Minister of State for Transport John Hayes made a speech yesterday calling for more “beauty in transport”, by which he means that train stations him and Prince Charles like are good, and that train stations him and Prince Charles do not like are bad. In summary: boo to brutalism, cheers to classicism (and the Boris Bus, for some reason). In the speech’s conclusion, he calls for a totemic step, a statement of his intent: the restoration of the Doric Arch at Euston.
The arch was part of the original set of Victorian buildings that comprised Euston, which were all demolished in the 1960s because the station was no longer large enough for purpose. Serving no particular function other than loudly indicating “here is our splendid Victorian railway station”, vigorous attempts to save the arch failed and it was unceremoniously smashed up and dumped in the River Lea. Although widely regarded as a crime against architecture, this was not the universal view: Harold Macmillan, the Tory Prime Minister who oversaw the destruction, offered the typically pithy assessment that, “An obsession with such buildings will drain our national vitality”. Sick burn, HM.
A magnificent view of the Euston Arch from Euston Road in 1962. Or it would have been if the Arch wasn’t behind that hotel. Iconic. Image: Geograph/Ben Brooksbank.
Hayes is backing the efforts of the Euston Arch Trust to restore the arch to its rightful place or, at least, within a hundred yards of it: plans call it for it to face onto Euston Road, as the section of Drummond Street it previously stood on had the current station forecourt built on top of it, and you'd have to move the artisanal hot dog stand. But they can use quite a lot of the original stone as someone went back and fished it out of the river. It’ll certainly give the drinkers in the bars next door something to look at.
All of which is absolutely super if you, like John Hayes, think 70-foot tall doric arches are absolutely smashing. But if we’re going to build something faintly ludicrous and essentially pointless in front of Euston station, let’s consider all the options first.
We could also build:
A giant toilet
This would help rectify London’s terrible public toilet provision AND save patrons of the Euston and Cider Tap bars from having to climb the alarming narrow spiral staircases for a wee.
A huge jar of Shippam’s Fish Paste
Things from the past are brilliant, after all, so let’s celebrate Britain’s culinary heritage with a vast glass jar of horrible meat paste from the days of rationing.
A miniature version of St Pancras station
A huge Sonic The Hedgehog pog
Only ‘90s kids remember it, but everyone will be awestruck by its audacious use of the classic 'circle' shape.
The McDonald’s Golden Arches
What better way to raise money for transport infrastructure than a sponsored Euston Arch for the 21st century. Everyone would be lovin’ it!
A statue of that gorilla that escaped from London Zoo and drank 5 litres of undiluted blackcurrant squash
Truly, a fitting London hero to welcome all our visitors from the north.
An invisible Doric Arch made of special air
The cheapest option by far: use a newly-invented kind of air to build an invisible replica of the arch. No-one will be able to see or touch it, but if Minister of State for Transport John Hayes asks it is absolutely, definitely there.