Tuesday evening found the subterranean lecture hall at the Transport Museum almost filled up as Oliver Green gave an introductory talk about his latest pocket book – and it is actually designed to fit in a pocket – about the mainline terminus stations in London.
The guide is designed to be a circular guide to the mainline stations starting from Paddington and running clockwise around the Circle Line – with the occasional diversion south of the river – so people can travel around and visit each station in turn.
During the talk though, he went in chronological order instead, and gave a brief history of each of the stations, starting naturally at London Bridge, which was the first mainline station to arrive in London.
Initially though, the station was just a shed type building and it wasn’t until later through several versions that the main Victorian structure that makes up half the station today was built. This “shed” is now listed, but there are plans to demolish it and tidy up the sprawling mess – but only if they can find someone who wants the building somewhere else.
Euston though was the first truly inter-city rail terminus in London, but at the time of its construction, a major flaw turned up as the station is at the bottom of a fairly steep approach. Great for trains approaching the station – but impossible for them to get out again!
The solution was to drag all trains up from Euston to Camden by cable winch, then hook them up to a steam engine. A picture of the early Euston station displayed on the screen though caught my attention for the chap standing somewhat nonchalantly on the tracks while leaning on the platform!
The station was sadly demolished in the 1960s and Oliver Green’s comments about the dire functional look of the modern station drew strong murmurs of approval from the audience. He did comment on the Euston Arch, but I think that topic is rather worn and contentious.
The 1960s building is now due to be demolished in turn and a new station will rise up – probably within a decade or so.
Fenchurch St was touched upon as being the only terminus that can really be said to be within the City of London, and despite its slightly hidden nature on a side street, the exterior has always had a charm that I find quite appealing. Sadly, the modern interior is rather less appealing.
The grand daddy of London stations though is probably Waterloo – which had also undergone quite a few transformations over its years as it slowly fattened out over the available land. Interestingly, the 1922 rebuild which demolished most of the previous haphazard buildings is what we are still using today, largely untouched.
A half hour interlude for a 1961 B&W documentary about a day at the station actually proved quite entertaining – especially some of the behind the scene shots of the tannoy girl knitting in between announcements, and the pre-recorded “you are in a queue” message for the phone calls coming from a record player.
Not to mention, the total absence of chewing gum on the floor.
King Cross had some interesting anecdotes – such as the clock mechanism that is still inside the tall clock tower having been exhibited at the Great Exhibition just before being sold to the railway. A few photos of the station in the 1930s of what was called the “African Village” outside the front. It seems that the modern plans to rip away the awful green structure from the front of the station means that the frontage might be seen properly for the first time ever.
Sadly, the rumours that Queen Boudicca is buried under platform 10 has absolutely no foundation (pun intended) in fact.
Another mystery, at another station, this time Paddington is why the rear area which is now a shopping centre is called The Lawn. The area has always been called that, even though there is no evidence of a lawn having ever been there.
I noticed from the poster advertising the arrival of the London Underground that it had passenger tunnels leading from the platforms as well. Time for a clandestine visit!
Charing Cross is a station that is packed full of history – from its pre-train days as a major food market, with a pedestrian suspension bridge – to an early station with an arched roof, that then fell down, a replacement and eventually the current station as we know it today.
What was interesting to note, and it is something that was familiar to most main stations at the time, was that road vehicles came right into the center of the station – something that was still happening at Paddington until fairly recently.
The insert in the image above is from the Illustrated London News, and is the very same image that originally got me interested in the Waterloo and Whitehall Pneumatic railway.
Liverpool Street station was described as having been “cleverly rebuilt” and the odd mix of faux-heritage, real heritage, and modern is a bit of a marmite building. You either like it, or hate it. Incidentally though, a building that was demolished to make way for the railway belonged to Sir Paul Pindar, and was one of the few to survive the Fire of London. Its heritage was sufficient to justify being taken down carefully and part of the frontage is now in the V&A Museum.
Finishing with Marylebone, which was nearly demolished in the 1980s due to the lack of traffic and had undergone a revival in recent years. A sign of the class of customer is that it was the first station to have an M&S food store.
A mention of a curiosity about the hotel opposite will have to wait for another day – as I want to research it further!
Thanks to Annie Mole of the Going Underground blog for the ticket.
The book is available at the LT Museum shop for £6.99.