A Question of Preservation At Tottenham Court Road


Tfl’s announcement yesterday that the works at Tottenham Court Road were now entering a more labour-filled stage seems to have once again focused attention on the station’s internal decoration.

As travellers who have visited the station will know, TCR is home to one of the Underground’s greatest treasures – the Paolozzi murals.

We have looked in some detail at the murals before. Created by Eduardo Paolozzi, a Scotsman born to Italian parents, they represent some of his finest work. When the redevelopment of the station was first mooted, therefore, one of the key questions was just how the changes to the station would affect the murals.

At the time, TfL indicated that whilst the murals would be affected, this would be kept to a minimum. Thus with suggestions appearing in some quarters that the station may be subjected to a cultural ransacking, this seemed an appropriate time to revisit the topic.

So far, it appears that the situation now is the same as it was back in February 2009. TfL’s own comment on the works was as follows:

As part of the upgrade of the station, major engineering works are required in the platform tunnels to strengthen them before new passageways are dug. This will mean that some sections of existing mosaic tiles will have to be carefully removed and reinstated once the tunnelling work is finished. Where small sections do have to be permanently removed from their current location, they will be preserved with the aim of being used elsewhere on the station in the future.

They also confirmed that the same principle extends to the upper areas – removals where necessary with restoration where required. As in the original plan, restoration is intended to be sympathetic, and the test pattern commissioned when work commenced seems to indicate that this will be the case.

It is, of course, worth remembering that “small sections” in this instance will extend in some cases to full panels (where new passenger access tunnels need to be sited), but the suggestion that these may feature in some way at the station in the future is welcome news. There is form for this on the Underground – when Wood Lane Central Line station was demolished in 2003, the c1913 mosaic roundel there was not only preserved but restored, and is now a welcome sight for those alighting westbound at the new Hammersmith and City line station of the same name.

The roundel befre and during its restoration, courtesy LTM and London Underground

Ultimately, it is inevitable that some damage – whether through careless contracting or due to the difficulties of removing the murals intact – will occur. Unfortunately the scale of the changes at the station make this unavoidable.

As long as the work is carefully monitored, however, it seems likely that Paolozzi’s legacy should survive reasonably intact. The balance between preservation and progress is always a tricky one on the Underground, but luckily the days when it was only the second, not the first of those goals, that was considered important still seem well behind us.

Written by John Bull
John Bull is the Editor of London Reconnections. A transport journalist and historian, his writing often focuses on the political or strategic challenges facing London's transport network and beyond.