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
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RIBA125124Model of housing block, Lion Green Road, Coulsdon, Croydon, London

 
RIBA125125Model of housing block, Lion Green Road, Coulsdon, Croydon, London


RIBA125126Model of housing block, Lion Green Road, Coulsdon, Croydon, London

 
RIBA125127Model of housing block, Lion Green Road, Coulsdon, Croydon, London

 
RIBA125128Model of housing block, Lion Green Road, Coulsdon, Croydon, London


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RIBA125132Drawings of the New College or Barry Buildings, Dulwich College, London: view of chapel gable

 
RIBA125133Drawings of the New College or Barry Buildings, Dulwich College, London: view of doorway

 
RIBA125134Drawings of the New College or Barry Buildings, Dulwich College, London: view of staircase from entrance hall


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RIBA125138Design for the dome and lantern of the central staircase pavilion of the corps-de-logis at the Chateau of Montceaux

 
RIBA125139Design for a square-headed door or gate, rusticated, with heavy voussoirs and a triangular pediment supported on consoles

 
RIBA125140Elevation of the west facade of the jeu-de-paume (real tennis court) at the Chateau of Fontainebleau


RIBA125141Section of the interior of the jeu-de-paume (real tennis court) looking towards the tripartite window of the south facade at the Chateau of Fontainebleau

 
RIBA125142Elevation of the south facade of the jeu-de-paume (real tennis court) at the Chateau of Fontainebleau

 
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RIBA125144Elevation of a domed paviion with lantern

 
RIBA125145Plan and side elevation of a Greek-cross church with dome and double tetrastyle portico; at bottom right, part of a masonry detail

 
RIBA125146Elevation and section of two centralised churches with domes and in bottom left, part of another dome and lantern