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The Station of the Rue de la Loi, revisited


A few years ago, I did some research into the Gare de la Rue de la Loi / Station Wetstraat, which was the precursor of the current Brussels Schuman railway station. It was opened in May 1865, nine years after the track had been laid between Bruxelles-Nord / Brussel-Noord and the station we now know as Bruxelles-Luxembourg / Brussel-Luxemburg, and closed in 1922. (The Schuman metro station opened in 1966, and the mainline trains stopped there again from 1969.) In the seven years since I last wrote about it, a couple more resources have become available online. One of them is the lovely picture above, showing an ornate wooden station, built in 1879 in advance of the Cinquantenaire celebrations (public domain antique postcard from Wikimedia). The picture was supposedly taken in about 1900 but I personally would place it a bit earlier from the style of clothes and vehicles.

The station was at the corner of Boulevard Charlemagne and the Rue de la Loi. The cart on the left is coming out of Charlemagne, the cart in the middle is turning the corner, and the cart whose rear is visible on the right is trundling up the last bit of the Rue de la Loi before reaching the Rond Point (then called the Rond Point de la Rue de la Loi, due to Robert Schuman not yet being on the scene). The photographer is standing in a spot where today he or she would be instantly mown down by traffic emerging from the tunnel.

The large building to the right of the station is the original Berlaymont convent and school, where the Augustinian nuns had built themselves a new home in 1864, after being displaced by the construction of the Palais de Justice downtown. They were to stay for almost exactly a hundred years until being displaced again in 1963, this time in favour of the new European institutions.

It is a shame that we now have the Hellmouth-like opening to the underworld of Brussels Schuman, in place of the rather charming wooden station of the Rue de la Loi / Wetstraat, but realistically the original wooden structure could never have survived to the present day. It would have been almost exactly where the temporary SNCB/NMBS ticket office was during the station rebuilding which finished last year.

The Brussels Architectural Heritage Inventory website has more information about the history of Boulevard Charlemagne, including this rather nice (if faded) map with North at the left, showing also Rue Saint-Quentin, the eastern end of Rue Charles Martel (then "Rue Nouvelle"), part of Rue Stevin and the end of Rue Joseph II.


If you check the lower right hand corner, it become clear that there were two flights of stairs trailing down to the level of the railway track behind the station, which was entirely on the Berlaymont side of the road - as is also clear from the picture above. The current site of Kitty O'Shea's was owned by a Mr. Massart. (The Greek restaurant across the road was a police station.)


So, as you cross the road in the winter drizzle, running for cover under the 1960's building that has usurped both the location and the name of the Sisters of Berlaymont, spare a thought for the optimists of 137 years ago who came out to the nifty new wooden station as part of their Cinquantenaire excursion. We will be part of someone else's history project too someday.

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