L.S. Lowry’s Station Approach, Manchester, 1960. Estimate £2,000,000 – 3,000,000.

LONDON - Kings Cross, Fenchurch Street, Liverpool Street and Marylebone. These, my favourite properties on a British Monopoly board, highlight just how much a part of British culture the railway station has become. From the mass expansion of the rail network in the early 19th Century, beautifully ornate red-bricked buildings popped up all over the country, from the smallest villages of the most rural counties, to the industrial, smog-filled cities that became the backbone of the British Empire. They became, as they still are today, hot spots of industry and activity, and form some of the most expressive and important examples of the development and advancement of British architecture, seen as recently as McAslan’s stunning redevelopment of London’s Kings Cross. Yet their popularity has not always been as strong as it is today, with the 1960s being a particularly low point.

Exchange Station, Manchester, circa 1900. Photograph courtesy Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council.

In the decade that brought us London’s Barbican (love it or hate it), and the razing of Euston Station’s Dorich Arch, plans were set in motion to make Sir George Gilbert Scott’s triumph to Victorian Gothic architecture, St Pancras station, the next on the hit list. Thankfully, due in large part to the public outcry sparked by the poet laureate John Betjeman, the building was saved, and remains one of the capital’s most impressive public buildings. Whilst this is a triumph for London, less care was awarded to cities outside of the capital, and Manchester in particular suffered great architectural losses during this period. Of these hundreds of demolitions Exchange Station, Manchester, was one of the most notable and in turn, devastating losses. Today the site is little more than a rather unimpressive tarmacked car park, but the site once housed one of Manchester’s largest and most impressive stations, providing transport links to London’s Euston, Liverpool Lime Street, Huddersfield, Leeds City, Hull Paragon and Newcastle Central.

Exchange Station, Manchester, circa 1955. Photograph courtesy Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council.

Although now lost, the station was immortalised in Station Approach, Manchester, by one of the city’s most famous locals, L.S. Lowry in 1960, a painting that we’re delighted to be offering for sale as part of our upcoming Modern & Post-War British Art sale. So important a subject for the artist that upon his election as an associate member of the Royal Academy he gifted them a smaller, less worked version of the composition, which remains in their collection to this day. A familiar site for the artist from a young age, the station was bombed in the Christmas Manchester Blitz of 1940, leading to the façade being rebuilt. However in 1969 the station was closed, and later demolished. There is no use in trying to rewrite the wrongs of the past, and changing tastes in architecture are always going to occur (a quick glimpse of any city skyline will show this), but the present painting, unseen for a generation, stands as a fascinating time capsule, a brief glimpse into a cityscape that whilst long gone, bears striking similarities to today. If Lowry were alive today you get the idea that he would love the push and shove of 5.15 at Oxford Circus.

L.S. Lowry with Station Approach (1962, Royal Academy of Arts Collection, London.