26 September 2023

Modern design at
Euston seeks to make
heraldry relevant to
art and tastes today

Art and design on the London Underground has always caught my eye and ear (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Euston Station was the first mainline and underground station in London that I got to know in my teens and early 20s. In a typical year, more than 40 million journeys start or end at this station.

Back in the late 1960s and the 1970s, this was the station I arrived at in London from Lichfield or after taking the ferry from Dublin. In my teens, I hitch-hiked most of the time, and train travel was a luxury until I was in my 20s. By then, Euston had become familiar and was convenient. These days, this is the station I arrive at on trains from Milton Keynes.

Euston Station opened in May 1907 as part of the City and South London Railway’s extension from Angel Station. The architect Sidney Smith designed the entrance at Euston station.

A few months later, the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway opened its own Euston Station, with a surface structure designed by the architect Leslie Green. Despite having separate entrances, the two stations shared an underground ticket hall.

The station was closed 100 years ago, from 1922 to 1924, to allow tunnels to be enlarged in preparation for both branches of the Northern Line joining at Camden.

The station was rebuilt in the mid-1960s, when the surface mainline station was built. Most of the Underground work was designed to accommodate the Victoria line, which began calling at the station in 1968, just as I was about to get know the station.

Tom Eckersley’s designs and illustrations on the Victoria line platforms recall the Euston Arch (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Art and design on the Underground have always caught my eye and ear, from the buskers to Tom Eckersley’s designs and illustrations on the Victoria line platforms in Euston of the Euston Arch that once stood as the gateway to the mainline station. The Doric Arch is also commemorated in the name of a pub between the station and Euston Square.

Going back to my teens, I have long had an interest in heraldry, and I remain curious about the abstract graphic patterns that I see regularly on the Northern Line (Charing Cross branch) platforms in Euston. They were created in the 1980s by the designers David Hamilton and Robin Cooper to represent the coat of arms of the Dukes of Grafton, whose family home is at Euston Hall in Sffolk. Grafton Regis, the village in the south Northamptonshire that gives its name to the title of the Dukes of Grafton, is about 13 km south of Northampton and 14 km north of Milton Keynes.

To many, heraldry must seem anachronistic, even feudal, if not irrelevant. Some of the conventions in heraldry are misogynist and crassly classist and need updating and modernisation. But the inspirational adaptations of the Euston or Grafton arms by Hamilton and Cooper in Euston Station show heraldry can still inform art and design.

David Hamilton and Robin Cooper created the abstract graphic patterns on the Northern Line platforms in Euston Station (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The design in Euston Station is based on the coat of arms of Henry FitzRoy (1663-1690), 1st Earl of Euston, an illegitimate son of King Charles II and his mistress Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland.

The Duke of Grafton’s shield shows the Royal Stuart arms, with supporters, based on the royal lion and the Tudor greyhound. Across the shield is a baton sinister denoting illegitimate birth. The Earl of Euston was later given the title of Duke of Grafton and his coat-of-arms, seen on the platforms in Euston Station, is still used by his descendants.

The land on which the main line station is the situated was the property of the FitzRoy family. The family name and titles associated with it are to be found in the names of streets and squares in the surrounding area, including Euston Road, Euston Street, Euston Square, Cleveland Street, Fitzroy Square, Fitzroy Street and Grafton Street.

Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Grafton, was only 27 when he died in Ireland on 9 October 1690 of a wound received at the storming of Cork while leading William's forces, less than three months after the Battle of the Boyne.

His son, Charles FitzRoy (1683-1757), 2nd Duke of Grafton, was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1721 to 1724, and gave his name to Grafton Street and Duke Street in Dublin.

The V6 Grafton Street is a major local road in Milton Keynes key to the layout and urban form of the 'new city'. It starts beside Wolverton railway station in the north-west of Milton Keynes, between Wolverton and New Bradwell, and extends as far as Denbigh, where it provides access to the Stadium:mk and where it terminates in a roundabout with the H10 Bletcham Way, V4 Watling Street and Denbigh Road.

The Dukes of Grafton have given their names to Grafton Street in Dublin and in Milton Keynes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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