The history of London Euston station

Euston station was the capital’s first mainline station and the first to connect London with another city.

The original Euston station opened in 1837 but was completely rebuilt in conjunction with the electrification of the West Coast Mainline in the 1960s.

Like it or loathe it, the new Euston represented a new era in British railway history.

drawing of the outside of Euston station

The London & Birmingham Railway were authorised by Parliament to build their line between the two cities in May 1833. The engineers of the line, George and Robert Stephenson, had always planned their London terminus for Euston Square, but objections from landowners forced them to relocate it to Chalk Farm to get the bill passed.

With permission secured, George Stephenson stepped back from the project and his son Robert took charge as chief engineer. By 1835 he had authorisation to build his terminus at Euston Square as originally planned, and a simple train shed was built with two platforms, one for arrivals and one for departures with tracks between to store carriages.

This was shortly accompanied by a grand ‘Doric Arch’ gateway, designed by Philip Hardwick as an impressive entrance to the terminus site. Euston station opened on 20 July 1837 along with the line as far as Boxmoor. The first inter city journey from London to Birmingham was made by the directors of the Company on 17 September 1838.

Expansion and a new headquarters

By the early 1840s Euston was getting overcrowded as lines from the Midlands and the North East made use of the station as their entrance to London.

In 1846 the station began its first major expansion, and after the formation of the London & North Western Railway in the same year, the building work included the headquarters for the new company which also formed the entrance to the station. Known as the ‘Great Hall’, it was situated between the Doric Arch and the station platforms.

By the 1870s, passenger and parcel traffic had once more outgrown the capacity of the station; two new platforms, additional service roads and an additional entrance were created. By the 1890s, the Terminus had been enlarged once more, with four more platforms being created, bringing the total to 15; 14 for passengers and 1 for parcels.

Planned redevelopment

There was no further expansion to the station after the 1890s, although during the 1930s the London Midland & Scottish Railway had drawn up plans for its redevelopment. After the Second World War and the formation of British Railways, plans for an overhaul of the terminus were revisited.

By the 1950s, steam locomotives were being phased out, and BR’s London Midland Region took the decision to completely rebuild Euston as part of the electrification of the main line between London and the North West of England. It was decided that a bold new station was needed which reflected a new, modern railway era.

Railway modernisation

Phase one of the Euston redevelopment concentrated on the movement of passenger and parcel trains. The restrictions of the original site layout meant that the redevelopment had to make use of the land occupied by the Great Hall and the Doric Arch which were demolished in 1962.

A total of 18 platforms were built; 15 for passengers, 3 for parcels. During this phase and to allow services to reach Euston during the redevelopment, 11 platforms had to remain operational at this time while other services were diverted to Paddington, St Pancras and Marylebone.

Reconstruction also included the construction of two track bays, a parcels deck, signal box, staff buildings and workshops using a combination of building work on site and precast units. Building work started in 1962 and was completed in 1966 with the newly electrified main line.

Phase two focused on the passenger station. A spacious, open concourse over two levels provided new access to London Underground services, shops, restaurants and a new travel centre – the first ‘one stop shop’ concept where passengers could buy tickets, book sleeper and ferry services and hotel accommodation in one place.

The station design specifically separated the movement of passengers and road traffic; vehicles circulated in the taxi, short stay and multi storey car park facilities underneath the main concourse building. The only elements of the old station that were kept were the LNWR war memorial in Euston Square, the two lodges on Euston Road and the statue of Robert Stephenson by Carlo Marochetti which was re-erected in the station plaza.

Like it or loathe it

Since its reopening in 1968 there has been little change to the overall design of Euston station, although in the late 1970s a bus terminal and three office blocks were added to the plaza to the front of the station. Several plans for the redevelopment of the area have been put forward in recent years; whatever its future, Euston Station remains one of Network Rail’s busiest and significant stations.

Did you know?

Euston was named after the family seat of the Dukes of Grafton, Euston Hall in Norfolk. The site of Euston station was still farmland when the terminus was proposed to be built there in 1833.

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London Euston station