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.. 


108584 items
RIBA125050Planning Your Neighbourhood exhibition panel: panel 9

RIBA125051County of London Plan exhibition: the Community of Eltham panel

RIBA125052Diagram showing The Needs of the Family in a booklet entitled 'The Home of the Citizen' by Elizabeth E. Halton

RIBA125054Topographical drawing of a Byzantine capital

RIBA125055Designs for a tapestry entitled 'The Forest', designed for Alexander Ionides: coloured sketch for a peacock

RIBA125056Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome: detail of mosaic pavement

RIBA125057Elevation of a pavilion (with wing in section) and part of the court facade of a chateau, the latter highy decorated and with window bays flanked by gigantic herms

RIBA125058Half-elevation of a rusticated entrance [left]; unfinished alternative design for the entrance at left [upper right]; sketch of a pavilion of 3 storeys and an attic surmounted by a domed roof and lantern [lower right]

RIBA125059Profile and half-elevation of a doorway of complicated design with elaborate decoration

RIBA125060Two designs for the upper part of door cases

RIBA125061Elevation, with plan beneath, of a door and profile of the same

RIBA125062Elevation of the central door and 1 window bay of a single-storey facade with balustrade above, broken by a central motif with cupola and lantern over

RIBA125063Half-elevation of the 2-storey facade of a fantasy design for a Roman civic building with a large central arch in each storey, square niches and pediments of fantastic design

RIBA125064Rough elvation and details of one 2-storey bay of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana on the Piazzetta, Venice

RIBA125065Zecca, Venice: elevation and details of one two-storey bay

RIBA125066Detailed drawing of part of the garden front of the Chateau of Verneuil-sur-Oise

RIBA125067Elevation of a town house with 2 storeys of 3 bays and 1 attic dormer above the centre

RIBA125068Elevation of part of Lescot's building at the south-west corner of the courtyard of the Old Louvre, Paris

RIBA125069Elelvation of a 3-storey building with two shops under an arcade on the ground floor

RIBA125070Elevation of part of one of the court facades of the Chateau of Charleval

RIBA125071Elevation of two bays of a two-storey facade with attic, possibly connected with projects for the Chateau of Charleval

RIBA125072Elevation of a 3-storey pavilion with a double-arched central entrance and one-and-a-half bays of a 2-storey adjacent wing

RIBA125073Alternative designs (right an left) connected with the Porte Baptistere of the Cour de l'Ovale, Fontainebleau

RIBA125074Interior of a room showing two panels and a doorway