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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RIBA3747Dell Restaurant, Hyde Park, London

 
RIBA3749Casa del Fascio, Piazza del Popolo, Como

 
RIBA3750Garden seat, Rousham


RIBA3751Thomas Farnolls Pritchard

 
RIBA3753Chiswick House, London: detail of the Corinthian columns

 
RIBA3754Patrick Nuttgens


RIBA3755Stephen Rowland Pierce

 
RIBA3756Sir Donald Gibson

 
RIBA3757Theatre of Bacchus, Athens, with James 'Athenian' Stuart shown sketching in the foreground


RIBA3758Patio de los Leones (Court of the Lions), Alhambra, Granada

 
RIBA3759Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakesh

 
RIBA3760Mosque and shrine of Moulay Idris II, Fez


RIBA3761Tiles and decorative plasterwork, Alhambra, Granada

 
RIBA3762Great Mosque (Mezquita), Cordoba: the dome over the bay in front of the Mihrab

 
RIBA3763Santa Maria la Blanca, Toledo: the arcades


RIBA3764Alhambra, Granada: Sala de Dos Hermanas (Hall of the Two Sisters) looking towards the Mirador de la Daraxa

 
RIBA3765James Stirling

 
RIBA3767Hatfield Technical College, Hertfordshire: the assembly hall and dining block with sculptural panel by Trevor Tennant based on the college plan


RIBA3769Hatfield Technical College, Hertfordshire, with relief sculpture by Barbara Hepworth

 
RIBA3770Hatfield Technical College, Hertfordshire

 
RIBA3771Alexandra Road Estate, Camden, London


RIBA3772Cathedral of Notre Dame, Ile de la Cite, Paris

 
RIBA3773Palladian Bridge, Stowe, Buckinghamshire

 
RIBA3774Salisbury Cathedral: the spire seen from the north-west


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