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Page last updated at 18:10 GMT, Thursday, 24 September 2009 19:10 UK
What do London's arches and gateways say about us?

By Claire Timms
BBC London

Marble Arch has been revamped and now Euston Arch is to rise from the depths but why does London have these imposing structures and gateways and what do they say about our capital city?

Euston Arch
Euston Arch in 1933

In 1961 British Rail began the demolition of Euston Arch to make way for a new, modern station despite a huge outcry by the public. Anger was such, this single event probably brought about the conservation movement in this country.

The 21m (70ft) arch was dismantled and at least 60% of it dumped in the Prescott Channel in the East End of London. The pieces are now being dredged from the waterway and a new arch will be constructed in Euston Road in a plan costing £10m.

The original Euston Arch was not technically an "arch" as it was flat but it was built in the late 1830s, a decade after Marble Arch and Constitution Arch (Wellington Arch) at a time when Britain was emerging from the Napoleonic Wars and basking in the glory of victory.

Plundering history

The structures were all based on Roman triumphal arches such as the Arch of Constantine and the Arch of Titus and any Victorian grand tourist would have seen these original structures and understood their significance when reproduced in London.

Madeline Edmead, who lectures in the history of architecture at Birkbeck College, said: "In the 19th century there was a tendency to look back to previous styles. Gothic for a church, classical for a palace but what on earth do you do for a railway station? How do you make a railway company seem grand and important?

Euston Arch is important industrially and architecturally and was a great manifestation of the Greek revival. Euston was one of the first inter-city stations so it was appropriate that it was grand looking.
Madeline Edmead, lecturer in the history of architecture

"Euston Arch was based on a Greek model and the booking hall, which was a demolished at the same time as the Arch, was based on a Roman model. It plundered ancient history to show something grand and impressive."

The Roman's arches were made of marble but because it was not easy to come by in London, the capital's arches/gateways were made of Portland stone because they were whitish in colour like marble and able to stand up to pollution.

Admiralty Arch was built in the Edwardian era (completed in 1912) and commissioned by King Edward VII in memory of his mother Queen Victoria, although he did not live to see its completion.

So why should we still care about these imperialistic structures and, particularly, why should we want to revamp or even bring them back?

Euston Arch
The demolition of Euston Arch

Madeline Edmead says: "I think people are finding 1960s' buildings very drab. Euston Arch changed people's thinking. British Rail had a terrible reputation for demolishing buildings in the face of public opposition.

"In fact, this changed the conservation movement. It was a great monument to our industrial past and it was pure vandalism in the teeth of public opposition."

Ms Edmead said although Euston Arch isn't a proper "arch" and it basically fronted a railway station it is just as significant as London's other arches.

"Euston Arch is important industrially and architecturally and was a great manifestation of the Greek revival. Euston was one of the first inter-city stations so it was appropriate that it was grand looking.

"I think there's a realisation that buildings of the past had their own importance and we're looking for a diverse city of old and new. I think it's (the rebuilding) going to be extremely interesting."




SEE ALSO
Euston Arch to rise from depths
23 Sep 09 |  London
London's most glorious traffic-island
18 Jun 09 |  History
In pictures: the Euston arch
31 Jul 08 |  In Pictures


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