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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RIBA125266(left) Half-elevation of an arched entrance flanked by Composite pilaster and surmounted by tablet between console and urn; (right) half-elevation of arched entrance with vermiculated voussoirs and heavy broken pediment

RIBA125267Two half-elevations of arched openings in complex decorative architecture

RIBA125268(left) Half-elevation of a rusticated opening with a detail of a console drawn within the opening; (right) half-elevation of an entrance (in a screen?) with a semi-circular opening over the doorway

RIBA125269(left) Half-elevation of a nniche in an upper storey; (right) half-elevation of a square-headed entrance with three super-imposed pediments

RIBA125270Four doorways: (1 & 2) profile and front view in half-elevation of an entrance with a balustrade above; (3) half-elevation of a doorway flanked by Doric half-columns or pilasters, a broken and curved pediment above enclosed in another, triangular pediment; (4) half-elevation of a doorway with consoles and a triangular pediment

RIBA125271(left) Half-elevation of a gateway with double, rusticated attached Ionic columns flanking the square opening with broken, curved pediment framing an elaborate device containing a blank cartouche with the date 1612 beneath the cartouche; (right) half-elevation of the tabernacle over the entrance door in Michelangelo's Medici Chapel (1524) in San Lorenzo, Florence, with profile at left and plan beneath

RIBA125272(left) Half-elevation of a doorway with broken pediment supported on large console, large seated figure on pediment; (right) half-elevation of doorway with triangular pediment supported by a panel which surrounds part of the upper doorcase

RIBA125273(left) Half-elevation of an arched entrance, flanking pilaster and figure in niche at lower left; (right) half-elevation of an arched entrance surmounted by a frieze and a tablet with a broken curved pediment supported on foliage consoles

RIBA125274(left) Half-elevation of an arched entrance with double pediments above; (centre) half-elevation of an entrance flanked by Corinthian columns (or pilasters) with frieze and cornice surmounted by broken curved pediment containing a tablet with a triangular pediment above that; (right) Half-elevation of a doorway with details of the console and door mouldings

RIBA125275(left) Half-elevation of a doorway flanked by a rusticated Doric pilaster with curved pediment; (centre) half-elevation of a doorway with triangular pediment; (right) half-elevation front view and two profiles of Michelangelo's door from the vestibule to the reading room in the Laurentian Library (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana), Florence

RIBA125276Brancepeth Castle, County Durham: the old gateway

RIBA125277Chiesa de Santa Maria de Carignano de Sigri Sauli (Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta di Carignano), piazza Carignano, Genoa: elevation of the facade

RIBA125278(left) Half-elevation of an arched entrance with broken pediment; (right) half-elevation of a doorway with triangular pediment

RIBA125279(left) Half-elevation of square-headed entrance with brick surround and stone voussoirs, flanked by a herm supporting a broken curved pediment which contains and is in part surmounted by a superstructure with a tablet; (right) half-elevation of a square-headed entrance above a flight of six steps flanked by a niche with a tablet over, a curved and scrolled pediment, within the pediment a tablet with a superstructure

RIBA125280Reconstruction of the Baths of Constantine, Rome: reconstructed plan

RIBA125281Reconstruction of the Baths of Titus, Rome: partially reconstructed plan

RIBA125282Reconstruction of Septizodium, Rome: reconstructed elevation

RIBA125283Reconstruction of the Baths of Constantine, Rome: reconstructed facades and sections

RIBA125284Reconstruction of the Basilica of Constantine, Rome: reconstructed longitudinal section drawn in perspective

RIBA125285Reconstruction of the Baths of Constantine, Rome: study for the reconstructed elevation of the interior

RIBA125286Reconstruction of the Baths of Constantine, Rome: study for the reconstructed facade and transverse section

RIBA125287Copy of reconstruction of the Baths of Constantine by Andrea Palladio: study for the reconstructed facade and transverse section

RIBA125288Reconstruction of the Baths of Titus, Rome: reconstructed plan

RIBA125289Reconstruction of the Baths of Titus, Rome: reconstructed facade and sections