Euston Arch

Euston Arch

The Euston Arch, built in 1837, was the original entrance to Euston Station in North Central London, England.


Designed by architect Philip Hardwick, it was inspired by Greek architecture. Hardwick encountered on a trip to Italy in 1818 and 1819. Strictly speaking it was not an arch at all, but a propylaeum of the Doric order. The sandstone structure was designed for the London and Birmingham Railway (L&BR), mirroring Curzon Street Station, Birmingham, at the other end of the company's mainline. The arch was to be not only a fitting gateway to the north, but to the whole new world which the railway was to open up.

The construction of the arch was announced by the directors of the L&BR in a report dated February 1837:The arch was supported on four columns, with bronze gates were placed behind them. It stood 70ft high and 44ft deep, while the diameter of each of the columns was 8 ft 6 in. The structure was built from stone from Bramley in West Yorkshire, and cost £35,000. Initially it had very little embellishment and no descriptive title until 1870, when the London and North Western Railway incised "Euston" on the architrave in letters of gold. There were two lodges on each side of the arch, executed like it in strictly classical style. Each of these lodges was separated from its neighbour by an imposing pair of bronze gates. The gates between the right-hand lodges were an entrance for carriages and very heavy goods going by train, while the right-hand lodge was an office for outgoing parcels. [cite news|title=The Story of Euston: A Century of Expansion, Haulage by Rope to Camden Town|work=The Times|date=September 20, 1938]

The traveller would drive through the arch into an oblong courtyard running north to south and enclosed by a brick wall nearly 500ft long and 100ft wide. On the eastern side (the arriving traveller's right) was a range of offices behind a colonnade of pillars.

The Arch was not admired by everyone in its early years. A guide to London published at the time of the Great Exhibition in 1851 described it as "gigantic and very absurd", and placed "without reference to the courtyard it leads to". The "British Almanac" for 1839 remarked that it was "noble", emphasising the purity of its style, but stated that "it was not necessary, as in the case of many porticoes to country houses, to have sash windows peeping out between Doric columns; the perfection of the style could be maintained and should be appreciated."

The addition of the station name was part of station improvements in 1869-74 which also saw the creation of an entrance drive from the Euston Road to the portico. In 1881, however, the westernmost pier and lodge of the arch structure were demolished to make way for offices, and soon afterwards a hotel extension blocked the view from Euston Road. [cite book|last=Jackson|first=Alan A.|title=London's Termini|publisher=David & Charles|location=Newton Abbot|year=1985|pages=42-3|isbn=0-7135-8634-4]


First attempt

The first attempt to demolish the arch was made in 1938 by the London Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) which proposed the rebuilding of Euston according to an American-inspired design by Percy Thomas, a respected architect hired with the help of a loan provided by the government. Returning from a tour of modern stations in the United States, he proposed a large stripped-Classical block with wings which incorporated the station, a hotel and offices. This required the removal of the Euston Arch and Gerald Wellesley and Albert Richardson of the Georgian Group, a conservation organisation, managed to persuade Lord Stamp, president of the LMS, that this would be possible, even though Thomas had insisted that it would not. Ultimately the plans for re-construction were never realised, the Second World War commencing the following year. [cite news|first=Gavin|last=Stamp|title=Save the archive|date=2000-04-29|url=|work=The Spectator|accessdate=2007-11-09]

Second attempt

Notice to demolish

In January 1960 the British Transport Commission served the London County Council (LCC) (the local planning authority) with notice of its intention to demolish Euston station.

Conceived in the context of the BTC's plans to upgrade and electrify the main line between Euston and Scotland as part of its Modernisation Programme, the proposal called for the demolition of the Grade II listed arch as well as Euston station in its entirety, including its Grade II listed Great Hall. The station was regarded as inconveniently sited and impractically small.

At a planning enquiry held in late January 1960, the LCC adopted a report by its Town Planning Committee of the LCC which allowed the removal of the arch and its attendant lodges on condition that "they are re-erected on another site in an appropriate dignified and open setting." Giving evidence to the LCC, the BTC estimated that the resiting costs would be in the region of £180,000. It refused to countenance any suggestion that it would stump up these funds. [cite news|title=£180,000 to move arch at Euston; LCC told of station reconstruction plan|work=The Times|date=January 27, 1960] The call to preserve the arch in an alternative location was echoed by Woodrow Wyatt MP who tabled a motion in the House of Commons demanding that the arch as well as the Great Hall and Shareholders' Room in the station be retained. [cite news|title=MP's Preservation Call for Euston|work=The Times|date=February 11, 1960]

Under the legislation governing the planning procedure, once the BTC's notice to demolish had expired on April 17 1960, only the Minister of Housing and Local Government could save the buildings by placing a preservation order on them. In default of the Minister's action, the first railway station to be built in a capital city anywhere in the world would be demolished. [cite news|title=Letters to the Editor: Change at Euston|work=The Times|date=April 16, 1960]

