Posted by: marymarthatours | September 18, 2011

The Euston Road Fire Station of 1902

Serendipity seems to come along regularly when the M&M’s travel. It joined us in Ballater, Scotland, on our 2009 Castles and Gardens of Scotland tour when we stayed at the same hotel as the Burgh of Langholm Pipe Band, winners of the first place Shield at Braemar Highland Gathering. And for this year’s Gardens of Ireland Tour, Serendipity will allow us to visit the amazing miniature Tara’s Palace, which moved earlier this year from Malahide Castle to Powerscourt.

But Serendipity doesn’t always wait for us to organize a group tour. Last fall, it greeted Martha and me on the corner of Euston Rd. and Eversholt St., in the Camden area of London, while we were traveling on our own.

We were on our way to the British Library and had just passed the Euston train station. Suddenly, Martha stopped and pointed to the building on the corner across the street. We were astounded. There stood a beautiful Arts and Crafts style building, looking every bit as though it had been designed by C.R. Macintosh, C.F.A. Voysey, or Baillie Scott.

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Crossing the street to look at the front of the building, we discovered it was a London Fire Station, and that it was built in 1902. Everything about it was gorgeous — the multiple angles of the windows, the front gate lights, and the bold A&C lettering above the doors.

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We just had to find out more about the architect. Unfortunately, the front door was locked and no one was there to answer the doorbell. Then, as we were about to give up on learning anything about the building, the fire truck returned from a run and pulled into the driveway. We asked a young firefighter about the history of the building. He directed us to the Captain who let us into the foyer. There we discovered that the building was designed by the London County Council (L.C.C.) Architect’s Department in 1901-1902.

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We’ve since learned that the architect for the project was Percy Erskine Nobbs (1875-1964), who was born in Scotland, but spent most of his career in Canada as the Chair of Architecture at McGill University in Montreal.

Nobbs received his M.A. in Arts from the University of Edinburgh in 1896. He went on to apprentice with Sir Robert Lorimer, one of the foremost Scottish architects of the early twentieth century, an advocate of the Arts and Crafts philosophy of William Morris. In 1900, Nobbs passed his exam to become an associate member of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and shortly afterward he joined the London County Council Architect’s Department. One of his first projects was the Euston Road Fire Station.

To Martha and me, it seemed obvious that Nobbs must have been influenced by another famous Scottish Architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928). The Euston Road Fire Station made us think immediately of Mackintosh’s Hill House.

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Hill House, Helensburgh, Scotland  (photo by Sue H., 2009 M&M tour)

We have become attuned to spotting architecture of the Arts and Crafts Movement wherever we travel, and this fire station is one of the finest examples of Mackintosh influence that we have seen outside of Scotland. The fact that the Euston Road Fire Station has survived and been lovingly restored and cared for is to be commended. “Finding” it along our path was a fabulous surprise, our own Serendipity.

 (by Mary)

For more on the life and work of Percy Nobbs, see Susan Wagg’s Percy Erskine Nobbs: Architect, Artist, Craftsman (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1982)

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