11 Oddities To Spot On Euston Road

M@
By M@
11 Oddities To Spot On Euston Road
A street sign saying Euston Road, only the last two letters are reversed with a subscript 2, to suggest EUSTNO2 road - a protest against fumes
Sadly, this guerrilla intervention from 2020 was quickly removed.

Euston Road might, on the face of it, seem like one of London's least enticing roads. It was built in the mid-18th century as London's first bypass, and it's been choked with traffic ever since. It's not pleasant, and it's not pretty.

If you can bare the exhaust fumes, though, there's much to discover along this bleakest of roads. We've previously sang its praises as a hidden art gallery, but now here are 11 oddities of Euston Road. Guarantee, you won't have spotted them all.

A map showing 11 oddities along Euston Road

See also: 11 Oddities of Strand

1. The mystery lighthouse

A lighthouse-style structure on top of a victorian building, all in shadow

This peculiar structure, nicknamed the lighthouse, has presided over the corner of Euston and Pentonville Roads since Victorian times, but nobody really seems to know what it is. The leading theory is that it was a form of architectural advertising for an oyster bar that once graced the lower floor, but that's always struck us a bit fishy. Our hypothesis is that it's an architectural nod to the original "King's Cross", a raised sculpture of George IV that once stood nearby. Whatever it is, the structure was recently refurbished along with its wedge-shaped office block, now known as the Lighthouse Building.

See also: London's best lighthouses

A statue of a king on a steeple-like structure (left), and a lighthouse-like thing on top of a building (right)

2. The invisible milestone

An ancient milestone, with a cup on top and a big yellow sign to the right

Ever noticed this ancient, weathered milestone? We'd walked past dozens of times without spotting it. The post is usually surrounded by less venerable forms of street clutter, and here seems to have been co-opted as an occasional table. We're calling it a milestone but, like the lighthouse, nobody really knows what it is. Perhaps it's a remnant of the old King's Cross statue (see above), or a boundary marker. Any markings have long since faded away. You'll find the mystery stone on the south side of the road, close to where Euston Road sweeps into Gray's Inn Road.

3. The planets of the Ice Ages

A circular outdoor seating area. Every few paces is a plinth with a rock on top.

The obvious oddity to point out at the British Library is Eduardo Paolozzi's sculpture/statue of Isaac Newton. Its eccentric, hunched-over pose is based on an illustration by William Blake. And it is very odd.

BUT everyone knows that, and we'd like to direct you to an under-appreciated art work hiding nearby. At first glance, you notice a circular seating area. At second glance, you spot the rocks on top of plinths. But now take a third look. See the arm on the nearest stone in the image? A human body is hewn into this and every rock, some easier to descry than others. The figures represent sculptor Antony Gormley's friends and family, who hugged the stones while he traced around them.

There is still greater depth to this piece. Each boulder was formed in a successive ice age, spanning a period of 650 million years. It is said to be a reflection on 'the timeless connections between man and environment and the physical properties and natural elements that they share'. We've spotted a similar nod to past ice ages at King's Cross.

Gormley also contributed a rusty-looking chair sculpture to the wider courtyard. See if you can spot it. We'll meet the artist again soon enough.

4. The very first bit of London Underground

Here's a little-known fact for you. The very first hole for the London Underground was dug in front of Euston station. We found this press cutting from 1860 in the British Newspaper Archive:

A press cutting explaining that the first works for the underground railway are under way

Seymour Street is the old name for Eversholt Street, so we can pinpoint the dig to this corner of the gardens in front of Euston station.

A map of Euston Square Gardens with a red arrow pointing to the SE corner, where the first underground works took place

At the time of writing, the land is in flux once again. Euston Square Gardens is currently sealed off to allow works on the HS2 rail project. We'll have to ask them if they found any relics of the 1860 dig.

5. The hedge roundel

A green roundel seemingly made out of hedge

While you're loitering in the vicinity of Euston, head into the bus station to find this wonky old hedge roundel. We're not sure why it's there, but we're glad it is. That may not be real hedge.

6. The boozy lodge

A classical lodge with prominent blocks. It's been turned into a pub and people sit outside under parasols

One of the more obvious inclusions in this list, but we can't help throwing the Euston Tap into the mix. It's one of London's smallest pubs, yet has one of the largest selections of beer. Witchcraft.

Most people stand, or else sit in the beer "garden", but head up the spiral staircase to find a cosy seating area. (Just don't stand under the spiral staircase or you will get dripped on.) The outside of the lodge carries the place names of popular Euston destinations, such as Burnley, Dudley and, um, Aberystwyth. A similar lodge across the road styles itself as the Cider Tap, and provides a self-explanatory service.

7. The Wellcome windows

Neon sculptures in the shape of DNA in a window

Get past Euston station and the Wellcome Collection and Trust dominate the southern stretch of Euston Road. It's well worth popping into the Collection (free) where you can see an upside-down Gormley sculpture along with hundreds of artefacts from the history of medicine. The Trust building (which you can't go into unless you have a good reason) uses its long bank of windows for art displays of a scientific bent. At the time of writing, they're showing off some neon sculptures relating to antibiotic resistance.

See also: Secrets of the Wellcome Trust.

8. The £70,000 rock

A granite boulder, very smooth, sits on a pavement

More stoney strangeness along the road at UCLH. Visitors to the inexplicably teal-coloured hospital are greeted by this smooth piece of granite, whose location at the top of a flight of steps could not have occurred by geological forces. It's actually a work of art called Monolith and Shadow by John Aiken. The boulder caused controversy when installed in 2005 after the press cottoned on to the £70,000 price tag.

9. The battle on stilts

An old-fashioned stone frieze showing olden times people doing battle things. But the weird thing is, it's standing on stilts

The otherwise unremarkable office development of Regent's Place is home to one of London's first class oddities. It's a Victorian frieze, showing a scene from the Battle of St Vincent, that for reasons unexplained is supported on stilts. It gets odder. The frieze, sculpted by Edward Hodges Baily in 1826, was originally intended for Marble Arch, but sat somewhere in storage for 160 years before being erected here. Even odder... the area has no known connection to the Battle of St Vincent, Marble Arch, or the sculptor. It is a pure oddity.

10. The reflective Gormley

A rust-coloured statue of a man, faces another slightly darker statue of a man. They are separated by a sheet of glass

Told you he'd be back. Gormley totally owns the Euston Road. Yet another of his sculptures can be found to the west of Regent's Place. Two typical Gormley figures face each other, separated by a sheet of office glass. What can it all mean? Something about getting trapped in your workplace, and sacrificing yourself for your colleagues?

Captain Kirk and Spock separated by glass

11. The multilingual toilets

Entrance to a mens lavatory with the word mens written in four different languages

And finally we reach Great Portland Street station. Built into the southern end of the station are these subterranean toilets. We know it's only a minor thing, but we've always been tickled to see the words 'Men' (and 'Women', out of shot) translated into French, German and Italian. Why those languages? Why any translation at all. when everyone recognises the international symbol? Why be so linguistically accommodating when the toilets are never bloody open in the first place? Ah, the mysteries of the universe. And, indeed, Euston Road.

See also: 11 Oddities of Strand

Last Updated 23 September 2022