While I was at the National Railway Museum last week, looking at the wonderful George Earl paintings, I also reminded myself of the splendour of Terence Cuneo’s giant view of London Waterloo station, painted in 1967.
It’s quite a feat. Measuring 20 feet by 10 feet, it is Cuneo’s largest painting and was commissioned by the Science Museum for its then-new Land Transport gallery. Cuneo painted it in the gallery itself, surrounded by locomotives, cars and bikes all shrouded in protective sheeting prior to the opening.
The view is the same as that taken by artist Helen McKie for her pair of paintings of the station at war and at peace, made for publicity posters in 1948, also in the museum collections.
Across all these railway station views, by Earl, Cuneo, McKie and others, the detail is remarkable and makes them really valuable not just to art-lovers and railway enthusiasts but to historians keen to learn more about everyday life.
Waterloo station has changed quite a bit since then. Now electric trains ply the platforms. The Eurostar terminal has come and gone (it’s moved to St Pancras – now there’s a station to explore), and passengers can now speed directly to the thriving Docklands and east London on the Jubilee Line extension underground.
But some things stay the same. The station clock still keeps time, suspended over the concourse, favoured meeting point in the days before mobile phones replaced ‘when and where’ with ‘text me when you’re near’…