20 July 1837: Euston station opens, central London’s first railway terminus

The Doric Arch outside Euston station © Getty Images
The grand entrance to the original station

The 19th century was the age of the railway. Fortunes were made and lost on the iron horses. Engineers became superstars in the rush to connect Britain’s towns.

Britain’s first main line was built by the London and Birmingham Railway company, founded in 1833. It was a huge infrastructure project, with Robert Stephenson, son of George Stephenson, as engineer-in-chief.

Initially, trains from Birmingham to London terminated at Chalk Farm in Camden because of the objections of locals (see also HS2). But Stephenson wanted a terminus in London proper. Eventually, permission was granted, and work started on London’s first terminus.

The station was named after Euston Hall in Suffolk, seat of the Duke of Grafton, AKA Lord Southampton, who owned pretty much most of the area. And it opened for business on this day in 1837.

Until 1844, however, trains had to be pulled up from Euston to Camden by cables, and freewheeled down. The stated reason was that the engines of the time were not really powerful enough to pull them up the steep incline. But in reality, engines were prohibited by an Act of Parliament, because the Grand Old Duke of Grafton, despite having the station named after his family  seat, couldn’t abide the noise and smoke.

It was designed by Philip Hardwick, and originally had just two platforms. In front of the grand station buildings was an even grander 70-foot stone Doric portico – known as the Euston Arch.

The arch stood proudly outside until 1962 when the station was redeveloped. The architectural visionaries of the day decided the best thing to do would be to demolish it, and replace the whole station with the magnificent structure we have today.