A gateway to Europe, the finest of stations, but nearly demolished in the 1960’s. An amazing station, with plenty of history, a huge trainshed and a 5 star Hotel attached. The story of St Pancras is long and full of near disaster moments, but now it stands proud as the main Termini of Eurostar, and with it the first station many overseas travellers will see.
A Brief History
The Midland Railway was desperate to get away from sharing Kings Cross with the Great Northern Railway. So when a bill was passed in 1863 for a railway between London and Bedford, they jumped at the chance to construct a new station between Kings Cross and Euston. It would be known as St Pancras, after the local Parish.
William Barlow designed a radical trainshed for the station, 245ft wide, 689ft long and 100ft high, it was the biggest single span roof in the world for a time.
The void left by excavation works was used to store beer and other goods, and was known as ‘the vaults’. This is now a superb shopping arcade linking the station down its spine underneath the trainshed.
The hotel was built to rival the one next door at Kings Cross, and was a highly flamboyant affair, the architecture lending itself to Italian and Belgian influences. It is often seen as the face of St Pancras. However it never seemed to make a profit and was closed in 1935, only to later be used as crew sleeping quarters and offices for British Rail Catering Division.
A concerted effort by many historians and railway enthusiasts (including Sir John Betjeman) stopped the bulldozers destroying the station in the late 1960’s. This however didn’t stop the station from falling into dis-repair.
Amazingly though, a major lifeline was given when in 1994 the government approved St Pancras as the Terminus for the new Eurostar service. A major renovation project started in 2001, and by 2007 after restoration and modernisation (including a modern extension to the trainshed, if not in keeping with the original), St Pancras re opened fully.
A quick view of the current station
As you enter via Pancras Road, through a huge glass façade, the concourse opens out in front of you. To the left, escalators take you down to the underground station, while a lift to your right either takes you down also, but will take you up to the SouthEastern High Speed platforms.
Moving forward slightly, turning right past a coffee shop, ahead is a new pub restaurant and also 3 sets of escalators. Two sets take you up to the HighSpeed platforms, the middle set taking you down to the Underground.
Turning past the pub, moving forward past a retail outlet on your right and food to your left, another retail unit is in front of you. Turning right here will take you to lost property, toilets and the station office. Turning left and carrying down the corridor you will come back to the main concourse, where a departure and arrival board sits above other retail outlets.
Now turn right and go down towards another exit, this is the Midland Road entrance. To your right as you walk down is a ticketing centre, and at the end on your right, access to the Thameslink platforms, seen below.
Back up from Thameslink, go straight on into the old Vaults, which is now a great arcade full of mainly high end retailers, with a few pianos in the centre aisles for the public to use! This area also gives you the first real glimpse of the original trainshed, a glance upwards reveals its vast nature. A quarter of the way down on the left is the entrance to the Eurostar terminal.
Going up a set of stairs brings you to the Grand Terrace, and a statue of Sir John Betjeman. He is looking up, almost encouraging you to do so. The massive trainshed extends out from here and is a superb sight. Looking towards the back, the Hotel can be seen, as well as a clock and an art installation by Tracey Emin. This is part of a series of artworks commissioned by The Royal Academy.
Moving toward the Hotel, another statue is very prominent. This is called “The Meeting Place” and stands at 30ft high. Along its base are castings of various railway events.
Turn 180 degrees and the Eurostar platforms and trainshed are before you.
If you go to the other end of the trainshed on this level, you will come to the platforms for East Midland Trains. Going back downstairs, head back to the back of the arcade and through into the Underground station. Here you will find information, ticketing and entrance to the Circle, Hammersmith and City and Metropolitan lines.
Carry on down this corridor and on your right, you will see a dedication to the Kings Cross fire in 1987.
Following this corridor to the left will take you down to the entrances for the Victoria, Northern and Piccadilly lines. There is also a piano here, if you feel so inclined!
Carry on down the corridor and you will have come full circle if you take the escalators up to the main concourse.
A great station, made better by design, yet old charm can be found if you look for it. Speaking of which, as a little challenge to those who don’t know, try to find this gem in the Underground Stations network of entrances and exits!
Many thanks for reading, I’ll blog again soon.