Last Updated on December 29, 2021
London’s mainline stations reveal their splendour
Trains being my favourite mode of transport, coupled with a penchant for arriving early for any departure, has afforded me the good fortune of spending time in most of the railway stations featured in a newly published book, London’s Great Railway Stations (Frances Lincoln). Written by transport historian, Oliver Green, and photographed by Benjamin Graham, London’s Great Railway Stations traces the history and evolution of 13 mainline stations. At first, I thought this might be quite a niche book – one for trainspotters – but once I dipped into this large volume, I realised how much I have to learn about the Capital’s grand railway stations.
As Londoners are only too aware, due to lengthy traffic diversions, many of these railway stations have undergone extensive refurbishment over the past decades and have become not only places to catch a train but a destination in themselves. Often accompanied by magnificent hotels (St Pancras or Paddington) or extensive shopping and hospitality opportunities (King’s Cross or Liverpool Street), locals and visitors alike can spend happy hours whiling away an afternoon that encompasses a great meal, some upmarket shopping and then, perhaps, board a train for somewhere exotic, having first visited the Champagne bar.
Written and photographed during the pandemic, many of the photographs reveal cavernous waiting halls without a soul to be seen. This provides an unusual and haunting perspective, a somewhat post-apocalyptic view that travellers rarely get to see. With the ongoing pandemic constantly disrupting travel – many of us have not been to a railway station for going on two years – there is something especially poignant about paging through the book and recalling one’s own journeys that began or ended in these venues.
Many of the termini in London’s Great Railway Stations are world-famous, while others are less well known. Cannon Street and Fenchurch Street are now on my radar. London has more main-line stations than any other city in the world. Unlike London and Paris, many other international cities have one central station – think of Amsterdam, Milan and Berlin or many large cities in the US. This centralisation was mooted and rejected for London in 1846 which set the scene that we all benefit from today.
The history of each station is written in some detail and is fascinating to read. From historical records to art, architecture and memorials such as that of The Kinderstransport at Liverpool Street Station to happier memories of Paddington Bear at Paddington Station, there is a wealth of information to absorb from London’s Great Railway Stations. The spectacular photography showcases magnificent architectural features often overlooked by the casual station visitor as well as birds-eye views inaccessible to those without a drone. Many of the photographs of the edifices of the railway stations reveal a beauty to London streets that are not always experienced by locals pushing through crowds to catch their train. Paging through the book, I was encouraged to make dedicated visits to many of these venues to explore on a day out.
London’s Great Railway Stations will make a welcome gift and is a great book for a coffee table as it is lovely to look at, perfect to dip into and brimming with information. For train enthusiasts, those interested in London history and architecture, this is a perfect gift.
Railway travel is an especially wonderful way to slowly transition from departure to arrival. The railway stations, the history of which is detailed in London’s Great Railway Stations, are so beautiful that it is well worth pausing to properly appreciate the splendour of the surroundings before emerging into the less salubrious surroundings that often lie outside.
London’s Great Railway Stations is on sale for £35 RRP
Photographs all copyright of Benjamin Graham
For more about London, check out London Explored, also published by Frances Lincoln