Royal Fine Art Commission

In Spring 1960 the Royal Fine Art Commission, the body responsible for advising on questions of "public amenity or of artistic importance", asked both the BTC and the LCC to consult it. Local planning authorities are 'advised' to seek the Commission's advice on development schemes of national or major regional importance, and will make non-binding recommendations as to the proposed development from the perspective of its impact on the local environment and its design quality. The BTC referred the Commission to the LCC which itself avoided the issue by stating that it was for the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to call-in the planning application. The Ministry refused to act, stating that it still remained for the LCC to deal with the application. [cite book|last=Hobhouse|first=Hermione|title=Lost London: a Century of Demolition and Decay|publisher=Macmillan|year=1979|location=London|pages=236|isbn=978-0333198261]

In May 1960 Henry Brooke, the Conservative Minister for Housing and Local Government, was asked to issue a Building Preservation Order in respect of the arch under Section 29 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, this would prevent any works being carried out without the permission of the LCC. He rejected the request, believing that an Order was unnecessary given that the LCC was in discussions with the BTC on the future of the arch. The Royal Fine Art Commission contacted the Minister in June 1960 expressing their concern for the arch, and again requested to be consulted on the proposals for redevelopment of the station site. The Minister did not reply to this letter.


On 12 July 1961, in a written answer to a Parliamentary question, the Minister of Transport, Ernest Marples, confirmed that he had given approval to the early reconstruction of Euston station which, in his view, was urgent not only because the electrification programme but because three 50-year old Underground lifts had almost reached the end of their useful life. The replacement of the lifts would cost £700,000. As he recounted,

The arch did not, in his view, justify such expenditure, and although he expressed his regret at the passing of a major monument of the early railway age, there was no other practical alternative in his mind. [cite news|title=Euston station to be rebuilt, Doric Arch not to be preserved|work=The Times|date=July 13, 1961]

Reaction and last minute lobbying

The arch's imminent demolition sparked a preservation protest in which Woodrow Wyatt, John Betjeman and Nikolaus Pevsner were prominent figures, and a wider debate about the modernisation of central London. There was public disquiet over how a local authority with a good track record for architecture and town planning such as the LCC, and the BTC, an important public service operator, could allow the demolition of such an important monument. Figures such as Sir Charles Wheeler, the President of the Royal Academy, backed by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the Georgian Group and the London Society, lobbied in vain for the arch's preservation. Arguments which had been successfully employed to see off the previous attempted demolition in 1938 failed to sway the BTC which said that it was unable to afford the costs of reconstruction.

The Victorian Society, whose vice-chairman was Sir John Betjeman, attempted to raise £90,000 to pay for the relocation of the arch, and pleaded for a stay of execution for the arch until this had been done. A Canadian firm, Nicholas Brothers, had offered to move the portico on rollers to a site 200 yards nearer the Euston Road. [cite news|title=Euston arch: no change to plan|date=October 5, 1961|work=The Times] It was reported in October 1961 that a promise had been received that the gates of the arch would be preserved and moved elsewhere on the railways. [cite news|title=Euston arch gates to be preserved|work=The Times|date=October 13, 1961]

On 24 October 1961, a group of campaigners including J.M. Richards, the editor of the "Architectural Review", went to see Harold Macmillan, the Conservative Prime Minister, to plead for the preservation of the arch, arguing that if it really had to be moved, that it should be dismantled and re-erected elsewhere. As J.M. Richards recalled, "Macmillan listened -- or I suppose he listened [...] he sat without moving with his eyes apparently closed. He asked no questions; in fact he said nothing except that he would consider the matter"." [cite news|first=Gavin|last=Stamp|title=Steam ahead: the proposed rebuilding of London's Euston station is an opportunity to atone for a great architectural crime|date=2007-10-01|url=|work=Apollo: the international magazine of art and antiques|accessdate=2007-11-09]

Two weeks later Macmillan gave his response to the proposals. He stated that he had decided against adopting the suggested preservation strategy, and explained that "every possible way" of preserving the arch had been investigated by the BTC, but the lack of available land, the operational requirements of the station and the removal costs entailed made the project unfeasible. He revealed that the only place the arch could be put where it would not look "incongruous" was the traffic roundabout on the Euston Road, a possibility which had been considered unsuitable by the LCC. He refused to allow any further delay or to allow the Victorian Society time to raise funds, for that would delay the reconstruction of the station and involve extra expenditure of £100,000. [cite news|title=Euston Portico Fate Inevitable says Mr Macmillan; little or no prospect of finding an alternative site|work=The Times|date=November 4, 1961]

A group of young architects had attempted to delay demolition by climbing the scaffolding around the arch and erecting a 50ft long banner with the inscription "save the arch" on it. Sir John Summerson was also present at the demonstration.


