Euston station holds an important place in my life. We go back a long way. My London arrival and my London departure. Memories of greeting friends and of goodbyes. Awkwardly trying to spot someone I’ve arranged to meet for the first time among a sea of strangers. Hours spent waiting or frantically racing to catch my train with seconds to spare. I’ve even endured a few long nights there.
I’ve lost count of the times I have stood in the impatient crowd gathered on its concourse. We are all heading North and we all watching and waiting. The announcement of the platform number acts as a starting pistol as the crowd suddenly springs into life and sprints off, one way or the other. We are always kept in suspense. Do I take a chance and stand on the right or on the left? Or do I edge my bets and stay in middle? Where else does this ritual take place? This is Euston.
As quickly as the crowd disappears a new one gathers. But there is a moment, perhaps a few seconds, when the space is empty. Deep in this sea of travellers, right in the thick of it, you will discover a special traveller. Unconcerned by the endless ebb and flow, stands or rather kneels, a sailor from another age. An adventurer. Captain Matthew Flinders, captured in time and immortalized in bronze by Mark Richards. www.markrichards.eu
Alongside him sits his faithful companion Trim, the ship’s cat. The popularity of Trim is clear to see in the shiny bronze of a thousand hands giving him a stroke as they wait for their train. Mark tells the story of the making of the statue at flindersstatue.blogspot.co.uk
It is an unusual site for a statue and a long way from the grandeur of Australia House where it was officially unveiled by Prince William. Immediately after the dignitaries had left and the caterers were busy clearing away the cutlery and glasses, the sculpture was taken down and re-erected in Euston. The contrast is stunning. After the smart suited, invitation only event in the elegant ballroom, Flinders looks almost lost among the station crowds.
People seem unsure as to how to behave towards it. Respect, admire or sit on it to eat a last minute snack. Whether intended or not this is an interactive work, calmly accepting all that’s thrown at it.
Now I look forward to catching up with Flinders every time I am travelling home.
Who is Matthew Flinders? If you are Australian you will know. Or if you know your naval history. For the rest of us, he is a British explorer, credited with the name for Australia thus making him a hero down under. The night before the unveiling I attended a lecture in Australia House on the life of Flinders, enthusiastically delivered to knowledgeable audience by a true expert who had recently published a biography.
The statue remained covered by a silk cloth beside the speaker as we learned about our hero and discovered the reason why he is so big in Australia. After the talk, we chatted with people who had travelled across the world to be there for the celebration of this legendary figure and when I returned in the morning the room was full of familiar faces, excited with the anticipation of seeing their hero unveiled. That explains the lavish celebration in Australia House. You step off the Strand into another far away continent. A taste of Australia without the inconvenience of the very long flight.
But why Euston? I asked that question to the station master on a site visit.
“They say he’s buried under platform 12 ” he replied. He went on to explain that Euston Road was built on top of a huge cemetery. Excavations have dug up many remains as London evolved and maintained its infrastructure. Kings Cross stands on paupers graves. As you progress up towards Euston the graves of wealthier, “better to do” folk. I sensed a hint of pride in the voice of the Euston station master as he delivered his history lesson.
The statue was funded by the sale of maquettes and the people’s admiration for Captain Flinders and Mark’s vision was demonstrated by the numbers sold. Enough was raised for a second casting, which is soon departing from the foundry in Wales on its long journey to Australia. The bronze will be sited at the Flinders University in Adelaide, named after the explorer. The university crest contains an image of his aptly named ship “Investigator”, which carried him on his adventures across the world.
Our hero returns, not home but to the place where he belongs.