A day in the life of Euston station

In which we hang out with station manager Joe Hendry – and hear the stories of a handful of travellers passing through

Euston Station

Joe Hendry, Euston Station manager.
Joe Hendry, station manager. Photo: Danny Burrows
Imagine striding down a two-pronged marble staircase leading onto the grand central hall of a heaving station. Ionic columns and sculptures border the room, with light piercing in from huge windows streaming over decadent splashes of gold and granite. Chances are the words Euston Station haven’t sprung to mind, but if we rewind some 70 years, that’s what the chic terminal looked like.

Built in 1837, the old girl was more like New York’s Grand Central than its current fairly brutish, rather boxy form. In fact, it managed to retain its glamorous façade through two world wars and plans to merge it with St Pancras to create a conjoined US-style super terminal.

However, by the time the sixties swung around, the general consensus was that the future was in the car, not railways. Euston’s grandeur seemed decadent and unnecessary, and with pro-motorway Prime Minister Macmillan running the shop, it was time to transform it into a more functional, easier-to-navigate model.

Despite multiple protestations that its demolition was one of the greatest acts of post-war architectural vandalism in Britain, the station was swept away, replaced by the stark, utilitarian features cast in black polished granite and white mosaic we have before us today.

“It’s definitely a unique place,” says station manager Joe Hendry, who took the helm last year, having spent 12 years managing the likes of St Pancras, Gatwick Airport and, indeed, most the of tube map.

“It was glamorous at King’s Cross, a big open space, all metal and glass. This is much grittier, and more of a challenge, which I like.”

Hendry says its size is “tiny” in comparison to most concourses. “There are constant surges of people hopping on and off trains coming in from everywhere – we’ve got the overground, national services and even the Caledonian Sleepers heading up to Glasgow every night.”

Star-grazing, Euston Station
“We announced everything but that doesn’t stop all the star-gazing.” Photo: Danny Burrows

On average, 150,000 people dart through Euston Station a day, making it the fifth busiest in the UK. “People don’t really come here to leave,” he says. “They interchange straight to the underground.”

As we stroll through the concourse at 10am, dodging people gawping up at the train board, Joe mentions that because there are no through platforms a lot of people wait around, anxiously looking at the board. “We announce everything so people can relax a bit more but that doesn’t seem to stop all of the star-gazing,” he says.

Despite the spatial restraints, there are over 50 retailers. “There has been a remarkable transformation over the last four years,” he says, remembering how not long ago it was a matter of grabbing a Harry Ramsden’s or Burger King before jumping aboard.

Night time, Euston Station
By night. Photo: Danny Burrows
Wandering past Gino D’Acampo, Prime, Paul Hollywood’s new bakery Knead and Leon, the choice is clearly there, but old habits die hard. “Burger King is still the most popular grub spot, surprisingly or unsurprisingly,” says Joe, smiling.

There are also a few newbies coming to the station this year, including a pub opening on the balcony and a donut stop. “We’re all going be twenty stone heavier,” says Joe, with a laugh. “With the range of food options and the draw to comfort food, I’ve easily put on a stone since I started here.”

“People have this conception that a station manager walks around like a Thomas the Tank Engine-style jolly controller, strolling about,” says Joe, “but there’s an incredible amount that goes on behind the scenes, to keep the place safe and make it functional.”

Indeed, Euston has a hundred members of staff looking after the physical building, alongside a huge security and delivery team, plus staff specialising in mobility assistance. “It doesn’t help that the station is fifty years old,” he says, “it’s creaking under the weight of all the passengers.”

150,000 people, Euston Station
150,000 people dart through the station everyday. Photo: Danny Burrows

According to Joe, everyday is “like playing a very hard game of Sudoku.” He has to calculate everything, and analyse the repercussions of every slight alteration to the station, be it closing an entrance, changing the signage, organising feeding the homeless on Christmas Day, or preparing for HS2. “Everything is planned to the nth degree,” he says.

With work already underway for HighSpeed2 – which won’t launch for another eight years – Joe is aware that the operation has to be slicker than ever. “We’ll be losing two tracks, and the clearing in and around the station is in full-flow. All Bar One is about to go, as is Oliver Bonas,” he says, as we walk past a file of removal vans outside offices and boarded-up buildings on the outskirts.

