Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The attraction of railway stations

click photo to enlarge
The architects of the nineteenth century rail system had nothing on which to base their new constructions. So, they plundered the styles - Classical, Gothic, Tudor, Deuxieme Empire and the rest - and blended it with the utilitarian forms that were necessary to meet the needs of the travelling public. For me the appeal of railway architecture lies in this wonderful mixture of style and utility.

Anyone who has alighted from a train at York station, and gazed up at William Peachey's curving train shed of 1871 cannot fail to be impressed by the size, style and brilliance of what was constructed. And if you've looked at the ironwork on London's Blackfriars Bridge, advertising the London, Chatham and Dover Railway, you're bound to acknowledge the way the engineers and architects built things to last. I still remember my first vist to London in the 1960s, walking out of King's Cross station, and turning round to see Lewis Cubitt's facade perfectly expressing the canopies behind. Despite it being made of stock brick in 1852, I thought then, and I still think now, that it looks very modern.

The stations in small towns have their charms too. Often companies used a similar style along particular lines. Invariably they built canopies, waiting rooms, and ticket offices, all constructed with care, and often looking as good now as the day they were finished. And this despite the neglect of recent years where private profit has replaced public service. The photograph above shows the covered steps leading down to the platforms at Poulton le Fylde station in Lancashire. The concrete steps, glazed brick wall, sturdy handrail and wooden superstructure with iron brackets, built by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, are still giving excellent service to passengers today.

I took this shot for the architecture, the interesting framing it provides, and way the light was falling on the stairs, leading the eye to the figure who has almost reached the platform. I hadn't articulated it before I wrote this piece, but the filtered light and shade, and the strong and distinctive shapes found in stations, are what appeals to the photographer in me.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen