Euston: Bend Sinister

Saturday 1 July 2006

In keeping with the overall character of London, there is no consistent plan to the design of the Underground stations. Some haven’t really changed since they opened in the 1860s, others try to keep some semblance of uniformity to distinguish one line from another, and then there are a lot of ‘one off’ designs which may not extend even to the entirety of the station.
Euston is one of the most confusing tube stations, being combined with a mainline train station connecting the north, and joining three different tube lines, two with the same name, in an unconventional layout. As a result the lower platforms tend to become clogged with bewildered Mancunians towing luggage and walking against the flow, trying to decipher the array of diagrams and direction signs in the passageways.
Most of Euston is lined with anonymous grey tiles, in the dreary British interpretation of modernism that influenced the design of the station when it was rebuilt in the 1960s. However, two of the six platforms have a newer, fairly arbitrarily applied decoration, which at first looks like a bit of 80s abstraction. If you’re stuck waiting for a train, you may notice the small plaque explaining what the design represents. It’s a stylised version of the shield in the Earl of Euston’s coat of arms: the Royal Standard defaced with a bend sinister (OK, technically it’s a baton sinister). In other words, the first Earl was the illegitimate offspring of the King.

I wonder how it was agreed that the best way to brighten up such an awkwardly constructed station was to cover it with a colourful display of the ancient symbol for “right royal bastard”.