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More and less than it seems
St Pancras Station
Member Name: caro
St Pancras Station
Date: 23/03/01, updated on 24/03/01 (249 review reads)
Advantages: Architecture, engineering, location
Disadvantages: Limited facilities
St Pancras Station is a study in contradictions. It overshadows its neighbour King’s Cross Station, but is far less busy. Its other neighbour, the modern British library, looks less incongruous than might be expected as it is built with bricks from the same source as those used for St Pancras. The building most people call St Pancras Station is in fact not the station at all. Currently the quietest of London’s mainline stations, the plans to make it the Eurostar terminus could make it one of the busiest.
An 1863 Act of Parliament allowed the Midland Railway to build a London terminus. Like Euston and King’s Cross stations, it is on the north side of the Euston Road. This is no coincidence: the road marked the southernmost point allowed for railways coming from the north.
The building overlooking the road is in fact St Pancras Chambers, formerly the Grand Midland Hotel, and not the station itself. This splendid fašade, built in brick, granite and stonework, was recently restored externally: cleared of grime, its predominance of red brick lightened with stone arches, gothic arches and decoration is very striking. The building seems to have everything: a tower, pillars, arches, spires, carving, ironwork, sweeping curves… A wonderful example of high Victorian Gothic architecture, it is a Grade 1 listed building.
The hotel was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, perhaps better known for the Albert Memorial. His 1865 design for a luxury 300-bedroom hotel was far grander than the 150-bedroom building the railway had originally intended, and cost a total of half a million pounds to construct. It is therefore unsurprising that the building was delayed due to financial problems, and was not completed until 1876 (the Eastern wing opened a little earlier, in 1873). One cost-saving measure was to have only a single statue on the building: look out for it on the clocktower, overlooking King’s Cross. r><br><br>
Once built, the Midland Grand was one of London’s top hotels, with high prices to match. It incorporated luxury features such as hydraulic lifts, and had electric lighting from the 1880s. The Ladies’ Smoking Room was somewhat scandalous when it opened, being the first place in London for women to smoke in public, and was considered the place to be seen.
However, the very quality of its construction made the hotel difficult to modernise. By the 1930s, it could not offer the facilities then expected of luxury hotels: it had very few bathrooms and no central heating. Profits fell, and the hotel was closed in 1935. The building was then used for offices until it failed its fire certificate, and has been unused since 1979.
Following the renovations to the exterior, which included extensive repairs to the roof, some of the rooms are open to the public on weekdays and during the annual Open House Weekend, which is usually in September. As well as the Ladies’ Smoking Room, these include the Dining Room, Coffee Lounge and Grand Staircase. The latter in particular is stunning, with painted decoration including ceiling paintings of the Virtues, recently restored. A canvas mural depicting a scene from ‘The Romance of the Rose’ also survives. The downstairs rooms have display cabinets with items ranging from chimneypots to room numbers, and panels with information and illustrations relating to the building’s history. The air of decayed grandeur has made the building’s interior popular for films, vidoes (most famously the Spice Girls) and fashion shoots, as well as exhibitions ranging from art and design to local history.
The proposals to make the station the main London terminus for Eurostar also affect St Pancras Chambers. It is proposed to turn the building into a luxury hotel once more, which would involve new building behind the fašade, and for the upper floors to b
e converted into apartments.
That attention-grabbing building makes it easy to forget the railway station behind. However, the station is itself exceptional. Designed by WH Barlow, the train shed roof was longest, widest and tallest in the world at time of its construction, representing a significant feat of Victorian engineering. Its height is 105 feet, its length 690 feet, and the width is 240 feet in a single span. The best way to extend this for the new Eurostar terminus has been a matter of considerable debate. The platforms are twenty feet above ground level, because the rails were raised to cross the Regents Canal.
The station now serves the East Midlands including Nottingham and Derby, and Sheffield. However, it is by no means busy compared to London’s other mainline stations. Unfortunately, at present the facilities in the station reflect this, but there are restaurants, bars and shops in the area (including several coffee shops in the British Library). If you have a long wait for your train, visit the local area or even take a little time to tour the interior of St Pancras Chambers.
Train information and booking: www.thetrainline.com
Visits during Open House Weekend (Septembers): www.londonopenhouse.org
Unofficial ‘virtual tour’ of St Pancras Chambers: www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/Launchpad/4375/stp ancras/stpanframe.htm
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