As we rush around with our ever so busy lives, many are almost blind to some of their surroundings. St Pancras is a classic example.
Some of the most overlooked buildings are railways stations. This is odd, as we visit them so frequently.
There are many fantastic examples to behold. Newcastle central with its curving roof, Glasgow central with its dark wooden interior. There are also many small stations that are loved and cared for by the local residents.
They are part of our rich heritage.
One of the stations that I visit regularly in normal times is London St Pancras international. During my time, I have seen changes beyond anything you could ever have imagined at this station. Like so many, it has a rich history and at times was nearly lost.
Opened in 1868 the station is considered to be one of the wonders of Victorian engineering. As well as this, the hotel which fronts the station is a wonderous architectural building and instantly recognisable.
The station today, is a magnificent building that stands as a visitor attraction in its own right and is so much more than a train station. It was not always this way.
The station was built by the Midland Railway Company (MRC) to be the terminal station of the Midland Railway which connects the Midlands cities of Sheffield, Leicester, Derby, Nottingham and many others to the capital city.
St Pancras is the younger relative of London Kings Cross by just 15 years. It opened in 1868.
Designed and built by William Henry Barlow (Chief Engineer), Rowland Mason Ordish (Station Layout) and George Gilbert Scott (Architect for the hotel and station accommodation) the station had an unusual feature that until recently, few people new about.
The station had to fit in a tight and complex space. In the days of its construction, railway lines could not enter the centre of London (which is why London has a circle of terminal stations around it) . There was also the Metropolitan railway below . Other challenges included the Regents canal, the little known River fleet and not mention the gas works.
If you visit the station now, you will note that the Midland mainline platforms (1-4) and the Eurostar platforms are significantly above the street level. This was the level of the original station. The shops and café’s below, occupy space which previously had a very different use.
One of the most striking and magnificent features of the station must surely be the roof of the main shed.
The roof is made up of 25 arched trusses each weighing 55 tons. At the time the station was constructed, these formed the largest single span roof in the world.
During the redevelopment, the station bed was cut to expose the area below. The station bed, was originally held in place by 688 cast iron columns so that the trains could pass over the regents canal and avoid an incline to the first station along the route; Kentish Town.
The area that was exposed and now forms the main concourse of the station beautifully highlights a number of these cast iron posts along with some ingenious modern engineering that allows for some movement and vibration of the main concrete slab.
This concourse area was primarily used as a barrel store used by the brewers from Burton on Trent. Indeed, the distance between the pillars was specifically chosen to match those of a number of beer barrels.
What many people do not realise, is that many of the materials used to construct the station were sourced from locations along the route. This was done to highlight the skills and products that were available in the areas served by the Midlands Railway route.
Much of the iron work was manufactured by the Butterley Company using minerals found in the Erewash valley. Many of the red bricks were supplied by a Nottingham brick company.
Inside the main shed, other than the stunning roof, the large clock is almost as recognisable as the station itself. However, this is not the original clock. The original was removed in 1968.
The St Pancras of the 80’s and 90’s was something of a depressing place. The building was stained from years of steam and diesel trains. The grime of the roof meant it was rarely a bright place. It was perhaps this appearance that led it to being used in the opening scenes of Porridge starring Ronnie Barker as Fletcher.
The stations future was in some serious doubt until the Government announced that St Pancras was the preferred terminal station for the channel tunnel.
Those who travelled through the station during the late 90’s and early 2000’s were to witness and amazing transformation. From a personal perspective, the landscape immediately around the station was transformed into a bewildering array of construction sites and concrete. It was amazing to see this slowly transform into what we have today. The old gas cylinders once synonymous with the final approach to a dark and dirty station have been transformed. Open public spaces and the features of the Regent canal all blend into a clean, modern area.
As the builders hoardings were slowly removed, we were introduced to the new St Pancras. A station truly fit for the international gateway that it is today. It is now most assuredly a fantastic place in which to arrive. No longer a station, but an attraction in its own right.
The station is now twinned with Grand Central station in New York which has an equally stunning architecture. They make a good pairing.
This weeks plea to my audience is so very simple.
Take a few moments in your life to slow down a little. Look around. Lift your gaze from the mobile phone in your hand and appreciate your surroundings.
In the UK, we are blessed with such glorious architecture. It surrounds us for so much of the time. Please take a little time to appreciate it and the history that it represents.
St Pancras is a truly fantastic example of what the human race can achieve!