Tuesday, 26 February 2008

London's Terminal Stations

A trip to London for a business meeting gave me the opportunity to visit three of London's railway termini (or are we to say 'terminuses' now?).

The meeting had been at Kings Cross Power Box, so first I took a few pictures of King's Cross Station, the former Great Northern Railway terminus. The East Coast Main Line is now electrified at 25kV a.c., but there is usually at least one HST125 growling under the arched trainshed roof and generally polluting the atmosphere. The mainline platforms are covered by two perfectly straight arched roofs of fairly plain design set on good quality brick walls arranged as a series of arches with restrained, but satisfying detailing. The rivetted roof trusses are provided with modest decoration. The trainsheds are closed at the south end by a wall which originally presented a neat, if rather utilitarian, appearance to the prospective passenger. Today, various thoughtless modern adaptations and extensions almost completely obscure the original intent and the effect is confusing and nondescript. However, the interior of the trainsheds has been cleaned and thoughtfully restored retaining much of the original detail. It's a pity that the overbridge halfway along the trainshed, which once gave commanding views of the station, has had its sides raised and panelled, restricting the effect.

I was surprised to find that, to satisfy Harry Potter fans, there is an opportunity to take a photograph of a luggage trolley disappearing through the wall of Platform 9-3/4!

See the Wikipedia entry.
My King's Cross pictures.

And so on to St. Pancras International, recently re-opened after a very expensive restoration and conversion. The northern end of the site houses the platforms for the Midland main line diesel services and the electrified Bedford suburban services. This is all new build. The new terminus for the Eurostar services is accommodated in Barlow's original trainshed - a single span of breathtaking size, full of natural light to lift the spirit. The original undercroft has been opened up to present numerous retail opportunities and the upper level offers the 'largest champagne bar in Europe', not exactly my taste in design but this can't detract from the restoration of Barlow's original concept - it is a triumph. Martin Jenning's slightly eccentric statue of Sir John Betjeman, set off to one side, is exactly right, unlike the overbearing statue 'Meeting Place' by Paul Day. This 9 metre high statue is given pride of place on the concourse but the size would be more appropriate in celebrating the dictator of some socialist state. Although Eurostar services are operating from St. Pancras, work is not finished and contractors are still in evidence, preparing to further expand the retail experience. The hotel facing Euston Road is still a building site and is not scheduled to open until 2009.

My St. Pancras pictures.

Whereas St. Pancras thrusts itself onto Euston Road, the modern Euston Station discreetly hides itself from view behind trees and the bus station. As well it might - the frontage of the building looks like some provincial Polytechnic. The post-war Euston Station was, it must be admitted, a mess but the decision to demolish Sir Philip Hardwick's Doric Arch in rebuilding the station when the line was electrified was an act of gross vandalism which will never be forgiven.
See the Wikipedia entry

Two rather nice entrance lodges from the old station survive. These are built in Portland Stone and appear to date from the London and North Western Railway era. They now flank the approach to the bus station and are easily overlooked. The one, improbably enough, now serves as a private drinking club.

The main concourse area of the present station at least enjoys reasonable natural light but what was, when originally built, a fairly open circulating area is now so dominated by a myriad retail outlets that it is difficult to navgate a path to the correct platform. One wall is now dominated by a huge colour television screen, as if watching advertisements can compensate for not actually running the trains on time. However, the screen seems to have a hypnotic effect so that the area in front of the screen is often thronged with a mass of staring 'customers' (we don't do 'passengers' any more) and is best avoided in trying to seek the correct platform.

The present Euston is, I fear, a most depressing gateway to the capital. In 2007 British Land announced a further rebuilding of the station. We can only wait and hope.

More about the Entrance Lodges at Euston.

My Euston pictures.