Imagine the scene back in 1895, as one hundred and fifty horses settled down for the night, steaming and snorting after another long day drawing parcel delivery carts around the streets of London. Stepping in to 1 Cobourg Street today, it’s actually easy to picture, despite the interior now featuring a swish office reception with a brushed steel staircase leading up to the second level of former stabling.
The building’s unusual horse ramp remains, a tight curved structure on the outside, now painted a fetching terracotta. And the iron girders criss-crossing gently arched brickwork inside look as solid as they must have done when hay and manure was strewn across the cobbled floors.
This sympathetic repurposing of the last remaining structure from original 1837-era Euston Station was carried out in 1998 by architectural practice Jestico + Whiles. They’re the ones behind a whole host of iconic projects in London and beyond, such as Leicester Square’s hi-tech W Hotel and the restoration of One Aldwych.
Current director Heinz Richardson has had a love affair with Euston ever since arriving here from Yorkshire as a student in the early 70s. “I came to study architecture at the Bartlett,” he says, “and having left it to the last minute (the architect’s curse) I had nowhere to live. The university found me digs with a welcoming, larger-than-life landlady here in the area that has come to mean the most to me.”At that time, the 1960s’ full demolition and reimagination of Euston Station had already changed the area dramatically, with the loss of many once familiar Victorian features such as the imposing Doric Arch, but No.1 Cobourg Street had swerved the wrecking ball. In the 20s, with the coming of motorised vehicles, redundant horse power had made way for electricity generation, with the space becoming used as a mains sub-station serving the first electrified lines heading north.
But throughout the time Heinz would have been getting to know and love the neighbourhood, this sturdy building was operating as Collector’s Corner, British Rail’s outlet store for the sale of redundant railway stock and memorabilia. Photos from that era display a trainspotters’ paradise laden with enamel station signage, large platform clocks, defunct wooden signal boxes and uniform badges.
When the outlet moved up to York in the mid-90s, J + W swooped to purchase the former stables.“It’s a building of such strength and character it should be listed,” says Heinz. And for seventeen years the practice has operated happily here.
“This area to the west of the station, around Drummond Street is full of such diversity and character that it epitomises everything I value,” Heinz enthuses. “Unpretentious and with exotic smells that permeate the narrow, sleepy street.”However, over at 1 Cobourg Street, the final chapter of this story is about to be written. By a whisker, it lies in the path of the new platforms of the HS2 development. Just over the road, the staff’s favourite local, the Exmouth Arms will remain untouched. Richardson and his team seem stoic about its fate, witness to the protracted twists and turns of the HS2 project for the majority of their residence here anyway.
Jestico + Whiles moves to a new space in Clerkenwell later this year. After that, this last piece of the original Euston Station railway infrastructure will stand strong but silent, awaiting its fate. If only it could be snapped up and given a loving new home like an item of memorabilia at Collector’s Corner.