An occasional feature, in which we mourn the loss of an exceptional slice of London, wishing it was still here. This time: the Great Hall in the old Euston station.
What was so great about the Great Hall?
Euston station's Great Hall would've turned 175 years old in 2024. Designed by Philip Hardwick (the man behind Euston's doric arch), it was the waiting room to end all waiting rooms: a vast neo-Grecian chamber surrounded by ionic columns, scattered with glowing globes of lights, and fitted with a diamond-shaped staircase with a stentorian statue of the 'father of the railways', George Stephenson, at the foot of it. The coffered ceiling — the largest span anywhere on Earth when built in 1849 — took its cue from the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside The Walls no less, but the Great Hall sported more domestic touches too, like the plaster reliefs representing various stops along the northbound rail routes, oil paintings of landmarks like Conwy Castle and Suspension Bridge, and glass cases containing model locos. It was, in short, the most magical setting in which you were ever likely to flick through a Penguin Classic while waiting for your train to Crewe. As this vignette from the Daily Mirror in 1931 suggests, the Great Hall even proved conducive to penning novels and poetry (although whether this was written by Agatha Christie, or a never-was is anyone's guess):
What happened to it?
The 1960s did, unfortunately. From 1961, Euston station began to be pulled down in the name of modernity and progress, its doric arch suffering the indignity of being slowly dismembered, chopped up into little bits, then lobbed into an east London canal like some Krays victim. But this arch was, as The Beauty of Transport says, only the second-best bit of the old Euston — and when the the Great Hall came tumbling down, a classic piece of London was lost forever. The only good thing to come from this destructive reign of terror was the fact that the heritage protestors shifted down the road to throw their arms around St Pancras station instead, and managed to save it.
What's there now?
Euston station 2.0, a terminus that everyone from Michael Palin to Londonist has had less than favourable things to say about. With its conspicuous lack of seating — and a design that's aged about as well as Love Actually — it's not the pleasantest place to hang around. That's not to say no one appreciates it; in 2023, Oliver Wainwright wrote "There are few public transport experiences in London as sublime as ascending the escalator from the Underground to be greeted by the up‑lit concrete coffers that leap across the ceiling of its airy concourse." It does make you wonder if he's ever visited St Pancras, but Wainwright makes a salient point; the station due to replace the 1960s/70s Euston will be watered down further still — why does London keep doing this to itself?
Is there anything left of the Great Hall?
Though two of the arch's gatehouses survive (one of them converted into a pub), all that remains of the Great Hall itself is the statue of Stephenson, which now stands in another Great Hall — at the National Railway Museum in York.