Rail Termini of London
The early19th century was a period of prosperity for the city of London. Beginning with the acceleration of growth in the 18th century, London found itself to be the largest city in the world by the early 19th century. To accommodate this increase in population and crowding, alternative methods of transportation were in demand. As a result, the emergence of transport by train was developed. Some of London’s most important rail stations were developed at this time creating an extensive network of rails that would stretch in all directions from London to the rest of England and are still very active today.
Although the present station building is in the International Modern style, Euston was the first inter-city rail station built in London. The original station looked very different than the current structure. Its Greek Revival Doric portal, “Euston Arch”, introduced the concept of a monumental railway station as the modern portal to a city. Its loss helped galvanize the environmental conservation movement in Britain, which had previously been focused on preserving picturesque vernacular architecture and unspoiled landscapes (Betjeman 124).
The original station was opened on July 20, 1837, as the terminus of the London and Birmingham Railway constructed by Robert Stephenson. It was designed by a well-known classically trained architect, Philip Hardwick, with a 200-foot long engine shed by structural engineer Charles Fox. Initially it had only two platforms, one for departures and one for arrivals. Until 1844, trains had to be pulled up the hill to Camden Town by cables, as they did not have enough power to get there under their own steam (Betjeman 125).
The station grew rapidly over the following years as traffic increased. It was greatly expanded in the 1840s, with the opening in 1849 of the spectacular Great Hall, built in classical style. It was 125 feet long, 61 feet wide and 62 feet high, with a coffered ceiling and a sweeping double flight of stairs leading to offices at the northern end of the hall. A 72-foot high Doric arch was erected at the station’s entrance to serve as a portico; this became renowned as the Euston Arch (Symes 78).
In the early 1960s it was decided that the old building was no longer adequate and needed replacing. Amid much public outcry the old station building (including the famous Euston Arch) was demolished in 1962 and replaced by a new building, which opened in 1968. The modern station is very much a creation of 1960s architecture. It is a long, low structure with a frontage of some 647 feet and a very functional (and windswept) concrete exterior. Part of the station building includes two office towers, which look out onto adjacent Melton Street and Eversholt Street (Betjeman 126). The station itself has a single large concourse populated with the usual assortment of shops and eateries, separated from the somewhat bleak train shed. A couple of small remnants of the older station were kept, close to Euston Road, but were hardly an effective concession to those offended by the loss of the former building. The station is set back much further than the 19th century original and since the construction of additional office buildings in front of it, it is effectively screened from view from the road (Betjeman 124).
Euston is widely regarded as the most unattractive and unpleasant of all of the Central London rail termini. The dark ramps, which passengers have to descend from the concourse down to platform level, seem claustrophobic to many, while the concrete-adorned square outside the entrance is a popular stamping ground for beggars who also frequent the station concourse itself. It is unfortunate that this is the first view that many visitors and tourists get of London.
Liverpool Street Station
Liverpool street is perhaps the most successful example of 20th century renovation of a 19th century structure, allowing modernization and a better station environment, whilst still retaining much of the grand architecture befitting of a major terminus. Funded by the Great Eastern Railway, Liverpool Street Station was at the forefront of a boom in the promotion of railway schemes, which affected not just London but the whole country. Robert Sinclair was the engineer on the undertaking, and also served as the locomotive superintendent (Wendel 15). Assisting him was fellow engineer G.F. Bidder. However, in 1868 before ground had been broken, Robert Sinclair decided that he was to retire yielding the position to Edward Wilson who would also serve as chief engineer and locomotive superintendent. Ground was broken in October of 1871, and would continue until 1875 creating what is now known as the western train shed covering platforms 1-10 and an L-shaped block of station accommodation and offices. These offices face the station approach road with a short return facade on Liverpool Street. The office building was built in a Gothic style with dimensions of 67 ft high with the exception of two blocks that are both 90 ft high. The building material used was primarily a white Suffolk brick with stone dressings from the Bath region. Apart from the way in which the main elevation is broken up, and the skyline given interest, the most notable feature of the building is the range of second floor windows, each with two lights united under a pointed arch further exemplifying its Gothic elegance (Betjeman 45-48).
