Secrets of St Pancras International
There’s something really exciting about train stations. Whether that’s because you’re a bit of a geek like me, or because you’re anticipating a journey, St Pancras International is worth visiting (even without a ticket!)
A Bit of History
St Pancras Station opened in 1868, only 4 years after William Barlow (Chief Engineer of the Midland Railway) set out his plans.
A wonder when it was finished, today the train shed is still the largest single space enclosed space in the world.
It was 8 years after the train station that the west wing of the Midland Grand Hotel was completed, giving Euston Road a fairytale castle.
It lasted as a hotel until 1935 when it became unprofitable. It was converted into office for the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, becoming known as St Pancras Chambers.
Between 1966 the British Railways Board proposed a plan to combine Kings Cross and St Pancras, this would’ve meant demolishing the existing stations.
Thankfully a campaign was launched by Sir John Betjeman, helped by the research of Jack Simmons.
On 2 November 1967 their work paid off, the train shed and St Pancras Chambers were listed Grade I by Historic England. We can enjoy the view of these beautiful spaces in perpetuity!
Today this endearing statue is placed on the upper level of St Pancras International. Betjeman looks up in awe, as if for the first time, at the remarkable space before him.
Apparently the sculpture by Martin Jennings is accurate, even down to the fact that Betjeman was scruffy, often missing buttons on clothes and rushing about with his laces untied!
The Meeting Place
That’s not the only sculpture in St Pancras though, there’s another work by Paul Day. ‘The Meeting Place’ was unveiled in 2007 to celebrate the reopening of the station.
Intended to great European arrivals into London at St Pancras International, the brief was that the sculpture must be ‘romantic, democratic and as iconic as the Statue of Liberty’ (just a small ask then!)
Although it’s an impressive landmark, my favourite part of the sculpture is the detailed frieze around the base, showing the mundane and – mostly – unpleasant features of public transport!
Inside the hotel lobby (more on that shortly) you can see a couple of maquettes of Day’s sculptures in this glass case.
Terrace Wires Artwork
Close to Paul Day’s sculpture is a revolving display of contemporary art. Currently it’s a hot pink neon sculpture by Tracy Emin.
The new artwork uses her statement handwriting in light, and is the largest she’s ever completed. Emin – who isn’t usually a sentimental sort – seems to have been swept away with the romance of the station;
“I cannot think of anything more romantic than being met by someone I love at a train station and as they put their arms around me, I hear them say ‘I want my time with you’.”
The Show Stopper
And if you’re in St Pancras International Station, it’s really only polite to pop your head into the hotel to see the Grand Stairs…
Although refurbished, the originals were designed 1868-76 by George Gilbert Scott.
So hopefully this gave you a bit of a reason to pop in St Pancras, even if you’re not catching a train!