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Griff Rhys Jones On Liverpool St Station

May 12, 2023
by Griff Rhys Jones

Click here to book for The Gentle Author’s next City of London walk on 4th June


Today Griff Rhys Jones outlines the fight to Save Liverpool St Station from bad redevelopment

Liverpool St Station by Edward Bawden


It is my station. I am an Essex boy. I only ever moved just across the river Stour into Suffolk so I could look up towards my home county. (Well, down on it, if I am truthful). But Liverpool St is my own personal cherished gateway to proper London town.

Coming in to Londinium once – with the poor sods who commute daily – just as we entered that crazy, dirty brick-built hinterland of the station approach, (where you ponder those strange tubes on the walls), I spotted a fox. This Fantastic Mr Urban Fleabag was staring at me from an archway. “Look at him,” I blurted loudly, now on my feet, momentarily forgetting that I did not have my infant children alongside me in need of diversion. Not requiring any particular educational instruction, the rest of the carriage stared aghast and glanced at the communication cord. Someone had spoken on the train! And in the middle of the dusty, dark bit.

But, God, that station has grit and purposefulness. Have you seen this dramatic linocut by Edward Bawden? A stark, looming, lovesome place. One of the things that really bothers me about the proposed developer-assault on this storied, workmanlike exemplar of Victorian good sense is the unmitigated tosh Sellars and Network Rail have spewed out to veil their repellent greed.

They claim the station is “creaky”. The station is “not fit for purpose”. They will blend it “seamlessly” into the surrounding streets. On my way to take a butchers at their “consultation”, which was set up only two weeks before their final planning application splatted on to the Corporation’s desk (some consultation), I noticed – in the middle of an evening rush hour – that the only queues for escalators were leading up from the Elizabeth Line, a brand new bit of construction. I do not suppose they are planning to rip that out. Their new street level shopping centre – sorry “concourse” – will be as nicely deserted as the current one leading out towards Broadgate, I am sure. I bought a book that afternoon but – let us face it – nobody will be hurrying to get a Fendi bag before heading back to Billericay for tea.

Liverpool St is simply not the sort of gateway hub they trumpet. Of course, it is busy. The sheds (train not engine) that used to welcome so many from Harwich and were, once upon a time, the immediate destination of Kindertransport, and the continent, now only serve the international glamour of Stansted. That Essex misnomer, “The Stanstead Express”, stops at Harlow, Bishop’s Stortford and all halts in between. If Network Rail are so keen on creating a gateway experience for the international visitor, why do they not improve that service first. I can assure them that any discerning jet-setter flying in on Ryan Air, would prefer to see a careful conservation of the existing Victorian station than any space-age, by-pass-worthy, shopping experience “world class gateway” stuck in its place. Visitors come to see our mythical great Victorian metropolis – of Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens – not some polished concrete Westfield.

A recent report from Arup and the LSE has pointed out that the City might never return to its pre-Covid massed-ranks office structure. It is estimated that the numbers will not be back to pre-Covid levels until 2030, even by the most rabid corporate prophets. There is no need for new office space. Any new offices will have to attract new, upmarket executives who – we are told – will value what is available on the ground. That means preserving whatever historic fabric remains, like great Victorian stations.

Network Rail claim they need disabled lifts and new escalators. If they do, there is room to fit them in the airy existing, light filled space. If they need them urgently, then they should do their duty and just put them in, not hide behind false pretences.

Because missing from the entire developer presentation  – in their over-manned little hut opposite a deserted Boots – was the elephant in the room. The giant white elephant that they really want to foist on Bishopsgate. I could see no sensible visualisations of what this devil’s bargain really constitutes. To gain this “free upgrade” to the concourse and some fanciful open air swimming pool in the sky, Network Rail are selling the “airspace” above a grade-II-star listed building. The original Great Eastern Hotel, the historic first major hotel in the City, will simply be subsumed.

