Looking at Buildings

Building Types


20th Century Stations

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Lancashire and, Yorkshire Railway, system map

The railway network reached its greatest extent in the early 20th century. It was organized by that time into some two dozen regional companies such as the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway, whose network is illustrated on the tile map. In 1923 these were grouped in turn into four large private concerns (Great Western Railway; London & North Eastern Railway; London, Midland & Scottish Railway: Southern Railway).

Few new railways were being built by that time, nor was there much money spare for rebuilding older stations completely. The new companies did however attempt to impose some standardization on much of their building work. For instance, the London, Midland & Scottish Railway developed platform canopies that exploited the properties of reinforcedGlossary Term concreteGlossary Term to allow wide and graceful unobstructed spans.

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London, Bounds Green Underground Station

In and around London the story was somewhat different. The economic recession was less harsh, and new stations and lines were required to serve the expanding commuter hinterland. The most adventurous of these new buildings were the Underground stations by Charles Holden, which were amongst the earliest public buildings in Britain in a Modernist idiom. Most of them feature tall ticket halls, with simplified concreteGlossary Term cornices above large glazed areas and yellow brick facing, and strong vertical accents made by ventilation towers or 'sky signs'. The example shown dates from 1932-3.

Less well known are the stations built for the Southern Railway, which was busy electrifying its London suburban services on which much of its income depended. It followed the Underground in adopting a stripped, Modernist-inspired style, for instance at the rebuilt Surbiton station of 1937-8.

Although the four big private companies were nationalized as British Railways in 1948, their old identities survived within England as separate regions each with their own architects, which encouraged a variety of approaches to station design.

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Harlow Town Station

Harlow Town station, which serves one of the New Towns established to relieve pressure on London, has a glass-fronted booking hall with a great shelf-like entrance canopy linked to a broad footbridge or concourse over the platforms. The tower-like blocks rising above it housed lift machinery for handing the small goods such as parcels, an important tributary to railway traffic when the station was built (1959-60).

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Manchester, Oxford Road Station
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Birmingham, New Street Station

Oxford Road station in Manchester, rebuilt when the Cheshire suburban lines were electrified in 1960, was more experimental. Three conoidal shells of laminated timber make up the station building, a method chosen because the viaduct on which the lines ran could not take heavy loads. Though modest in scale, it catches something of the poetry of the great Victorian train sheds.

Other large stations were subsumed into rebuilding schemes affecting larger areas of town or city centres, especially after the disappearance of steam enginesGlossary Term in the 1960s removed the need for large volumes of ventilation space over the tracks. That at Birmingham New Street (1964-71) is notorious for relegating passengers to a gloomy cavern of platforms beneath a concreteGlossary Term slab supporting shops, offices and a car park.

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London, Liverpool Street Station
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London, Eurostar Terminal, Waterloo Station

A more enlightened approach was taken at Liverpool Street in London in 1985-91. The Great Eastern Railway train shed was extended to the original design of 1873-5, allowing the concourse to be enlarged and a galleryGlossary Term of shops inserted. Offices were built alongside and on a concreteGlossary Term raft over the cutting beyond, on the so-called 'air rights' principle, linked with further new blocks and open spaces on redundant railway land to one side.

For the London terminus of the Eurostar services through the Channel Tunnel, something recalling the great Victorian train sheds was provided in 1991-4 by Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners. Its irregularly curving enclosure is an early instance of the freedom made possible by computerized design processes. The form recalls the great stations of Victorian times, but the strict streaming of arriving and departing passengers and their luggage has closerGlossary Term affinities with airport planning. This is managed within the large concreteGlossary Term substructure, where services, shops and customs are incorporated.



A brick cut to complete a bond.


Composition of cement (calcined lime and clay), aggregate (small stones and rock chippings), sand and water. It can be poured into formwork or shuttering (temporary framing of timber or metal) on site (in-situ concrete) or pre-cast as components before construction. Reinforced: incorporating steel rods to take the tensile force. Pre-stressed: with tensioned steel rods. Finishes include the impression of boards left by formwork (board-marked or shuttered), and texturing with steel brushes (brushed or bush-hammered), picks or hammers (pick-hammered or hammer-dressed).


A long room or passage; an upper storey above the aisles of a church, looking through arches to the nave; a balcony or mezzanine overlooking the main interior space of a building; or an external walkway.


Of concrete: incorporating steel rods to take the tensile force.

Steam engines

Types include: Atmospheric: worked by the vacuum created when low-pressure steam is condensed in the cylinder, as developed by Thomas Newcomen (1663-1729). Beam engine: with a large pivoted beam moving in an oscillating fashion by the flywheel. It may drive a flywheel or be non-rotative. Watt and Cornish: single-cylinder; compound: two cylinders; triple expansion: three cylinders.