Constructed of brick, the actual station seems to be a bit uninspiring with its yellow gault brick and bath stone. It has gothic detail that complements the architecture of the office building. The layout of the station was very irregular for its time. It could essentially be described as a compromise between two traditions (Betjeman 47). The King’s Cross Station had its booking office midway along one side of the station so that departing passengers could proceed from purchasing their ticket to boarding the train. While this was the predominant design early on, stations were slowly changing their design so that the booking office was at the head of each platform to accommodate the larger crowds. This was implemented in response to the growing popularity of rail transportation. In the design for Liverpool Street, there were booking offices at each of the platforms for the more intensive suburban service lines and an office for the two main line platforms that serve trains traveling longer distances (Bryan Liverpool 2).
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Liverpool Street Station is its exceptional gothic roof design. It required three 80 ft scaffolds costing 19,850, five times the amount spent for scaffolds to install the roof at St. Pancras Station. The roof at Liverpool Street consisted of 4 spans. It was designed by Sir William Fairbairn, one of the most celebrated engineers of the 19th century for his ironwork and its use in buildings. Of the 4 spans, the center two are 109 feet in diameter each flanked by two narrower ones. Perhaps the most striking effects come from the use of double columns with Doric capitols 5 ft apart running down the center of the station. These columns serve the purpose of supporting the two widest spans. The whole structure is constructed in wrought iron with ornamental decorations of cast iron. Unlike St. Pancras Station or Paddington Station, there is no screen across the end of the train shed but rather a simple wooden canopy (Bryan 4).
A newer part of the station was opened in 1894. Now known as the eastern train shed, it houses platforms 11-18. For this new addition, a similar roof, designed by W.N. Ashbee, was constructed with four spans running longitudinally. However, these spans run over platforms of a single transverse that extend over the concourse. There are also cast iron columns that are supporting the longitudinal part that are separated by 30 ft intervals. With a roof that is only about 75% of the height of the western train shed, there is a busier appearance with its less open space. It also has a more colorful appearance as it is constructed with a fine red brick rather than the brown stock brick of the older western section (Betjeman 47).
In the period of 1985-1991, there was a redevelopment to the station where the Eastern train shed was demolished and the Western shed was re-configured with much of the original structure remaining. British Rail’s architecture and design department headed up by Nick Derbyshire designed this project. The goal was to bring the station to modern requirements. A new concourse was implemented that runs across the heads of the re-aligned platforms and a new transept was created which incorporated new entrances to Liverpool Street Station (Bryan 2). It is this sort of renovation that has provided the model for future modernization of London’s train stations. Liverpool Street Station has been able to update the necessary aspects of the station without eliminating much of its original architecture and design.
Of all of London’s stations, Kings Cross is the least pretentious. Opening in 1852 and it was built on the site of the London Smallpox Hospital and is now used as the southern terminus for the East Coast Main Line. Kings Cross was originally designed and built as the London hub of the Great Northern Railway and terminus of the East Coast Main Line. The engineer of the line was Joseph Cubitt who built other London railways as well. His father, Sir William, also advised on the construction of the line. His brother, Lewis Cubitt, was the architect who designed Kings Cross with the aid of Joseph Cubitt. The Cubitt family, as a whole, was one of England’s biggest and most successful speculative builders at the beginning of the 19th century (Jackson 24).
The actual station is very simple in design. Composed of two great round-arched train sheds, one for arrivals and one for departures, the station was completed in about 2 years beginning in 1851 (Wendel 4). Across the sheds, on the Kings Cross Road, a great brick screen, with a colonnade underneath it for the purpose of carriages, and a clock tower in the middle. On the departure side is a narrow booking hall and a gloomy waiting room. The interior of the train sheds in Kings Cross is the most appealing aspect of the station. The roof was designed in view of an accident that had occurred at Bricklayers’ Arms station years before when a train had collided with one of the supports to the roof, bringing down a larger part of the roof. As a result, a two-span roof was designed at Kings Cross guarding against any possibility of danger from similar collision in the future by placing the line of pillars in the roadway used for cabs (Wendel 3). With brick arches between the arrival and departure sheds, the iron pillars, which support the curved roofs, the buttressed sidewalls and the long platforms, have a grandness that turns the structure into a brick, glass, and iron cathedral-like structure. When it was opened, King’s Cross was the biggest station in England (Jackson 28).
