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 original was designed 1868-76 by George Gilbert Scott.
Behind The Scenes
As part of Open House Weekend 2019, I went on a tour past the public parts of St Pancras International.
The main reason for the tour was a chance to have a look inside the clock tower apartment, a private home which is one of 67 flats managed by the hotel.
On the way up there was an unexpected treat…
Of course, nothing can compete with the Grand Staircase we saw earlier, but the private stairs (formerly used by the hotel staff) had a beauty of its own.
Plus, on the way up we got a new view across the station concourse, behind the dent clock.
Along the corridors for the apartments you get a sense of the old hotel. When it opened in 1873 it was just before the en-suite trend and so with 500 bedrooms and only 8 bathrooms, it was doomed to be outdated almost immediately!
Clock Tower Apartment
Finally we get a peek inside the clock tower apartment.
Sitting just under the clock face, the clock tower is a double height sitting room within the flat.
Considering you’re in the heart of busy Kings Cross the flat was very calm and quiet, I especially loved all the books above our eyeline and it probably helps that there are no bells, they were never part of the original plan and so weren’t installed!
The clock tower used to be available to rent on Airbnb but sadly is no longer listed. For now the only way to get a look inside is part of Open House Weekend.
So hopefully this gave you a bit of a reason to pop in St Pancras, even if you’re not catching a train!