“We haven’t made any of the decisions regarding the implementation of HS2 but it is for the greater good,” he says. While he can see both sides of the debate, his job is about “getting people to places. Anything that helps do that is a good thing.”

The upcoming development is a new addition to an already complex jigsaw puzzle, and Joe and his team are determined to make it work. Negotiating their way around the space they already have, slotting the additions in as seamlessly as possible means – unfortunately for avid architecture fans – there ain’t no glass, grandeur or granite heading Euston’s way anytime soon.

All above images including main photo by Danny Burrows © London Belongs To Me

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Who travels through Euston?

Kelvin Zhou, student at UCL’s Institute of Education

UCL, Euston Station
There’s around 4000 other Chinese students here. Photo: Clare Hand

I just really like being in the centre of such a big city; there’s something really special about it,” Kelvin said, when we bumped into him dropping his friend at the station.

“I’m from Shanghai and there must be around 4000 other Chinese students here. The draw is the quality of education but also the opportunity to travel around Europe with the Schengen visa.”

Kelvin is in his third year of study at UCL’s Institute of Education, which he’s really enjoying. “In particular, I like the classes in sociology, learning about how people from different cultures interact. I believe that there should be no boundaries between people: being part of this city and communicating with those from so many backgrounds is one of the best parts about being here.”

The Clarkes, Queens of the Stone Age fans

QOTSA, Euston Station
First visit to London in eight years. Photo: CH

It’s been eight years since the Clarkes last left Cheshire to come down to London. “There’s no particular reason,” they say, “we just like it up north.” The couple broke their dry spell from the capital because they bagged tickets to see Queens of the Stone Age at the O2. “They were really good, and while we were down we went to see Les Misérables as well.”

Lindsay Rawlings, volunteer, Stroke Association

Lindsay, Euston Station
It was an important day for Lindsay to be bucket shaking. Photo: CH

“It’s a significant day for me today: my mum died of a stroke two years ago,” Lindsay told us when we met her bucket-shaking for the Stroke Association. “It felt like an appropriate day to come out and raise money,” she says.

“Mum travelled the world, and lived a full life, so you can’t but be grateful for that,” she adds. “I’ve also been volunteering for Cancer Research UK for a number of years,” she says as folk hurtle past us. “Even if they don’t have change, increasingly common these days, I hope that by being here some will note the organisation. It might jog their memory to have a look online later on.”

People come up with spare change, or requests for directions. “It’s funny how you take on the double role of being tourist information service as well,” she says. “It’s nice to be helpful.”

Andreas Liberos, musician and avid busker

Andrea the busker, Euston Station
Euston is his favourite busking spot. Photo: CH

“Busking changed my life,” Andreas Liberos told us when we nabbed him between songs outside Euston. “If I didn’t get involved with Busking London, I would’ve stopped making music.”

It works on a rota system: alongside hundreds of other musicians he rocks up in spots around the capital for two-hour sets. “My favourite is actually Euston, because I make the most money here, but for atmosphere it would be outside Selfridges. You really build a crowd there.”

Christian, Environmental Professor

Conference, Euston Station
Here for a conference on sustainability. Photo: CH

We ran into Christian, a Professor from Frankfurt, bracing himself as he chowed down on a sandwich. With a doctorate in environmental and sustainability studies, he was waiting for his train to Birmingham, heading to yet another conference on all things strategy.

“Then it’s back to London,” he said cheerily, “I’m meeting my daughter, who is obsessed with Harry Potter.” He’s promised to escort her on the northbound train from Euston to the Warner Bros Studio tour, a stone’s throw from Watford Junction.

Theo Boulogne, care worker

Theo, Euston Station
Heading back to her son who studies ethical hacking. Photo: CH

“We’re actually the only Boulognes in South Africa: my Dutch grandad moved over there when he was 17 and never looked back,” Thea told us when we pulled up a seat next to her as she waited for her train to Coventry.

A care worker, she had just spent three weeks on assignment in Wimbledon and was heading back up north to re-join her son, who is studying ethical hacking at uni there. “I’m not sure where we will go when my son graduates, there’s a great demand for what he studies so we’ll see what the future holds.”

Having lived in the UK for the last 10 years thanks to her Dutch passport, Thea says that she is worried about Brexit. “We do have assurances from the Dutch government that it won’t affect our citizenship there,” she says. We sat with Thea for nearly an hour, and began wondering where her train was. Her reply? She’s a nervous traveller, so always arrives too early.

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