Demolition began in December 1961. Leonard Fairclough Limited of Adlington in Lancashire were appointed as demolition contractors. The company revealed that it would take several weeks to demolish the arch as the job would have to be done by hand - explosives being out of the question due to possible damage to the adjacent buildings. [cite news|title=How Euston Arch Will Be Demolished|work=The Times|date=28 September, 1961]


The "Architectural Review" criticised the cynical means employed by British Rail in achieving the demolition of the arch: [cite news|title=The Euston Murder|publisher="The Architectural Review"|date=April 1962]

Frank Valori, a representative of Leonard Fairclough, later revealed to Lord Esher that he had undertaken the demolition "without pleasure" and had offered to provide the Government with an alternative site at his own expense at which he would store the stones of the portico with a view to re-erecting it elsewhere. This offer was "disdainfully rejected by the Government on the flimsy pretext that no place could ever be found." Valori presented a silver model of the arch to Lord Esher who admitted that the gesture "made him feel as if some man had murdered his wife and then presented him with her bust". [cite news|title=Silver Memory of Euston Portico|work=The Times|date=March 7, 1962] Valori later incorporated part of the arch into the stonework of the house which he had constructed for himself in Bromley. [ cite web|url= |title=Building Materials |accessdate=2007-11-09 ]

The campaign to preserve the arch was a significant factor in the development of Industrial Archaeology as a distinct discipline.

Remains of the Arch

In 1994 the historian Dan Cruickshank discovered 4,000 tons (60%) of the arch buried in the bed of the River Lea at the Prescott Channel and the Channelsea River in the East End of London. The location of the rubble, for which he had been searching for 15 years, had been revealed by Bob Cotton, a British Waterways engineer, who stated that the rubble had been purchased in 1962 to fill a chasm in the bed of the River Lea.

Dan Cruickshank revealed on his One Foot in the Past television programme, broadcast on 7 June 1994, that the stone had not weathered at all. As he explained, "This makes the reconstruction of the arch a tangible reality, [...] The arch is made of stone from the Bramley-Fall quarry in Yorkshire which is incredibly hard, almost like granite, so it has not weathered at all"." A fluted section of column was brought up from the river bed, and the stones with "Euston" marked in gold lettering are also to be found there. However, due to the brutal manner in which the arch was demolished, some of these stones may be too badly damaged to be incorporated in a rebuilt arch. [cite news|title=Euston Arch found at bottom of river|work=The Times|date=1994-06-04] Other stones are lying in the gardens of those involved in the arch's demolition. The ornamental iron gates from the Arch were saved and are now kept at the National Railway Museum in York (see right).


In 1996 Dan Cruickshank launched the Euston Arch Trust, an organisation dedicated to the rebuilding of the arch which counted among its members the modernist architects Peter Smithson (who had with his wife Alison written a history of the arch) and Piers Gough. The trustees saw the opportunity to put right a historical wrong whilst at the same time addressing the fragmented townscape around Euston, including possibly the restoration of Euston Square which was laid out in the early nineteenth century but fell victim to the re-development of Euston Station in 1968. Railtrack were reported to be 'keen' on the idea of reconstructing the arch and the London Borough of Camden were said to have 'no case against revival'. The estimated cost of rebuilding in 1996 was said to be £5 million. [cite news|first=Jonathan|last=Glancey|authorlink=Jonathan Glancey|title=The campaign to rebuild Euston Arch is not nostalgia|date=1995-10-16|url=|work=The Independent|accessdate=2007-11-09] On 6 November 2007 the historian Tristram Hunt reported in "The Guardian" newspaper that a project to rebuild the arch as part of the redevelopment of Euston Station could be led by Alastair Lansley, the lead architect for the reconstruction and rebuilding of St Pancras Station. [cite news|first=Tristram|last=Hunt|title=The people's station reborn|date=2007-11-06|url=,,2205829,00.html|work=The Guardian|accessdate=2007-11-09]

On 18 February 2008 Marcus Binney reported in "The Times" newspaper that the Arch may be rebuilt as part of the redevelopment of Euston Station from 2009. [ [ Landmark of the railway age may be resurrected - Times Online ] ]

In July 2008 Joe Robson working with the Euston Arch Trust produced an image (see right) of what the Euston Arch would look like if rebuilt between the two existing lodges on Euston Square.


External links

* [ The website of the Euston Arch Trust]
* [ Euston Arch tribute page including video]
* [ British Rail 1968 brochure celebrating the completion of the rebuilding of Euston Station]
* [ History of Euston Grove]
* [ Photographs and paintings of the arch, including one of its construction]

Further reading






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