The rise and fall of the Euston Arch

For over a century it dominated Euston's skyline and greeted railway passengers from the north. So why was this iconic monument taken apart – and what happened to its Yorkshire stone?

It's considered to be one of the great lost landmarks of Britain. At the peak of its Victorian heyday, Euston Arch was a railway passenger's first glimpse of London after their long journey from the north; a gigantic, looming monument with the word 'Euston' emblazoned in gold letters against stark, grey stone.

Euston Arch was built in 1837 as part of the world's first railway terminus, designed by Philip Hardwick for the London and Birmingham Railway. It was a grand gateway to the new world the railway opened up, designed in the Greek Revival style, with four Doric pillars of gritstone quarried in Yorkshire and it was built to last.

In 1960, 125 years after it was built, the British Transport Commission served notice of its intention to demolish Euston station, stating it to be "inconveniently sited and small."

Gone but not forgotten

Despite its Grade II status and a strong public campaign led by Sir John Betjeman to save and relocate the Arch, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan deemed that any attempt at preserving it would be too expensive and impractical. The Arch was demolished in 1962.

Gone but not forgotten, the sad legacy left behind of this iconic landmark stirred historian Dan Cruikshank to quench a lifetime's curiosity of where the dismantled stonework had gone to and a desire to see the Arch rebuilt. In 1994, after 15 years of searching, Cruikshank learned from a British Waterways engineer that a massive portion of the Arch's stonework was used to plug a giant hole in the bed of the Prescott Channel in East London.

As part of Cruikshank's BBC series One Foot in the Past, a perfectly preserved chunk of Doric column was filmed being hoisted out of the water where it had lain submerged for three decades.

Rediscovered in the Olympic Park

In 2009, British Waterways recovered a further 29 stones from the Prescott Channel as part of their renovations for the Olympic Park. “We were aware of rumours that the Euston Arch remains were buried in the Prescott Channel when we were working on Three Mills Lock,” explains Florence Salberter, heritage adviser for the Canal & River Trust (London & South East). “We took the opportunity, while dredging the top of the river bed to ensure the navigation would be cleared for boats, to remove a few of the stones that had been located by divers. Removing them confirmed that some, but not all of them were indeed from the Euston Arch.

"The engineer who oversaw the disposal of the stones in the 1960s helped us back in 2009, although he’s since died.. He was under the impression that about half of the arch was used to fill in a large hole in the river bed. We don’t know which half, and as some of the recovered stones don’t appear to be from the arch, it might be less than that.”

Locating the rest

After 30 years plugging a hole in the bed of an East London river, could Euston Arch once more herald the arrival of passengers from the north?

Florence Salberter: "There has been renewed interest from the Department for Transport to rebuild the arch using some of these remains for the proposed High Speed 2 railway line – and we’re asking our volunteers to see if they can find any material in our archives at Ellesmere Port that might help us locate the rest." 

Words: Abigail Whyte

Last date edited: 4 December 2014

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