The Transparent Woman
This haunting training model for medical students was made in Dresden- then part of Communist East Germany- in 1980. It was restored in 2006 and is currently on long term loan to the Wellcome Collection on Euston Road.
With it being January and that time of year when people strive to lay off of the booze, I thought now would be an appropriate time to examine a certain derelict building which can be seen rotting away on Hampstead Road close to Euston station.
These mouldering remains were once the London Temperance Hospital, an institution set up by the National Temperance League in the 1870s with the aim of providing medical treatment without the aid of alcohol.
At the time, alcohol (abuse of which aside) was generally seen as a healthy, positive substance (hardly surprising considering the filthy, disease-ridden water people had to endure) and was widely used to cure patients suffering anything from malnutrition to delirium. It was also not unusual for hospital staff to enjoy the odd tipple whilst on duty…
The Temperance Society on the other hand viewed alcohol as a curse which lay at the very heart of society’s ills, and their specialist hospital therefore discouraged the use of alcohol in treatment– although it wasn’t entirely ruled out, its use being tolerated in “exceptional cases.”
When it was first founded in 1873 the London Temperance Hospital was originally based on Gower Street, Bloomsbury. It moved to the larger, purpose built premises on Hampstead Road in 1885 where it was put under the control of a board of twelve teetotallers.
The land upon which the new hospital was built was purchased from St James’s Church– the ground being previously occupied by a chapel and the St Pancras Female Charity School (i.e. workhouse).
By all accounts the hospital was a great success and its policy of refusing to store stocks of alcohol resulted in thousands of pounds being saved every year.
Being so close to Euston, the hospital found itself on the front line in April 1924 when a specially chartered train carrying football supporters from Coventry en route to the Cup Final crashed with an electric train from Watford in a tunnel close to the station.
Four passengers were killed and many more injured, including the elderly driver who was trapped beneath heavy machinery for five hours.
A less serious accident occurred later that same year when a bus crashed right outside the hospital… the driver of which, John Summers was found to be drunk! Perhaps fate was trying to tell him something…
In 1931, American tycoon Samuel Insull gifted the princely sum of $160,000 to the hospital allowing an extension to be created. Insull’s name can still be glimpsed on the newer building today.
Shortly after Insull’s donation the hospital was renamed the National Temperance Hospital. It merged with the NHS in 1948 and was formerly closed in 1982.
The building found further use however in 1986 when it was leased to the organisation, Freedom from Torture who adapted the facilities for the treatment of victims of torture from across the world.
Over 1,000 people were treated at the hospital, but the unit was sadly forced to close abruptly in 1990 following budget cuts.
The building limped on, finding use as a clinic and training centre, but has lain empty since 2006 and is now in a dreadful state, strangled by weeds, its windows cracked, ornate balconies rusted and basement flooded.
If the planned High Speed Two rail project goes ahead it is likely the old Temperance hospital will be swept away forever.
Sneaky images of the hospital’s ruined interior, taken by an intrepid urban explorer, can be viewed here.
By the early 1960s, the ability of Euston to play its role as a major railway station had once again become a major issue and, in 1961, British Rail decided that the old station was no longer capable of handling its operations.
To British Rail, the solution to this dilemma was simple- and also one commonly employed in the hastiness of 1960s planning…
With no regard for history or the beautiful Victorian architecture, Euston Station was completely demolished.
Even the much-loved Doric Arch wasn’t spared.
It is believed that the final go-ahead for this destruction was granted by the then Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan who was quoted as saying, “An obsession with such buildings will drain our national vitality.”
The annihilation of Euston caused outrage and was labelled as being, “one of the greatest acts of Post-War architectural vandalism in Britain.”
Sir John Betjeman (poet laureate from 1972-1984), along with the newly founded Victorian Society, had campaigned fiercely to have the old station spared.
In this case, they failed, but the indignation caused by the demolition was instrumental in changing attitudes towards old architecture, and their mission was to prove far more successful when it came to saving nearby St Pancras…. (something which I shall be exploring in the next instalment of this station series).
Euston Mark Two
The new and present Euston Station was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1968.