The worst lie of all is that they intend to do no harm to heritage buildings when they are building directly on top of a grade-II-star listed historical landmark with 800,000 square metres of office space and sixteen storeys of hotel. They are demolishing the sensitive twentieth century additions which many feel should be listed itself. They are plunging the light-filled station concourse into darkness. The station as it exists would simply become unrecognisable. Lost.

Why stop there? Let us sell the “airspace” over Leadenhall, or St Paul’s, or the Houses of Parliament while we are at it. It is a rotten, unnecessary, deplorable precedent. A grovelling puff in the Times Business pages recently reported that “some campaigners” were “worried” but the developers say “no harm” would come to the sheds. Bollocks. All heritage bodies are very worried. I have never seen such a meeting of the families. The Twentieth Century Society. The Georgian Group, The Victorian Society, Historic Buildings and Places, The Spitalfields Trust, The Betjeman Society, Historic England and a huge list of others have conjoined in appalled horror at this proposed opportunistic excrescence. There is a unity of outrage.

I hope we can gather and flash-mob the existing station before we march to make our feelings known. I hope we can get Michael Gove to call this one in. Nothing is inevitable here. They were stopped from doing the same to Waverley Station in Edinburgh and they must be stopped here. The ancient City of London and its number one historic railway station deserve a lot better.


Click here to sign the petition to SAVE LIVERPOOL ST STATION


The developers’ visualisation of their proposed redevelopment of Liverpool St Station with a sixteen storey tower plonked on top of the grade II star listed Great Eastern Hotel


Click here to read The Gentle Author’s article about the redevelopment of Liverpool St Station in Apollo Magazine

12 Responses leave one →
  1. B Smith permalink
    May 12, 2023

    “Proposed opportunistic excrescence” is a phrase worth saving – I expect, unfortunately, that it will be of use when (not if) developments are proposed further down the track.

    Griff makes a point that continues to evade the burghers of London town; a good proportion of the not inconsiderable tourist trade that descends on the city don’t do so because they want to see glass and concrete monstrosities, they want to see history. And that history is in the kind of thing The Gentle Author has highlighted time and time again – I would predict that should the proposed edifice become reality, no-one in a hundred years is going to look upon it with nostalgic affection and wax lyrical about the joys of 21st century architecture. Instead they’ll ponder what minds considered these things of any aesthetic merit, and the modern-day Mercerons that allowed, nay pushed them through the bureaucratic channels to see them made reality.

    Sorry to get carried away – but this kind of thing isn’t limited to London. It’s everywhere, and we’re all poorer for it.

  2. May 12, 2023

    As a lifelong rail commuter and leisure traveller, stations hold emotional significance for me. At various London stations I’ve had tearful goodbyes, excited departures, happy reunions and met for bashful early dates.
    I commuted to and from Liverpool Street when I was training to become a teacher and living in Essex. The great London stations are a magnificent testament to Victorian engineering and architecture. As Griff correctly states, this development isn’t needed and will add nothing to the area and will take a great deal away. Who needs another faceless concrete lump even if it does have the gimmick of a rooftop swimming pool? Historic London is being chipped away at or smashed with a sledgehammer. It’s time to resist. I wholeheartedly endorse this campaign.

  3. May 12, 2023

    Great post by GRJ, I too am an Essex boy and my feelings and memories of Liverpool Street are much the same. I am utterly appalled at the development plans for this glorious space and building, they are unsympathetic, uncreative, unsuitable and ugly. It tramples all over the harmony and human scale of this beautiful Victorian building, as if its past counted for nothing. I accept change and upgrading may be necessary but surely we can do better than this? Can anyone imagine this type of corporate and visual vandalism being allowed in sensitive areas of any other European city? We never seem to learn, architects, planners and developers with no sense of historical perspective or judgement, yielding to the will of mammon yet again.

