. Now it could be rebuilt, using the original stones.

Press and public attention has been wholly positive, with nobody stopping to question whether there’s any merit in spending money on resurrecting the arch. Just to be contrary iconoclasts, here are some reasons to leave it well alone.

It’s pig-ugly

Just look at it. Brutish and overbearing, with chunky entablature that was out-moded in Roman times. It can’t even be bothered to present a full set of matching columns to the world. Loser.

It’s not even an arch

Our dictionary defines an arch as a ‘curved supporting structure’. Is it curved? No. Is it supporting anything? Yes, but only its own preposterous bulk.

Was it ever really liked?

  • Gigantic and very absurd”, an 1851 tourist guide to the Great Exhibition, quoted here.
  • “A Brobdignaggian absurdity”, Augustus Pugin, 1850s.
  • “[A] sepulchral prison-like portico”, George Lynch, 1902
  • “A rather gloomy portal”, The Advertiser, 1939
  • “It might have looked alright in Queen Victoria’s day with green fields and all that around it, but if you ask me, it’s an eyesore now”, a station porter, interviewed in 1961.
  • “A ponderous, lurking cack-bastard whose only virtue is to look marginally better than the shitty Richard Seifert buildings currently adorning the front of Euston Station”, Londonist, just now.

No one will give two monkeys after the fuss dies down

We’ve been here before. Remember Temple Bar? It was absent from the City for well over a century, before it was rebuilt to great acclaim in Paternoster Square in 2004. We suspect that the vast majority who now pass through it neither notice nor care.

It’s a smoke screen

Hey everybody, good news. We’re going to undo the nefarious work of evil 1960′s planners and rebuild this much-loved icon. While you’re all focusing on that bauble, we need to expand the station, so we’ll go right ahead and demolish lots of other stuff. Like, say, the beautiful disused tube station on Melton Street, which is so handsome it makes these construction workers dance for joy.

It’ll block two of London’s finest bars

Mock-ups of the reinstalled arch show it squatting between the two lodge buildings on Euston Road. The one to the west currently houses the Euston Tap, which you lot voted the best pub in Euston. The lodge to the east is the equally meritorious (if you like apple booze) Cider Tap. Rebuilding the arch would surely require these to close, at least during construction. And with the doors facing in towards the arch, they’d have to be substantially remodelled afterwards to remain as pubs.

euston news

Get that monster away from our pubs.

So, anyone want to write a riposte?

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  • Scooberson

    Riposte? Nay – bang on I’d say. Also Crystal Palace rebuild preposterous.

  • Boris Watch

    Three cheers for that. Routemaster nostalgia is all about hiding something, be it bus network cuts and fare rises or the privatisation of Crystal Palace park or, in this case, turning Euston into New Street.

    The real lost glory of Euston was the Great Hall. The rest was crap, including the entire station layout – what no one will admit is that the current building is a better station, for instance it’s much better integrated into the Underground. The platforms are awful, but so were the original platforms. Both the ‘Arch’ (really a propylaeum) and the Great Hall had to go because they were situated within the footprint of the current station building, the Arch being roughly where the gateline is down to the platforms – this would have meant a seriously compromised station, although I strongly suspect 20-30 years later a more elegant and thoughtful solution would have been possible, as at Liverpool Street.

    The actual station proposed here is presumably a gloomy subterranean job under a nice big load of office blocks, with a distraction placed well outside it, nowhere near where anyone will actually see it. This is hardly the heir to Brunel at work, is it? Ironically the Birmingham HS2 station proposal is both a lot grander and genuinely incorporates the surviving Curzon St. station building in both name and structure. Some of that applied to Euston would be a genuine achievement and finally give the line a fitting station about 200 years too late.

    Anyway, for most of its life there was a socking great hotel in front of it, so you couldn’t see it from Euston Road anyway.

    • Daniel Wright

      Quite agree – the Great Hall was the real gem, and I don’t suppose there’s much chance of getting that back. So far British high speed rail stations (such as there are) are a great disappointment. Ebbsfleet International looks like an out-of-town B&Q. St Pancras is good but only because it already was good. The Euston rebuild proposals so far are really drab, compared to mainland European high speed rail stations like Liège-Guillemins or Lyon Gare de Saint-Exupéry.

  • David Heath

    The same image appears in
    http://www.eustonvision.com/euston_arch_discusstion_document.pdf
    which is dated May 2009, ie pre HS2. Of course, this doesn’t mean the new scheme will be any better.

    Unlike you, I like(d) the Arch, I lament(ed) its loss, but I just don’t think it should be rebuilt.

    As Morris put it in the SPAB Manifesto in 1877 “a feeble and lifeless forgery is the final result of all the wasted labour”. And I still agree with that.

    (Only the second time I have used the quote today.)

  • c’mon!

    …there’s no reason to be so gloomy! People will like it, it’ll make a good story etc. I like those pubs too, but I’m sure they’ll work something out

  • diamond geezer

    The Arch is a fairly blatant smokescreen for the vast number of apartments, shops and offices the developers would like to cram in behind, like some real estate version of the Hanging Gardens of Euston.

