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BROADGATE

Ahhhhh yes. It's been quite a while since there has been any controversy, hasn't there? "Surely not, Eric. Perish the thought" - ed. So in a rather unusual departure from the norm says he, whistling innocently it's high time that we threw some into the pot.

Broadgate centre London England January 2007 copyright free photo royalty free photo

So on our way to the railway station to catch our train, Liz and I were stumbling down the road, just like the legendary Lady Whiskey but for different reasons of course, when we stumbled into this courtyard.

Now, I know London fairly well from endless periods having worked here, stayed here, visited here and so on. And my basic knowledge dates back to 1971 when as a spotty teenager I was let loose for a whole summer armed with nothing but a Kodak Instalmatic and a battered A-Z and walked everywhere there was to walk. And it dawned on me as I gazed all around that I hadn't a clue where I was.

Well, I had. I knew I was a stone's throw away from Liverpool Street Station, but nothing here looked familiar. Everything was totally new to be sure, but there's usually some kind of hint or clue as to what might have been here before so as to give you what the French might call a point de repère, but there was nothing at all.

Broadgate United Bank of Switzerland London England January 2007 copyright free photo royalty free photo

Looking at the building that you could see in the photo here, and noting that it was the offices of UBS, the United Bank of Switzerland, I knew the address straight away because I'd written to them here on numerous occasions when I was working for an American training company. Yes, this is Broadgate.

As soon as I said that, Liz recognised the name as she had written to a company here on several occasions. Sure enough, here it was.


What was still puzzling me was that I don't remember anything all about this place from my earlier perambulations so it set me thinking. And, just like Ray Davies and his video shop idea, suddenly the penny dropped. This was where Broad Street railway station used to be.
 
I'm not sure if I have some photos of the station anywhere from any of my other visits, so you'll have to take my word for just how magnificent it was. All arches and galleries and stairs. Not in my favourite Gothic Revival style but a splendid example of Victorian architecture nevertheless. And it was huge, too.
 
It was built as the terminus to a spur to the North London Railway that ran from east to west across the City, and eventually served places such as Richmond and Watford, and out to Poplar and other places to the east. Businessmen travelling from their homes in the periphery of London could thus catch trains straight into the City without having to alight at one of the more usual termini and change to the Underground.
 
So successful was it that in 1902 it was estimated that over 27 million passengers used the station, and during the rush hour more than one train per minute was either arriving or departing from here.
 
But the Golden Age of Broad Street was not to last. The expansion of the Underground network into the distant suburbs started the slow decline of the main line services, and heavy bomb damage during World War II accelerated the process. The railway out to Poplar was closed in 1944, and with repair and renovation of the fabric looking less and less likely, the decision was taken in 1950 to abandon the major part of the station.
 
Just two of the original nine platforms remained open and even they were threatened by the Beeching railway cuts in 1963. Only a fierce campaign by locals kept the line open, but that was not to be enough. A survey in 1985 showed that just 6,000 passengers per week were using the station, of which only 300 arrived in the morning rush hour. With Paul McCartney having given Broad Street his regards two years earlier, the last train left the station on 30 June 1986, and the curtain came down on railway operation along the whole spur line.
 
Demolition had already started in November 1985, and at the final closure the remainder was quickly swept away and the land used for offices.
 
As an aside, one of the ironies of life is that with an increasing emphasis on public transport in London these days, the spur line is about to be reopened with trains having to be rerouted by a new line and overbridge at Shoreditch High Street. It goes to show just how shortsighted are British transport planners.

 

And that isn't all, of course. The story becomes even worse.

In the early 1980s, the idea of the Channel Tunnel looked as if it would finally become reality, and the planners were designing a new high-speed rail route between London and mainland Europe. One of the problems facing the planners in the UK was that they wanted a station with easy access to the south-east of England of course, and also for the north of the UK for a possible future High-Speed cross-country link.
 
They argued that there was no feasible route across the Thames through the city of London Holborn Viaduct Lower Level station and the old Midland "widened lines" notwithstanding, presumably. A temporary solution was to spend a fortune on upgrading part of Waterloo station with work that would later be abandoned once they had resolved the north-south problem.
 
