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.. 

 

107513 items
RIBA125941Three half-elevations of fireplaces (above); elevation of a fireplace with detail of moulding and to the left of it a profile view with a steep chimney cowl

 
RIBA125942Two half-elevations of fireplaces

 
RIBA125943Two half-elevations of fireplaces of elaborate design


RIBA125944Two half-elevations of fireplaces

 
RIBA125945Elevation of an elaborate fireplace with the chimneypiece flanked by standing figures of Justice and Fortitude

 
RIBA125946An elaborate engraved cartouche, being the engraved title page of a book of cartouches


RIBA125947Plan, possbly for an altar

 
RIBA125948Landscape scene within a cartouche with shell and fish head

 
RIBA125949Measured drawings of Old St Paul's Cathedral, City of London, for 'a restoration founded upon Hollar's etchings': north elevation


RIBA125950Measured drawings of Old St Paul's Cathedral, City of London, for 'a restoration founded upon Hollar's etchings': east elevation and transverse section

 
RIBA125951Measured drawings of Old St Paul's Cathedral, City of London, for 'a restoration founded upon Hollar's etchings': longitudinal section

 
RIBA125952Measured drawings of Sir Christopher Wren's design for St Paul's Cathedral, City of London, according to the 1673 'Great Model': ground floor plan, plan of the lantern and half-plan through the drum of the dome


RIBA125953Measured drawings of Sir Christopher Wren's design for St Paul's Cathedral, City of London, according to the 1673 'Great Model': south elevation

 
RIBA125954Measured drawings of Sir Christopher Wren's design for St Paul's Cathedral, City of London, according to the 1673 'Great Model': west elevation

 
RIBA125955Measured drawings of Sir Christopher Wren's design for St Paul's Cathedral, City of London, according to the 1673 'Great Model': longitudinal section


RIBA125956Imaginary reconstruction of Sir Christopher Wren's design for St Paul's Cathedral, City of London, according to the 1673 'Great Model': perspective of the interior

 
RIBA125957Topographical etching entitled 'London going out of Town - or The March of Bricks & Mortar!'

 
RIBA125958Survey drawing of the Church of Saint Katherine, Exbury, Hampshire, existing in 1907: ground floor plan


RIBA125959Designs for alterations and additions of the Church of Saint Katherine, Exbury, Hampshire: ground floor plan and elevations

 
RIBA125960Designs for alterations and additions of the Church of Saint Katherine, Exbury, Hampshire: elevation and sections

 
RIBA125961Designs for alterations and additions of the Church of Saint Katherine, Exbury, Hampshire: plan and elevation of pulpit


RIBA125962Caythorpe Court, Lincolnshire, for Edgar Lubbock: plan and aerial view showing terrace and gardens in relation to the house

 
RIBA125963Design for alterations and additions to Lockleys, Welwyn, Hertfordshire: plans and perspective

 
RIBA125964Designs for alterations and additions to Betteshanger House and gardens, Kent, for Sir Walter Charles James: design for terrace and parterre