St Pancras Station

Celebrating 150 years with images from the RIBA Collections

When the 10.05 pm Leeds – St Pancras overnight mail train arrived into London at 4.20 am on 1 October 1868 it went largely unnoticed but nevertheless marked the opening of the capital’s latest but still unfinished railway terminus: St Pancras station. There was no inaugural opening ceremony for the station described by the Illustrated London News (3 October 1868) as “the largest in the world” and which was not completed until the following spring as recorded in this engraving from the Building News.

It was built by the Midland Railway (MR) to fulfil its ambitions of having its own route into London to carry increasing numbers of passengers as well as coal, iron and beer from Burton-on-Trent’s breweries. The Midland’s extension south from Bedford meant that it no longer had to pay for “running powers” to use the London and North Western Railway or Great Northern Railway’s routes into Euston or King’s Cross. This then presented an opportunity for the MR to assert its supremacy over its London-based rivals by building the most magnificent of London’s termini along with George Gilbert Scott’s Gothic Revival Midland Grand Hotel which was only fully completed in 1876.

The consulting civil engineer for the MR’s line southwards from Bedford was William Henry Barlow. Like the approach to neighbouring King’s Cross station the tracks had to cross Regent’s Canal but Barlow chose to bridge over rather than tunnel under the canal hence giving St Pancras its elevated position. This in turn provided a large basement area under the station which rather than filling in Barlow decided to exploit by supporting the station on cast iron girders and 720 columns in the form of a grid based on the dimensions of Burton brewery warehouses, i.e. the length of a beer barrel meaning that the train loads of beer could be easily stored at St Pancras.

“Built on beer” above this undercroft is the station and its magnificent, single span, slightly pointed arched train shed designed by Barlow assisted by Rowland Mason Ordish. The roof of the undercroft also serves as the cross-ties for the train shed constructed from 25 ribs dramatically springing from platform level. At 689 feet long, 240’ wide and 100’ high it was in 1868 the largest single-span building in the world.

In 1923 the MR was absorbed into the London Midland & Scottish Railway and with Euston becoming their principal London terminus for trains for the north leaning to a gradual decline of St Pancras and closure of the Midland Grand Hotel in 1935 which was converted into offices. In 1949 a concerned John Betjeman wrote, “I have no doubt that British Railways will do away with St Pancras altogether. It is too beautiful and romantic to survive. It is not of this age.” Despite threats of demolition and conversion both station and hotel survived becoming Grade 1 listed in 1967 although with no realistic solution as how best to utilize them, not least the hotel. Perhaps, ironically, the destruction of Euston station in the early 1960s helped galvanise the campaign to save St Pancras.

150 years on St Pancras, now known as St Pancras International has now been restored and transformed into Britain’s major international rail terminal for High Speed 1 to the Channel Tunnel and is a “destination station” in its own right with its future now safely assured.

Feature by Jonathan Makepeace.. 

 

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RIBA3986Contract design for the principal tower of the Imperial Institute, South Kensington, London

 
RIBA3987Design for the Imperial Institute, South Kensington, London: detail of centre block of front elevation

 
RIBA3989Preliminary design for Religious Studio, BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London


RIBA3990Design for a fountain in the gardens at Buckingham Palace, London

 
RIBA3992Design for the completion of the hall at Highclere Castle, Hampshire

 
RIBA3993Designs for the Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London: two half-plans and perspectival elevation of principal doorway


RIBA3994Design for Clobb Copse, Buckler's Hard, Beaulieu, Hampshire

 
RIBA3995Designs for the Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London: perspective of gallery with skeletons

 
RIBA3996Design for a gardener's cottage at Laverstoke House, Hampshire, for Melville Porter, MP: perspective


RIBA3997Design for the Great Hall, Euston Station, London

 
RIBA3999Design for a desk for Ernest Debenham: front and side elevations of the construction and marquetry

 
RIBA4000Preliminary design for the interior of RMS Orion


RIBA4001Design for a lounge, RMS Orion

 
RIBA4002Design for the interior of RMS Orion: detail of a lounge

 
RIBA4003Design for Great Portland Street Underground Station for the Metropolitan Railway, London


RIBA4004Unexecuted design for the interior of the News Theatre, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

 
RIBA40076 Temple Gardens, Moor Park, Hertfordshire

 
RIBA40086 Temple Gardens, Moor Park, Hertfordshire: the garden front


RIBA40096 Temple Gardens (left), Moor Park, Hertfordshire, seen from golf course

 
RIBA40106 Temple Gardens, Moor Park, Hertfordshire: the living room

 
RIBA4011Church of St Mary, Studley Royal, North Yorkshire: the ornately decorated vaulted chancel and choir


RIBA4013Project for a villa

 
RIBA4016Drawing of the Sydney Opera House under construction

 
RIBA4017Design for the British Pavilion, Exposition Internationale des Arts et des Techniques dans la Vie Moderne, Paris 1937