Let me read to you a description of Broad Street Station, written in 1970 by Harold Clunn. "There is nothing insignificant about the architecture of Broad Street Station. It is spacious, with nine platforms well above the street-level reached by 32 steps. A noticeable feature of many of the original stations on the line was generous size and sturdy design, and the surprising number and length of the platforms, which seemed to anticipate trains of exceptional length and capacity"
 
Now, you can start to see where I'm going with this idea. There's a railway line coming in from the east which can cross the river farther out and head off to Folkestone, like they are doing with the Ebbslfleet Tunnel. This line heads off to the west, eventually to places like Bristol, Cardiff, Birmingham and Plymouth. There's also a branch northwards in a Watford-like direction which can lead to Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle and Scotland. And there's a spur from this line that runs into a huge railway terminus right slap bang in the centre of the City of London with an Underground station just outside.
 
Just up the track a short way is the old Bishopsgate freight terminal which could have made an exellent storage facility for rolling stock. All they would have needed would have been to put a bridge over the Shoreditch High Street - but they are doing this anyway for the reopened line that I talk about above.
 
And so while one lot of British planners was busily casting around trying to find a solution to an unanswerable problem, another lot of British planners was busily demolishing the most suitable terminus on the entire railway network.
 
Work is now being undertaken to destroy another masterpiece of British railway engineering, St. Pancras Station to take the Eurostar trains. And in a final act of irony, the whole affair had taken so long to resolve that the high-speed network to the rest of the country was abandoned and they could have stayed at Waterloo anyway. British planners just don't have a clue.
 
But as I wrote elsewhere , in early 2010 the British Government finally announced its plans for a high-speed rail link to the North of England and logically, as you might expect, the trains are setting out from .... errrr .....EUSTON. You can easily imagine the scene - all these businessmen struggling from their Eurostar connection loaded up with coats, briefcases, laptops, suitcases and the like - and instead of them crossing two or three platforms for their high speed link to the North, they have to struggle for a mile or so along the Euston Road. What price Broad Street now, hey?
 
Have a look at some photos of the old station and tell me if you do not think that this would have made a magnificent London terminal for the Eurostar? And if they needed the office space, they could have built some impressive office blocks on stilts over the tracks and platforms. This isn't a new idea. The Grand Central Station did this in New York in the 1920s and Chicago was quick to follow. In Den Haag in the Netherlands, there are two office blocks that straddle the motorway there. Why couldnt they do that here?
 
And they can't say that the idea never entered their heads or that it was impossible to carry it out. After all, they are currently doing something like this to Liverpool Street Station with Broadgate Tower. When it's finished, Broadgate Tower will be the third tallest building in London at 550 feet (more-or-less exactly the same height as the Washington Monument in Washington D.C.).
 
It seems that it was office space that they needed. There's about 360,000 square metres (that's not far short of 4 million square feet) of office, retail and leisure space here, and it covers 13 hectares, or about 32 acres in real money. And almost all of it is in the hands of the British Land Company and John Ritblat who seems to have made it his own personal mission to own all of the Broadgate Redevelopment Area.
 
But Mr Ritblat and I are old acquaintances from the early 1980s and another long-forgotten period of my life when I moved not merely in mysterious ways but in more exalted company too, so I shall leave it at that.

 

broadgate ice skating rink London England January 2007 copyright free photo royalty free photo

Usually whenever there's anything new being built, recreational facilities are last on the list. And when they are considered, the selfish adults usually insist on facilities such as golf courses or tennis courts just for themselves, and so the poor kids have nowhere to go.
 
Have you seen all the nice grassy areas with signs saying things like "no ball games", because the neighbours fear that their windows might be broken by the odd stray ball? It costs as much for the signs as it would to enclose the area with a net.
 
And whenever there is a cutback in funding, the selfish adults make sure that it's always the kids' facilities that are the first to be culled. No wonder the kids have nowhere to go and nothing to do except wander the streets bored out of their minds. And of course the devil will always make work for idle hands. The best way to stop anyone getting up to mischief is to keep them too busy to even consider the possibility.
 
That's why I was delighted to see that in this square that they have built, they have at least installed some recreation facilities for the inhabitants (if there are any) of the area and that the kids having fun for a change.
 
Mind you, I did notice the sign that said "for hire charges, please telephone ...." so I suppose I shouldn't go letting myself be carried away with needless enthusiasm.