It is a building very characteristic of its time; modern, utilitarian and a fierce opinion-divider. A commenter in the Times suggested that, “even by the bleak standards of sixties architecture, Euston is one of the nastiest concrete boxes in London…”
It must be remembered that the new Euston was built during an era of rapid social and technological change.
In the 1960s, British rail began to phase out steam engines in favour of diesel locomotives. Steam engines, with their plumes of smoke, required high-vaulted, well-ventilated buildings… diesel engines did not; hence the reason that the Euston we see today is a much lower, dimmer building.
In 1980, Michael Palin made a series for the BBC about Britain’s railways entitled ‘Playing With Trains.’ The documentary began at Euston Station, and Michael Palin was clearly unimpressed with the modern Euston!
The station was also constructed as jet-travel was becoming popular with the masses, and it is believed this was influential in the new Euston’s design. The modern building, with its broad waiting area, huge departure board, dotted information kiosks and long ramps is very similar in design to an airport terminal.
In 1969, pop group, Slade (then known as Ambrose Slade and still a while away from their glam-rock heyday) filmed a very early promo at the brand-spanking new Euston.
Comparing this footage to Euston as it is today, it is surprising to see just how little the station has actually changed (although posters are now written in post-decimal currency!)
Abstract Art & Traces of the Old Euston
Outside the station, Euston’s piazza is a rather bleak affair, dominated by an office complex which was built during the late 1970s. Be thankful for small mercies though… British Rail originally envisioned a cluster of towering blocks to be built in the area. Luckily, Camden Council introduced height limits on new projects; thus ensuring the offices outside Euston were kept a little closer to the ground.
Placed rather unceremoniously amongst these windswept offices, you may come across this abstract sculpture:
Paolozzi (1924-2005) was a Scotsman; born in 1920s Edinburgh to Italian immigrants.
As discussed in my previous post about London’s ‘Little Italy’, anyone in the UK of Italian origin was detained during WWII. As a 16 year old teenager, Paolozzi was no exception… and, tragically, his uncle and grandfather were killed in the Andorra Star disaster.
After the war, Paolozzi became a noted artist, his style mainly being defined by hints of surrealism and an interest in modern machinery. His 1947 piece; I Was a Rich Man’s Plaything is considered the first major work in the Pop Art movement.
Paolozzi has a number of other public works spread across London. A short walk from Euston, outside the wonderful British Library, you’ll find his sculpture of Sir Issac Newton:
The ‘Head of Invention’ outside the South Bank’s Design Museum is another one of Paolozzi’s, as is what is probably one of the most viewed artworks in London- his colourful, 1980s mosaic designs which decorate the platforms of Tottenham Court Road tube station.
A tiny handful of items from the original, Victorian Euston can also be discovered around Euston Station’s dystopian precient.
One of them is a statue of Robert Stephenson (the main force behind the construction of the line), which once stood in Euston’s grand hall.
Exposed to the elements, and now situated amongst the 20th century modernity, Mr Stephenson stands rather defiant!
Further forward, facing the roar of the Euston Road, stand two ‘lodges’, between which the famous Doric Arch once stood. Today, they house two small pubs.
Speaking of the Doric Arch, lumps of it still remain today… although you’ll require a snorkel and diving gear if you wish to see them, as they are currently languishing at the bottom of the River Lea in East London!
Following the arch’s destruction, the rubble was sold in 1962 and used to plug a chasm in the river’s ‘Prescott Channel’ which lies just east of the Blackwall Tunnel Northern Approach.
In 2009, a number of the stones were recovered (mainly to allow large freight barges, carrying materials for the Olympic Park, to navigate the waterway)
Euston Mark Three ?
There are currently plans to give Euston Station a substantial makeover.
Taking advantage of this opportunity, The Euston Arch Trust (of whom Michael Palin is the patron) are currently campaigning to have a reconstruction of the old Doric Arch included as part of the redevelopment.
If given the go-ahead, it is hoped that the old blocks from the old arch, which have lain at the bottom of the River Lea for fifty years, will be incorporated into the reconstruction.
You can read more about the campaign here.