For all its simplicity, Kings Cross Station was not very practical. Soon two platforms had to be created down the middle between the two sheds. These were narrow and inconvenient. As the suburban traffic increased, a little suburban station was built in 1875, alongside the west wall of the train shed. This terminus is still there with two platforms beyond it that were added later (Wendel 4).
St. Pancras Station
St. Pancras was a fourteen-year-old Christian boy, who was martyred in Rome in 304 AD by the Emperor Diocletian. In England, however, he is better known as the railway station built in 1868. That station takes its name from the parish in which it stands. It is the terminus of the Midland Railway, the most mid-Victorian of all British lines. The engineer for the station was William Henry Barlow, whose planning of the station as a whole represents a feat of concentrated thinking about the requirements of traffic and the convenience of passengers (Simmons 22). However, with King’s Cross Station becoming grossly overcrowded, Barlow was all but forced to ensure that his station would be able to accommodate extensive traffic.
A prime example of this planning is through the effective system of access for road vehicles bringing passengers to and from the station. The flows of traffic arriving and departing were separated entirely. Empty cab had their own access to the street on the departure side. Passengers arriving at the two chief platforms of the time stepped straight into the waiting vehicles and were driven down the ramp into the Euston road. Even now, when these arrangements have been modified and taxis wait outside the station, the broad road along the platform is invaluable for postal and parcels traffic and patients for London hospitals are commonly brought into St Pancras because it affords such easy access for ambulances (Betjeman 128).
The design of the actual station took some time. The sloping and irregular form of the site posed certain problems and the Midland Company directors were determined to impress London with their new station. They could see the ornateness of Euston, with its famous arch; the functional successes of Lewis Cubitt’s King’s Cross; the design innovations in iron, glass and layout by Brunel at Paddington; and, significantly, the single span roof designs of John Hawkshaw being built at Charing Cross and Cannon Street. A competition was held for the actual design of the station buildings and hotel in May 1865. Eleven architects were invited to compete, submitting their designs in August. In January of 1866 the brick Gothic revival designs of the prominent Sir George Gilbert Scott were chosen. There was some disquiet at the choice, in part because Scott’s designs, at 315,000, were by far the most expensive (Wendel 8).
The sheer grandeur of Scott’s frontage impressed the Midland Company directors, achieving their objective of outclassing every other station in the capital. As a result, one sees a very ornate and highly decorative train station that creates a stark contrast to the very plain and homely looking King’s Cross Station just down the street. While most of this is indeed from the garish designs of Scott, the station itself also has some very impressive and attractive architectural points. This can be seen in Barlow’s design for the largest station roof in the world without internal supports for nearly a century after completion. Great cast-iron arched ribs, which support the roof, were tied together by floor girders over which the trains run. These ribs were constructed by the Butterly Iron Company. To increase wind resistance the great curved arch of the station is slightly broken at its apex, so that it is almost a Gothic arch. One famous feature of the St. Pancras roof, which differentiated it from its predecessors, was its pointed crown. The design he was adopted to afford the greatest possible protection against the lateral action of the wind (Wendel 8). Although it is possible that Barlow might have added this for increased architectural effect. This whole structure rests on a forest of iron columns under the station. Barlow constructed glass screens at either end of his train shed. That on the Euston Road side was designed to keep smoke and noise from Scott’s projected hotel. The hotel was started in the year the station was completed (Betjeman 129).
By steam from Paddington to New York, via Bristol, was the mighty dream of 27-year-old Isambard Kingdom Brunel when, in 1833, he was appointed civil engineer for the Great Western Railway project. The task was triumphantly completed within eight years (Wendel 12).
