Posts Tagged ‘nikolaus pevsner’

On Monday, Sir David Higgins, produced his review of the high-speed train project, HS2, which included the ambitious proposal to completely rebuild Euston railway station in London, and at the same time maximising the commercial opportunities. The original redevelopment plans for the station had been downgraded last year, but in February this year, Chancellor George Osborne came out in favour of the complete redevelopment of the station and surrounding area which would lead to the creation of more jobs, and more houses being built.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin in responding to the Higgins report agreed, saying that he will ask HS2 Ltd and Network Rail to work up ‘more comprehensive proposals for the development of Euston’, but added that ‘this work should include proposals for the Euston arch which should never have been knocked down and which I would like to see rebuilt’.

What was the Euston Arch?

Euston Station, when it opened on 20 July 1837 as the terminus of the London and Birmingham Railway, was the first mainline terminus station in a capital city anywhere in the world. The architect was Philip Hardwick, who worked with structural engineer Charles Fox. Although at first the station only had two platforms, one for departures and one for arrivals, the directors of the railway thought that:

The Entrance to the London Passenger Station opening immediately upon what will necessarily become the Grand Avenue for travelling between the Metropolis and the midland and northern parts of the Kingdom … should receive some architectural embellishment. They adopted accordingly a design of Mr Hardwick’s for a grand but simple portico, which they considered well adapted to the national character of the undertaking.

euston arch, london, painting, john cooke bourne, augustus pugin

The construction of the London & Birmingham Railway was the subject of many paintings by John Cooke Bourne. This one of the Euston Arch likely dates from 1938 not long after the arch was completed. The arch was not admired by everyone in its early years. Augustus Pugin, designer of the new Palace of Westminster, said in 1843 that it was ‘a Brobdignaggian absurdity’, and a guide to the Great Exhibition in 1951 described it as ‘gigantic and very absurd’. Courtesy of EAT

Hardwick’s arch, completed in May 1837 at a cost of £35,000, was huge, 70 feet high, and was the first great building of the railway age. It was built using Yorkshire gritstone, in the Doric style with the arch also supported by four 8 foot 6 inch-diameter columns and four piers, with bronze gates placed behind them. Gatehouses were also built on either side. The arch, which architects would call a propylaeum (‘the entrance before the gate’ to a sacred place in Ancient Greece), complemented the Ionic entrance, which still stands, to the Curzon Street Station in Birmingham at the other end of the new railway line.

great hall, euston station, waiting room, george stephenson

The Great Hall in Euston Station completed in 1846, served as a very grand waiting room. This photo was taken in 1960 and being a Sunday there are relatively few people around. The staircase leads to the gallery and shareholders’ room, past the 1852 statue of George Stephenson. Tickets were bought from hatches in nearby passageways.
© Ben Brooksbank/Creative Commons Licence

In 1849, in order to cope with the increasing number of passengers, Hardwick’s son, Philip Charles Hardwick designed a magnificent waiting room, the Great Hall. This was built in the Italianate Renaissance style, and was 126 feet long, 61 feet wide and 64 feet high, with a coffered ceiling and a sweeping double flight of stairs leading to offices at the northern end of the hall.

The early station was set a long way back from Euston Road and the arch faced Drummond Street that ran east-west through the area, though only the western end of the street going towards Hampstead Road remains today. For many years there was nothing on the arch to say that it was the entrance to the station, but in 1870 the London and North Western Railway Company inscribed ‘EUSTON’ on the architrave in letters of gold. A road was also created for the first time from Euston Road to the portico.

By the end of the 1950s, the station was considered to be poorly located and impracticably small, and at odds with the British Transport Commission’s (BTC) plans to upgrade and electrify the main line between Euston and Scotland as part of its Modernisation Programme. In January 1960 the BTC served notice on London County Council (LCC) as planning authority that it intended to demolish the entire station, including the arch and the Great Hall, which were both Grade II listed buildings. To allow for longer platforms and a  much larger station concourse, the station was to be extended southwards over Drummond Street and Euston Square towards Euston Road. This led to an almost two-year long battle to save the Great Hall and the arch.

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You may have heard of this person. The name sounds unusual. It doesn’t sound English. Is he something to do with music? Is he a painter? If you have anything to do with architecture or historic buildings you will know who he is, or rather was.

nikolaus pevsner, art, architecture, historian

Nikolaus Pevsner
1902-1983
‘Art history in England was, at its worst, an activity a bit like stamp collecting’

Often referred to as ‘Pevsner’, Sir Nikolaus Bernhard Leon Pevsner, was a German-born British scholar of the history of art and architecture. He is best known for his extraordinary series of county-by-county architectural gazetteers, The Buildings of England, published between 1951 and 1974, and for his classic An Outline of European Architecture published by Penguin in 1942 as a Pelican paperback. Outline has the notable quote:

A bicycle shed is a building; Lincoln Cathedral is a piece of architecture. Nearly everything that encloses space on a scale sufficient for a human being to move in is a building; the term architecture applies only to buildings designed with a view to aesthetic appeal.

An Outline of European Architecture went into seven editions, was translated into sixteen languages, and sold more than half a million copies.

Pevsner was born Leipzig, Saxony in 1902, the son of a Jewish fur importer. In 1933 he was forced out of his teaching post in Göttingen, where he lectured on the history of art and architecture, a result of the ban on Jews being employed by the Nazi state, though earlier he had been an enthusiast of Hitler’s proposals for regenerating Germany economically. He moved to England where he rebuilt his life. By the late 1950s he was a national institution.

nikolaus pevsner, european architecture

First published in 1942, Nikolaus Pevsner’s grand tour of Romanesque basilicas, Gothic cathedrals, Renaissance villas and Baroque churches has become a seminal work which has inspired countless students of architecture.

Amongst many distinguished positions, Pevsner was the first professor of art history at Birkbeck, University of London (from where he would eventually retire in 1969); he was acting editor for the Architectural Review between 1943 to 1945, he was Slade professor at Cambridge for a record six years from 1949 to 1955, and he was a founding member in 1957 of the Victorian Society.

The unique inventory of English buildings contained in the 20,000 pages and forty-six volumes of The Buildings of England, has been universally acclaimed as a triumph of scholarship, insight and perseverance. Is it said that no student or scholar of architecture would think of touring England today without a ‘Pevsner’ in their hand (perhaps one of a handful of nouns derived from the name of a person). But how did it all start?

In England, Pevsner was surprised to find that there was no comparable guide to English architecture along the lines of the invaluable Handbook of German Monuments published by the pioneering architectural historian Georg Dehio who had cycled his way round every important building in Germany. Following an invitation from Allen Lane, founder of Penguin Books, to suggest ideas for future publications, he proposed a series of pocket-sized county guides to be sold at an affordable price.

nikolaus pevsner, field trip, cathedrals

Nikolaus Pevsner leads a field trip on cathedrals

Work began on the series in 1946. Two part-time assistants, both German refugee art historians, were employed by Penguin to prepare notes for Pevsner, working in libraries and amassing a huge file of notes on every place of interest. Then during the Easter and Summer breaks, the only time that Pevsner could afford to take out from his other commitments, he would take off for the next county in his list in an old Wolseley Hornet car often driven by his wife Karola (‘Lola’). They would drive from dawn until dusk visiting each and every building of historic or architectural interest, usually briefly, with Pevsner scribbling in a notebook. They stayed in hotels, inns and B&Bs, and every evening long into the night, Pevsner would write the first draft at whatever table was to hand. It was a demanding and hectic schedule, a monumental task.

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