Page last updated at 13:23 GMT, Thursday, 31 July 2008 14:23 UK

'Romantic' attempt to save lost arch

By Trevor Timpson
BBC News

The Euston arch
The arch stood in front of Euston station for 123 years

Campaigners say that rebuilding a massive arch at Euston railway station could help right "a great wrong".

Forty-six years after its demolition, the 70ft London arch seems as lost to the capital as the Hansom cabs which once clattered underneath it.

But lovers of the massive station entrance (strictly a Doric propylaeum) call the demolition a "crime" which can still be righted.

They think the time is right to do this - the tide of development, which has transformed London's other prime rail sites, is set to sweep over Euston too.

Developers British Land and Network Rail have appointed architects to plan reconstruction of the station area.

"Euston station is the last of the major London termini that has not seen any major improvement works since it was built in the 1960s," a joint statement from the companies reads.

Dan Cruickshank
Righting a great wrong and demonstrating that it's possible to recreate lost beauty - it's utterly romantic
Dan Cruickshank

In 1994 architectural historian Dan Cruickshank and the BBC show One Foot in the Past discovered that some of the stone from the demolished arch was at the bottom of the Prescott Channel in east London.

Amid new hope that the arch could be rebuilt, Mr Cruickshank helped found the Euston Arch Trust, determined to do just that.

Now, he and the Trust believe they must act to get broad sympathy for bringing back the arch during the redevelopment.

"We cannot wait till 2012 or 15 for a site to emerge," he says. "We have to have a site now to do costings on, to do montages on, to talk about it."

"Euston is going to be totally rebuilt," says engineer Alan Baxter, who is drawing up plans of a rebuilt arch for the Trust.

"King's Cross is getting regenerated; St Pancras is half-way there... now is the time to make that quarter of London come together in a way which is much more enjoyable as a piece of cityscape."

And he says: "You've got to get the timing right. If you're ahead of the time it never happens; if you're behind the time you're dragging in the dust."

Proposed site for re-erecting the arch
The arch could go on the Euston Road, campaigners say (Pic - Joe Robson)

Alan Baxter proposes re-erecting the 4,000-tonne arch by the Euston Road, over 200 metres south of its former site. The Trust is concentrating on this as a "working proposal".

He has suggested a steel frame and a stone outer shell, leaving enough space for stairways, lifts and service ducts leading to the space in the pediment above, and a basement - possibly a nightclub - linking the arch with the existing stone lodges on either side.

Those who wish to see the arch rise again want it to be of the same scale as the original. Most of them want as much as possible of the original stone to be used, if it can be traced.

They recognise that changes in its original position, composition, construction and use will have to be made.

But the feelings that activate them are deep and strong.

"Righting a great wrong and demonstrating that it's possible to recreate lost beauty - it's utterly romantic, and actually do-able on occasions," says Dan Cruickshank.

But the bill for reconstruction will certainly run into millions of pounds, and whoever pays, Dan Cruickshank says: "It's got to be an idea that's attractive to all parties involved. A campaign to force it on these people... I don't see how it would work."

British Land and Network Rail told the BBC News website in a statement: "We appreciate that a landmark such as the Euston arch would have public sentiment attached to it and therefore understand the ambition of the Euston Arch Trust to get it rebuilt.".

'Memories are better'

They add: "It is very early days and it is difficult therefore to say at this stage whether the Euston arch should be rebuilt as part of the redevelopment.

"We are however working to get a better understanding of the suggestion and will discuss any emerging plans with all interested parties, including the Euston Arch Trust."

And what do local people think? At a luncheon club held by the Euston Third Age project near the station, Winnie Finch, 81, remembered the arch with affection: "It was very imposing. It looked so bare when they took it away."

But asked if she would like to see it built again Mrs Finch, who has lived in the Euston area for over 60 years, said: "Not really. I think memories are better than actual things."

The station is completely different from what it was, she added. Told that the "new" station will itself be swept away she replied simply, "Oh, dear!"

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