My first ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ drawing since October. I feel a little shameful about this gaping hole in the project, but sadly the pennies haven’t been there to get to London over the past few months. Now a New Year’s pledge to revive the visits (and some recent painting sales) if not exactly weekly, then as often as I can.
Relentless Euston Road, a city artery, conveying a clamour of traffic east to west, west to east. Two and a half centuries ago this was New Road, laid through rolling farmland at the northern peripheries of London, to establish a cattle drovers’ route to Smithfield Market. Market gardens and nurseries grew up along the route. As demand grew for homes away from the city smoke, Euston Square was laid out here in the early C19th as two wide rectangles of fine housing around gardens either side of New Road (the name Euston comes from the country seat of the Duke of Grafton, the landowner: Euston Hall in north Suffolk). In the 1830s the properties on the north side were replaced by the grand façade of Euston Station, although the gardens were preserved. And half a century later the gardens on the southern side of Euston Square were lost when they were parcelled off for redevelopment.
I walk across the western wing of these remaining gardens to discover that, due to HS2 works, it too has been lost (The High Speed 2 rail link to the Midlands and the North. Euston Station will be the HS2 London terminus) under concrete and tarmac and metal for taxi ranks and bicycle racks, which were just unveiled last week. Only a few of its original plane trees remain, sitting in bark mulch beds. So at the moment the only green around here is the eastern flank- a flat smudge of winter green lawn with patchy scrapes of muddy earth. A path snakes through from the Euston Road corner to the gateway opposite the station. People, hunched and hooded, trundling luggage, hurry through. Naked plane tree branches twine and twist, forming an uneven latticework through the dimming air and across the looming silhouette of the tower and portico of St Pancras Church, at the far southeast corner. Several tree trunks are wrapped with brightly hand knitted scarves, carrying labels ‘Aboricide in the Autumn’, vainly against the clearance of plane trees for HS2.
Misty spatters of cold drizzle. A greying and deepening sky threatens something heavier. I find shelter against a pillar under the massive slab bus station roof. On a little concrete island, buses roaring behind and in front, sporadically breaking my view into blurred red and glass and glimpsed faces, swiftly right to left. One bus whooshes in tightly and grates its wheelarch loudly against a kerb as it comes to a standstill, a serious sounding bang and scrape. The driver gets out and saunters round to inspect the damage and pokes at the damage with the toe of his shoe.
Double deckers enter the bus station along Euston Grove, which passes between a bookend pair of stone lodges. When Euston Station was built in 1837 (planned by Robert Stephenson), these sat either side of the great ‘Euston Arch’, the 72 foot high imposing Doric propylaeum entranceway to the station, designed by Philip Hardwick, to be seen as “the gateway to the north”. The names of stations served by the London and North Western Railway company are inscribed on the lodges and the pediments have reliefs with allegorical figures, sculpted by Joseph Pitts, representing England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Most of the original station was demolished in 1963, including the Euston Arch (despite protests and demonstrations against its destruction) making way for the functionalist new station which opened in 1968. All that remains are the pair of lodges which are now bars, The East Lodge (The Euston Tap) is in my drawing.
In front is the Euston war memorial, which was erected in 1921 to honour the 3719 railwaymen who lost their lives in the First World War (additional panels were later added to commemorate those who were killed in WW2). The dark, rain-glistened statues of a sailor, an infantryman, a member of the Royal Flying Corps and a gunner stand with heads bowed as commuters rush past below, brandishing umbrellas.
Thrumming and grinding engines, an ever present soundtrack under this echoing concrete and tarmac box. And from the Euston Road, the rumble of traffic, scree of taxis, toots and hoots of vans and lorries. And the sudden shock of a speeding ambulance siren lifts a flutter of pigeons into the treetops.
In his ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ project, Nick Andrew has been regularly visiting, researching and drawing different publicly accessible parks or gardens in London since January 2016, exploring the theme of city green spaces from the perspective of a rural landscape painter. The first two sketchbooks will be published as a book in late 2019. www.nickandrew.co.uk . Nick is grateful to London Parks & Gardens Trust for their support www.londongardenstrust.org.
Euston Square Gardens, Euston Rd, London, NW1 2AE
Opening times: unrestricted
Google earth view here