  4. Lizebeth permalink
    May 12, 2023

    Please Gentle Author, can you post in a subsequent blog any well-known person, government official, or body, that we can write to to protest this looming (in every sense) monstrosity? It is catastrophic that developers continue to be allowed to get away with so-called “improvements” like this, which threaten the very identity of the City of London. B Smith makes the excellent point that London’s economy also depends on tourism, and none of these visitors wants to see the enormous — empty! —office boxes that they have just left at home. This creeping fungus of overscale growths threatens us on every side, in most great cities. But these cities don’t have the thousand years of history that makes London what it is, and which seems to be constantly under threat now.

    This development must be stopped and the entire Station listed!

  5. Jill Wilson permalink
    May 12, 2023

    Although Liverpool Street Station is not “my” gateway into London (I’m Victoria and London Bridge) I’m very happy to support the campaign to stop this proposed development which is yet another horrendous example of the ugly glass monstrosities which are blighting our city.

    And as we have so recently been reminded our thousand year history is one of our greatest assets, and should be protected accordingly.

    Perhaps it is time to get His Majesty involved?

  6. Lorraine Whebell permalink
    May 12, 2023

    I’m an Essex girl ?as Griff said I feel it’s my station too!
    This must not be allowed to happen..I can only hope common sense wins the outcome of this preposterous plan.

  7. aubrey permalink
    May 12, 2023

    I love station’s space. It was a playground of my childhood. I am appalled and despair at this “improvement”.

  8. Pam Dewey permalink
    May 12, 2023

    As an Essex Girl living near the Eastern terminal, Southend Victoria, for more than 70 years I wholeheartedly support Griff RJ and thank him for his article and you for directing our attention to this travesty. Signed and shared widely.

  9. Paul Loften permalink
    May 12, 2023

    Well yes, for me the station also holds a bagful of personal history from when it was a place for human beings instead of artificial intelligence designs and concourses . But what use do human beings have now? Let’s face it. Empty trains , empty offices , empty concourses but overflowing bank accounts for those contractors and suited gentlemen involved in this upgrade to nowhere

  10. Pauline Taylor permalink
    May 12, 2023

    Thank you Griff for an excellent piece it is so well written and is a lesson for us all in how to get our message across. As an Essex girl from the city of Colchester I have so many memories of Liverpool Street station from the days when it was surrounded by bomb sites to my first train journey on my own to stay with friends in London, being put on the train by my mother at Colchester and being met by her friend’s husband at Liverpool Street. The way that we, as children, always used to look at the name of the engine that had pulled us there and the noise, the smoke and the steam, the station was such a magical and exciting place and holds so many happy memories for me.

    Like you Griff I remember the approach to the station in the train and all the strange archways and infrastructure of tubes of metal and wires and I could never understand how anyone could know what the purpose of all that tangle of stuff was. Later on we loved days trips to London as art students arriving and leaving at Liverpool Street sometimes with John O’Connor or Richard Chopping but often on our own visiting art galleries and shopping for clothes and having the time of our life. Liverpool Street station featured in all those happy times and I should hate to see it destroyed to be replaced by this hideous monstrosity.

    I wish you every success with your campaign to save it, at least you stand a better chance now that Mr Johnson is no longer mayor of London as if he had called it in we all know what the outcome would have been !

  11. Sue permalink
    May 12, 2023

    I have never been to Liverpool Street station but I love historical buildings. The developers’ visualisation of their proposed redevelopment of Liverpool St Station makes me feel sick and depressed in equal measure.

    As somebody has already pointed out, visitors come to London to look at our lovely historical buildings so why I we hiding them? People rave about the Shard and the Gherkin which I don’t understand. Those glass monstrosities could be in any city. Our history and our old buildings are important and interesting. They say a lot about us as a nation. We must save them and give them breathing space.

  12. Sue Lloyd permalink
    May 14, 2023

    Why is it necessary to redevelop Liverpool st & Spitalfields, I tell you why people with money always want to make more money, there is no consideration for History any more, it just about how much money you have, I think it’s a sorry state of affaires.

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