    Perhaps the Arch could be rebuilt at Old Oak Common?

  • Gary

    I couldn’t agree more with this. Backwardlooking ugly urban clutter. I was really disappointed to see TV architect George Clark supporting the campaign to rebuild the arch as he tends to have a better sense of asthetic and the beauty of open space. What we need to do is build the highest quality new station building we can, and then ensure clear sightlines to it. This has been belatedly understood at Kings Cross where all the crappy buildings have indeed been cleared away to allow people to enjoy the striking station architecture. It would be crazy to build a great new 21st century station and then rebuild an anachronistic carbuncle in front of it.

  • Mark Walley

    Can we have a well designed nice new station that in 150 years time people campaign to save because it’s such an excellent example of early 21st century architecture? We’ve got some lovely old railway stations, we haven’t got any lovely new ones.

    • MattFromLondonist

      Nicely put. Although some (including me) would argue that the new King’s Cross ticket hall is rather lovely and certainly well designed.

      • Mark Walley

        Oh yeah, that’s a fair shout. More like that please.

      • Mike Paterson

        Agree.

  • A_Colloquy_of_Neurons

    Lets have a vacuum railway like NYC!!!

  • Mike Paterson

    It is a brute of a thing, but I do like its size if not its aesthetics. I’ve been in favour of the thing because of the romantic story of Betjeman’s failed campaign and then the quite recent re-discovery of the stones, thought to be lost. But well-argued (apart from Temple Bar collander) you’ve forced me to be properly objective and in truth, I don’t really care either way. In addition, the Euston Arch Trust have been pretty useless.

  • Stu Collett

    What a load of twoddle. I’ll give you one really good reason – euston is a shithole and look how amazing St Pancras is now they’ve done it up. It blocks a pub, you’re having a laugh right?!

    • Dave H

      Yes, but they revitalised St Pancras by cleaning up its existing magnificent features and adding a few discreet new ones, not by resurrecting a massive old anachronistic eyesore that was demolished half a century ago (and that wasn’t even very popular when it was built).

      Put another way, adding more shit to the shithole won’t make it any less of a shithole.

  • dgbdgb

    While I think a lot of the points are made are right, I do think they miss the main point here. Euston Station is the most important station in London. It’s the first real main line railway station in London (London Bridge was first – but at that time it was only for a short distance). Robert Stephenson’s London and Birmingham Railway was completely revolutionary. The scale of engineering involved was immense (including two major tunnels), and in its early years Euston was one of the marvels of the world. It was also a striking landmark – Stevenson built two massive chimneys that supported the Camden Incline stationary engines, and the trains were pulled and lowered down the incline on a cable. Everyone admires the San Francisco cable cars – the mechanism used was based on the Euston incline.

    The London & Birmingham Railway also changed travel. A business man could now travel from London and return from Birmingham in the same day. This was considered extraordinary at the time. And the private investors in the railway also made a very satisfactory return of 10% on their investments in the early years of the railway – so financially it was a success as well (nearly all the other railways built afterward lost money).

    So the key point is that we need to have something at Euston that recognises Stephenson’s achievement. And reminding people what Victorian Railway Engineers could do.

    I agree that the Euston Great Hall was amazing – but this was built later. The Arch was part of the original scheme, and I reckon rebuilding it using some of the original stones would be a suitable monument. The existing pictures are not based on serious plans – so how this monument might fit into a large master plan still has to be worked through – and perhaps the room on top of the propylaeum (the correct name for the arch) could be repurposed in some way.

    If people want to learn more, there are two web sites that are worth visiting

    - the Euston Arch Trust at http://www.eustonarch.org/ (who I do think have done a good job – getting the idea picked up by the government is pretty amazing given the costs involved)

    - the Camden Railway Heritage Trust at http://www.crht1837.org/ talks more about the railway, the tunnel and associated industrial structures in and around Camden Town

    If you are interested in this you might also want to buy a copy of Peter Darley’s new book Camden Goods Station through Time – lots of great new and old photos of the railway and associated structures including the horse stables and tunnels – and it includes the authoritative history of the area. It’s available from Peter and great value at £12 – see http://www.crht1837.org/news/camdengoodsstationthroughtime and if you buy from Peter the profits go to the Camden Railway Heritage Trust.

  • Maineroad

    When we rebuilld it we need to get the Elgin marbles out of the British Museum and incorporate them in a new frieze on the arch and sex it up a bit..

  • Melvin Mayes

    Bring back the Arch but build a modern Great Hall to show the progress over 175 years. Imagine the possibilities of a modern station to rival the remodeled St Pancras. I would tell the architect one thing, This building is about People, Trains and Travel first and shopping second!

  • Robert Andrew Grant

    Not much of a ‘riposte’ but I quite like the idea of seeing the return of the arch – especially constructed from original, authentic materials.