There's claimed to be a web cam of the ice rink but I've never had it working.


broadgate ice rink crazy silly funny weird sign London England January 2007 copyright free photo royalty free photo

Now of course, when you have a small mind like yours truly, you can see amusement and humour in so many situations. This was why when I saw a cleaner washing the pavement around here, I knew full well that what with Health and Safety Laws being what they are in the B liarite nanny state, there would be a certain sign not too far away.

And sure enough, I was dead right too. But I certainly never expected it to be in such a prominent position as this. It could well be that someone else with a warped sense of humour was wandering around Broadgate at the same time that I was.


Barry Flanagan Hare and Bell sculpture Broadgate London England January 2007 copyright free photo royalty free photo

And while we're on the subject of warped senses of humour, does anyone have any idea what this casting is supposed to represent? If you click on the image to enlarge it, you can see that it's some kind of surreal casting of something that I don't recognise.

Apparently, I'm the only one who doesn't recognise it. I'm told that it's a sculpture called "Hare and Bell" by a Welsh sculptor by the name of Barry Flanagan, born in Prestatyn in 1941 and now living in the Republic of Ireland.

He is said to be well-known for his hares that possess human attributes. There are dozens of them all over the place, including six along O'Connell Street in Dublin. Ah well!


Richard Serra Fulcrum 87 sculpture Broadgate London England January 2007 copyright free photo royalty free photo

So having seen Broadgate, we left via the exit into what I was convinced was Broad Street. But I'm not sure now though, and I'll have to go back to check.

On the way out, we passed some rusting sheets of metal that appeared to have fallen from a crane working on Broadgate Tower. My rather sarcastic remark that in the UK today some naive and self-important Government official would fall for this and pay several thousand quid for what he would be persuaded by some con artist to believe was an important work of art was met with stunned silence, followed by the retort "well, it IS a work of art".

Apparently, rather than being several sheets of metal flooring that has slipped from a crane, it's a 55 foot (17 metre) high sculpture called "Fulcrum 87", by the American minimalist artist Richard Serra.

Jesus!

Yes, born in San Francisco and a former student at Berkeley. I suppose that says it all, really.

His earliest work apparently was an abstract made by throwing molten lead at the wall of his studio. A thought of another medium and a blanket came straight away to my mind.

He once exhibited a 38-tonne ... er ... sculpture at the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, but somehow the exhibit was ... er ... mislaid. All I can say to that is that it had been mislaid anywhere near Stoke on Trent, the place to look for it would have been McGuinness's Scrapyard at Longport.

And I am not the only one who is contemptuous of Serra's interpretation of what is laughingly called "modern art" these days. William Gaddis, in his novel A Frolic of His Own recalls an occasion in the 1980s when Serra erected a rusting 3.5 metre wall around the Federal Plaza in New York. Workers claimed that it was restricting access to the building, so a judge called upon Serra to stick it up somewhere else. Serra refused, on the grounds that it was site-specific, and probably wouldn't fit anyway, so workers from the Federal authorities cut it up and weighed it in for scrap. And the best thing to do with it as well, if you ask me.

I can't believe that anyone would pay good money for anything like this. Not even John Ritblat. The art critic John Ruskin once criticised James McNeil Whister's painting "Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket" by saying that he "never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face". I wonder how much Serra asked for flinging a load of lead into the developers' faces?

Call himself an artist? I bet he struggles to even draw breath.

But the sad part about all of this is that I couldn't see a single exhibit or plaque anywhere that made any reference to Broadgate's time as once the most exciting railway station in London. There were still a few steam engines from the legendary Woodhams of Barry scrap yard awaiting a new owner in the early 1980s. The developers of Broadgate could quite easily have put something here as a symbol of Broad Street Station's past, instead of the garbage that passes for art these days. How about a nice glorious arch over the ice rink with a Stanier 9F on top?

But just like most British people these days, they are far too quick to forget their own humble origins in this brave new b liarite world. Britain is no longer a major world power but merely an insignificant offshore island. And as soon as British people remember this and return to the ideas that made them Great, then the better-off they will be when the inevitable world crisis hits as the oil runs out. The luxury items such as insurance, finance and tourism will be amongst the first to go, and it will be the survival of the fittest. And I don't see 21st Century office clerks doing very well at this (said he, a good two years before the collapse of the British Banking system. Who needs Mystic Meg anyway? I am a medium rare, especially when the stakes are high!).



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