rane a look at the HS2 development from the top of a double decker bus right now, and you get the feeling that Euston is being changed, flattened and rebuilt like never before.
Yet all around us are reminders that this process has happened more than once previously. In fact, the scale of upheaval and unsettling sense of cataclysmic environmental change was likely far worse during the full throttle railway mania of the 1830s.
But before even that, the first dramatic carving up of the pastoral fields that once stretched out lazily across these parts came when the New Road was built as a bypass for congested 1750s London.
The travel link brought with it industry and dwellings for the first time, sprouting up between the former Royal hunting ground of Marylebone (now Regent’s) Park to the immediate west, and the ancient Roman settlement on the banks of the River Fleet at Battle Bridge (now King’s Cross) just over to the east.
Next came the canals, carving further economically important routes through the now burgeoning neighbourhood. The canals are notable as much for the effect their construction had on Euston as did their eventual redundancy.
Next time you’re up by London Zoo, regard the basin that the incongruous floating Chinese restaurant sits in. This was once a spur of the waterway that led down the length of the Euston mainline to Cumberland Market, where hay, meat and veg was traded in a square.
Today it sits beneath Regent’s Park Estate, the canal route filled in with Second World War rubble. In turn, the 60s housing blocks are now partly being demolished for HS2, the drive for change seemingly relentless.
Yet it was the frenzied railway boom of the 1830s that had the biggest environmental impact on residents. Just imagine the unchecked noise, pollution and accompanying grinding poverty that exploded around the lengthy construction of Euston Station and the main line north, scything its way on up through Camden.
Stations of this era were impressive when finished, the Euston Arch offering a typically grand gateway to the terminus, but the glamour of Victorian rail travel can’t disguise the lasting impact of its construction on the area, still very much apparent to this day.
The station opened in 1837, with the Euston-to-Birmingham line a year later, shaving journey times between the cities to five and a quarter hours. HS2 really is mere history repeating, but with better stats.
Exponential growth of freight and passenger services into the early 1900s necessitated ongoing construction works to accommodate new lines, sidings and carriage sheds for up to 350 coaches.
Handsome properties along Park Village East were cleared for all this, as John Nash’s high-end estate of Swiss, Tudor and Italianate influences, originally conceived as a bucolic rural village bordering the newly landscaped garden suburb of Regent’s Park, became more of an island amidst the expansion of the city’s grimy industrial backbone.
Sixty years later still, the grandiose Victorian pretensions of Euston Station were to be the next victim of progress, most of it being swallowed by the post-war drive towards function box buildings.
And today, that 1960 incarnation is what you’ll see being partially pulled apart, as HS2 requires its own physical manifestation for the latest emotions we lend to our transportation systems.
While we continue to be enamoured with the evolution of how people and things get moved about, there is at least a focus protecting, as well as reinventing, transport at its most basic. The Euston Green Link (EGL) celebrates the humble pedestrian, carving a new footway through the big schemes of today, and those of previous centuries, diverting us away from the accompanying excesses of noise and air pollution.
Our feet now offer the best mode of transport along the local section of the old New Road, (aka heavily polluted Euston Road). Beneath it still rumbles the world’s first urban metro, (aka the Metropolitan line), both aging routes that nevertheless define how we experience our modern city.
Meanwhile, the EGL offers something new, without any need for billion-pound budgets or miles of unpopular land clearances. It joins the ever-growling list of Euston’s travel projects unassumingly, but importantly.
It’s not quite a return to the pastures of pre-1750, but a welcome breath of fresh air during the HS2 cacophony, and the kind of initiative Victorian residents would surely have appreciated massively.