In a packed Farringdon meeting room last night, members and supporters of the Euston Arch Trust came together for an update on how the project to rebuild the Doric column that once graced the station is progressing.
In May, we learnt that the pieces of the Arch, destroyed in 1961 in an act of brutal cultural vandalism, were to be lifted from their subaqueous resting place at Prescott Channel, in Bromley-by-Bow. Four months on, Dan Cruikshank took the stage to give a feverishly enthusiastic appraisal of the Arch's history, from the destruction (Harold MacMillan's name was greeted with boos) to the 1994 investigation into the broken up remains for the BBC show One Foot In The Past, which successfully located the stones. Told with classic Cruikshank charisma, the tale becomes a great whodunnit, easily more gripping than any hefty tome you may have picked up by another Dan in recent days.
Though progress is slow, the physical recovery of the stones from the smashed propylaeum, which Cruikshank actually described as being cleaner than when they went in — "a good bath" in the Channel has washed off the Fifties-era smog — has given extra impetus to the project. A computer-generated mock-up (above) and detailed plans by engineer Alan Baxter have been released, and a £10 million cost attached to the rebuilding of the Arch, composed of as many recovered pieces as possible with the rest mined from the same Yorkshire quarry as the original, with commercial space in the basement and attic helping pay for construction. Given that Euston station is the subject of a £1 billion renovation, it's not an extortionate sum.
But should it be rebuilt? Dan Cruikshank's infectious enthusiasm about this mammoth Tetris game aside, there lurks a sense that it is a step too far toward "militant nostalgia", something recognised by William Wiles who noted that it reflected a "malaise within our culture". One gentleman last night said the Arch's destruction wasn't for nothing: it spurred on the conservation movement, and St Pancras would not have been successfully shielded from the wrecker's ball were it not for the fury and anguish that coalesced once Euston was gone for good.
Then again, it would offer a striking focal point to the new station, and moreover, as the government slowly rekindles its love affair with rail, a rebuilt Arch would be an inspiring link across the centuries to a time when British industry, in particular the railways, was admired the world over. For a Britain less in thrall to the financial services industry and perhaps willing to embrace more tangible forms of economic activity, the Euston Arch would be a great symbol.