Retracing my steps

I am a great fan of the London Open House weekend that is held every September. I have missed only one of the last ten years, and that was due to a commitment that I just couldn’t get out of. This year more than 750 buildings opened their doors, free of charge, to all comers. I just can’t resist the opportunity that this offers to get into places not normally accessible and satisfy the urge to be nosey that most of us have – well I certainly do.

This year when the Open House London 2012 guide arrived in August, I was pleased to see that the list of open buildings included the premises of architects Jestico and Whiles (or Jestico + Whiles as they write it) at 1 Cobourg Street. This company has been a regular participant in Open House over recent years, but I hadn’t got around to a visit. This year it went straight onto my itinerary, as it is one of the buildings in the area around Euston Station that is at risk from the HS2 proposals and which I mentioned in my blog Further down the road (posted 22 Jul 2012). The opportunity to see inside this building and, at the same time, revisit the area, which I had taken a liking to during my previous visit in April, was too good to miss.

Exterior of 1 Cobourg Street

On arrival at the building I was greeted by a young lady who handed me a leaflet describing the conversion that had been carried out in 1998. I said that it was a pity that the building was under threat from HS2 and she gave a resigned shrug in response. The leaflet that she had given me contained the following description of the building and its past:

“1 Cobourg Street is the only surviving building from the original Euston Station. Originally built in the late 19th century as a warehouse and stables for delivery drays, it subsequently served as an electricity mains sub-station and then as Collector’s Corner, an outlet for the sale of redundant railway stock and memorabilia. In 1997 Railtrack opted to move Collector’s Corner to York, and the building was bought by nearby architects Jestico + Whiles.

“The original building is a muscular industrial structure with riveted steel beams, brick-vaulted ceilings, steel windows and large timber King-post roof trusses. These trusses have been lifted to form a new clerestory floor, glazed all round to take advantage of panoramic views across Camden.

“1 Cobourg Street has been converted to provide workspace for Jestico + Whiles at ground and first floor levels, and apartments above.”

It sounds to me that the apartments, with their ”clerestory” windows and roof trusses would be very fascinating to anyone who, like me, is interested in architecture, but unfortunately these were not included in the Open House access. However, the two office floors, which were accessible, give a flavour of the conversion work that has been done by this award-winning architecture and interior design practice.

Ground floor of Jestico + Whiles offices

First floor of Jestico + Whiles offices

Some further information on the history of the site and the conversion by Jestico and Whiles has been provided to me by Peter Darley, the Secretary of the Camden Railway Heritage Trust:

“At the peak, therefore, some 700-800 horses worked in the Camden Goods Depot and sidings moving goods to and from the yard and shunting railway wagons. This is a higher figure than has been accepted hitherto. When comparing this figure with those of other major goods yards, it should be recalled that other major yards combined passenger and goods services. The L&NWR had its passenger operations at Euston and Broad Street. Carriage of parcels and luggage to and from the station had been placed in the hands of Pickfords and other carriage agents, and these agents would have stabled the many horses required for these services.

“One exception to this policy of contracting with agents is evident at Coburg Street, close to Euston Station. The L&NWR built stables between here and in Cardington Street around 1895 for the purpose of parcel delivery. It is estimated that the three stable ranges housed some 150 horses. Two stable ranges were demolished in October 1985. The No. 1 Coburg Street range of the Cardington Street stables has survived, and has been sympathetically converted into an architect’s offices. An extra floor for flats was built above, and the original oak roof trusses were reused. The ground floor retains its original paving and drains. The first and second floors are supported on joists with transverse beams and typical brick jack-arch infill. The horse ramp is an unusual structure, forming an approximate ellipse in plan, enclosed entirely in a brick external wall that rises to the top floor.”

The horse ramp to which Peter refers can be seen in my photograph of the exterior of the building; it is the tower, painted salmon pink, which juts from the front façade.

I think that we are fortunate that this remaining example of a fascinating part of Camden’s history has found a new use, which has enabled its essential features to be preserved. It is a tragedy that the whole building will be lost if the plans go ahead to expand Euston Station to accommodate HS2.

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