Above: Painting by Grace Golden in 1938 entitled ‘Catching the 5.15’.
Do you remember Liverpool Street Station before the 1990s? It was probably one of the ugliest station concourses in London. The station opened in 1874 and, while its architecture is splendid, the interior hardly changed from its opening and it looked as though it had never been cleaned from the first day of operation.
When the Broadgate development was completed, the station also received a much-needed makeover and it is now among the most elegant of station termini in London. The official reopening was by Queen Elizabeth II on 5 December 1991. For most of us it is hard to remember the original layout of the concourse. Because the platforms are below the surface of the adjacent Bishopsgate, access to the concourse and its platforms was via lattice-girder pedestrian bridges and steep stairs. It was little wonder that they scrapped all that and, instead, installed new staircases and escalators.
Grace Golden’s painting takes us back to 1938 and, due to her vibrant colours, the view does not really show the grime and gloom that any visitor to the station experienced. The painting shows the station at rush hour on a weekday – 5.15 pm according to the caption – when passengers were hurrying home from their office jobs in the City. That is also something that has changed. Right up to the 1960s and 1970s pubs did not bother to open in the evenings because everybody was rushing to catch that ‘5.15’. The pubs made all their money at lunch-time when office-workers dashed out for a ‘pint and something to eat’. Nowadays the office-workers meet up in pubs and bars after their work in the office and, instead of trying to catch the first train home after their work ends at 5.00 pm, they now catch the last train home, often leaving Liverpool Street Station at 10.00 pm or even later. The painting, therefore, evokes memories of many different aspects of work in the City.
One of the ugly lattice-girder pedestrian bridges is to be seen on the far left of the painting. Such bridges seem to be laid out at several places around the concourse. In those days, there was no elegant entrance via escalators and stairs from Bishopsgate. It was more like a ‘hole in the wall’ where pedestrians entered through a brick arch in the wall. They descended from the pavement by committing themselves to another lattice-girder footbridge before descending quite steep (and dirty) steps to concourse-level. A similar steep staircase is to be seen in the painting, towards the left.
While you were looking at the painting, did you notice the kiosk below the lattice-girder walkway. Built of wood – possibly mahogany – they were common on nearly all the London railway termini. Many were used by W H Smith for selling newspapers and paper-back books. London Bridge Station also had one which faced passengers entering the station from the bus-stands. If you want to see one today, the North Norfolk Railway acquired one and it is mounted on one of the platforms of Sheringham Station.
In the painting are to be seen the elegant pillars, supporting to glazed roof. Memories of the pillars and of the roof was that everything was a sooty black due to the smoke from the steam engines. Today the pillars are painted in bright colours and the glazing is clean, letting sunlight into the station. There are three steam engines in the painting. One in the centre is about to depart. On its right, a steam engine is just coming into the platform and on the far right can be seen a third. If an engine came into the terminus (as these engines have done) they were then at the back of the train as it left the station. In most cases a new steam engine was coupled up to the front of the train for the out-going journey. The engine, like these seen at the back of the train, were uncoupled. When the train was about to depart, the carriages were hauled by the engine at the front but the engine at the back also assisted by pushing and getting the train moving more quickly on its journey.
Something that has not changed is the number of people seen rushing around the concourse. If anything, the scene today is just as frantic, possibly even worse! It should be remembered that all the people in the painting had to get onto the concourse by walking from their offices in the streets around the station. Today there are in excess of 25,000 office workers in the Broadgate development mostly arriving and departing daily from this station. Their place of work is sometimes only five minutes walk from the train that brought them from East Anglia to Liverpool Street Station.