The station that Brunel built so many years ago is still very apparent today. It is admirably planned and copes with traffic greater than he could have foreseen. It is the only London terminus with no exterior (Bryan Paddington 2). An artist and architect as well as an engineer, Brunel was excited about the new terminus to be built further west of the old one. Departing passengers came down came down a slope on the south side of the cutting, and arrivals left up a slope on the north side, which is still done today. The cutting is roofed over. Columns of cast iron support a triple roof of wrought iron and glass. The rows of columns divide the shed into bays. Each bay is spanned by three arched roof trusses – 63 to each of the three spans, making a total of 189. Every third truss sits directly over a column. The others are carried by deep X-braced girders of wrought and cast iron, about 30 feet long, which run longitudinally from column to column. The central aisle is a hundred and two feet across and the side aisles are seventy and sixty-eight feet across (Wendel 6). The most immediate precedent for the design of Paddington’s roof was Newcastle Central Station, designed by the architect John Dobson with input from Robert Stephenson and built in 1847-1850. All arches in Paddington Station have round star-shaped perforations in their webs – stars and planets’ – that are thought to be created by steam presses. These are certainly decorative and said to be related to the Victorian interest in astronomy (http://en.wikipedia 2). The roof was originally supported on 69 identical cylindrical cast-iron columns, given flared bases and bolted to block of York Stone set in heavy concrete foundations. Their appearance is known in detail from drawings from Brunel’s office and also from Firth’s famous painting of the station. In 1914, the row of columns on modern platforms 9 and 10 was replaced in riveted steel to support the weight of the new fourth span. The rest of Brunel’s columns were replaced in like manner in 1922-1923. The new columns are octagonal and have a very different effect. Three original cast-iron columns survive at one end of the shed with a decorative lobed column on platform 1 and cylindrical columns between platform 2 and 3, and 6 and 7 (Simmons 89-95).
Brunel was usually his own architect and built his stations in styles that he thought suited their neighborhood. He used local materials as well. Italianate was chosen for the entrance to Paddington, which is at the south side of the cutting (Wendel 6). But when he came into the station, Brunel decided to call an architect friend, Mathew Digby Wyatt, who designed the ironwork on the roof, capitols for the cast iron columns, and the attractive little bow-windowed affairs on the first floor of Platform 1. These are in a style of Digby Wyatt’s own invention that some classify as nearer Elizabethan than anything. Owen Jones, who designed the Crystal Palace in 1851, designed the original color scheme for Paddington, which was completed by 1854 (Bryan Paddington 2).
Another important part of Paddington Station is an area called the lawn. This is the part that is now enclosed by the glazed screen that sits to the rear of the main concourse. It was once occupied by track and turntables but by the turn of the century had become the principle parcels handling area for the station (Wendel 6). This was crossed at high level by a passenger footbridge for those travelers residing in the Great Western Royal hotel. The area was remodeled in 1934 to designs by Great Western Architect P.E. Culverhouse when the surrounding buildings were erected, conveyors to the underground Post Office railway were built, restaurants provided and a new entrance to the Underground system created. Elements of this such as the stone columns and structures have been retained in the most recent, comprehensive redevelopment of the area designed by Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners (http://en.wikipedia 1).
These five stations provide one with a sense of the variety amongst the rail stations being developed during this 30-year period of the mid 19th century. These stations were each forced to change to meet the demands of new technology and increased volume, but surprisingly, with the exception of Euston Station, many of their original components remain. This certainly reflects on the foresight and planning that went into designing these termini. Most importantly, these stations also reflect the sheer amount of expansion that was taking place at that time, as they were able to accommodate the growth and prosperity of London and continue to do so today.
Betjeman, John. London’s Historic Railway Stations. (William Clowes and Sons Limited, London; 1972)
Brindle, Steven. Paddington Station: its history and architecture. (English Heritage Publications, London; 2004)
Bryan, Jim. “Architectural Mini Guide: Liverpool Street” Pamphlet Published by Network Rail; London, 2002.
Bryan, Jim “Architectural Mini Guide: Paddington” Pamphlet Published by Network Rail; London, 2002.
Jackson, Alan. London’s Termini. (David and Charles Publishers, London; 1979)
“Paddington Station” http://en.wikipedia.org/Paddington_rail_station AvailableApril 26, 2005.
Simmons, Jack. St. Pancras Station. (Phillimore & Co Ltd, London; 1991)
Symes, Rodney and Cole, David. Railway Architecture of Greater London. (Osprey Publishing, Reading; 1968)
Wendel, Jared. “The Termini of London” http://trainstation.london termini.co.uk/termini Availible April 25, 2005.