The Friends of the
National Railway Museum

South of England Group
Vice Presidents: Richard Hardy; Sir William McAlpine Bt, FRSE, FCIT, FRSA

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Talk Synopsis

5 January 2006

Ideals Above One's Station - Form Beyond Function
Mark Evans
19 April 2004

To complete the 2003 season we welcomed one of our regular members to hear the results of his researches into a Cinderella topic - the humble passenger station. Mark took us on a circular tour covering the development of the railway station both in UK and abroad. Appropriately, this tour started in York, with a picture of "Green Arrow" heading our train under the grand roof of the York train shed. We admired the ornate tall pillars supporting the lofty roof - designed to clear away the smoke and soot of steam locomotives, but surely a worthy companion to the gothic splendour of York Minster, barely half a mile away.
Our first stop was the first purpose built passenger station, Manchester Liverpool Road, built in 1831. The Liverpool and Manchester Railway had been conceived primarily for freight, but soon developed passenger facilities. A sign of the times were the separate entrances for First Class passengers and the rest! From here we moved to London, to Euston and Paddington. We were reminded that in the middle of the 19th century these were on the edge of the conurbation and truly were the gateway to the outside world implied by the list of stations served from Euston. Sadly, the famous Euston Arch was swept aside during the modernisation of Euston, but fortunately the other terminus of the London & Birmingham at Curzon Street still remains, having been superseded by New Street after only a few years and spending most of its life as a freight station. Mark noted that at an early date it had been realised that passengers would need refreshment and hostelries sprang up alongside the stations. He particularly recommended the pub shown alongside Curzon Street station.
In the middle of the 19th century it was the landowners who had most influence on station design. They could, as in Cambridge, force the station to be built well outside the city, or as at Stamford, require the building to reflect the elegant grandeur of their own grand houses. Some of these stations such as the italianate station at Holton-le-Cley still remain although the railways they served have long gone.
In comparison to the previous examples which showed the height of architectural style, King's Cross was the first "engineered" building, with simple purity of line. However, when the Midland Railway arrived just up the road it wished to emphasise its prosperity and luxury with George Gilbert Scott's magnificent Midland Grand Hotel facing the Euston Road. The engineers were not left out since the train shed was at the time the widest single span structure in the world. By the time St Pancras was built the financial and political power had moved to the industrialists. We saw the emergence of house styles for stations, which whilst still retaining an elegance were much more economical to build. Cast iron was used extensively as illustrated by the North Eastern stations at Selby and Tynemouth.

Our travels now took us north of the border to Glasgow Queen Street, where the platforms were below street level with no facade to the street. In contrast to the utilitarian Queen Street, the station at Wemyss Bay was an elegant study in cast iron. Like Tynemouth, this was a station built for the vast increase in excursion travel brought about by the railways, in this case to connect to the steamers on the River Clyde. Taking the steamer we arrived in Ireland and Dublin. Mark reminded us that the size and elegance of the Dublin station was appropriate for the city which at the time was only second to London within the whole British Empire. He then took us to the extremes of the Empire travelling through Kuala Lumpur to Perth in Australia. As we travelled through Malaysia we felt much at home at Ipoh, with its British upper quadrant signals.
Developments in Europe had been different to UK with much more government involvement in the building of the railways. We were able to contrast the classical style of Avignon with the Teutonic brick of Hanover. It was the coming of the railroad which did so much to develop the vast open spaces of the USA. The impact was felt around the world: grain from plains of Kansas could undercut the price of that grown in UK leading the the repeal of the British Corn Laws and major social reforms. Stations in the USA were built on a grand scale, illustrated by the classical Penn station in Baltimore and the Spanish colonial style of San Diego. A notable feature of all US stations was the provision of impressive waiting areas in the booking halls so that the passengers only approached the tracks when the train was ready to take them.

Travelling at supersonic speed we returned to London to see examples of late 19th century development. Marylebone station has been described as looking like a Manchester Public library, but elsewhere in London the underground was beginning to set the style for railway architecture, which it still retains in the Jubilee Line extension to the Docklands. Notable were the use of glazed bricks by Leslie Green for the Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton tube. The art deco style was applied to much of the suburban station development between the wars, as illustrated by the Southern Railway's Surbiton Station of 1937. This was a great time for station development worldwide and we were given examples from Milan, Basel, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. In all of these the interior designs were equally as impressive as the exterior.
The 1960's saw great changes. In UK it was a period of closures and modernisation which saw the closure of Glasgow St Enoch and Nottingham Victoria and the destruction of the Euston Arch to make way for a bland metal and glass structure. Gone were the high domes of the steam train sheds to be replaced by Stygian platforms as BR sought to gain income from letting the spaces above the platforms. By 1980 there was more sympathy for retaining the best of the earlier styles as can be seen in the development of Liverpool Street. The Docklands Light Railway at first had a very functional appearance, but as the Canary Wharf development progressed the Docklands infrastructure architecture became more adventurous as was illustrated by the Jubilee Line station at Canada Water. Elsewhere, the hi-tech developments for high speed trains led to the advanced stations at Waterloo International and Lille. In contrast, the rebuilding of central Birmingham included the restoration of Moor Street station as pure GWR. However, in all of this the stations had returned to their original concept as people centred places, full of bustle and colour. On this note, Mark took us through the recent developments at Dundee and Paris, Gare du Nord before returning us to the familiar curved roof of York station.

Phil Brown

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