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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RIBA125147Copy of an engraving of a tomb by Jacques I Androuet du Cerceau

RIBA125148Copy of an engraving of a tomb by Jacques I Androuet du Cerceau

RIBA125149Copy of an engraving of a tomb by Jacques I Androuet du Cerceau

RIBA125150Half-elevation of an arched entrance with pediment supported on banded composite columns

RIBA125151Design for a chateau or city gate and drawbridge

RIBA125152Entrance elevation of a grotto with a dome open at the top

RIBA125153Design for the entrance to a fortress

RIBA125154Engraving by Jacques I Androuet du Cerceau from his 'Fragments antiques' (1550)

RIBA125155Elevation of a pavilion with an arcade on the ground storey and double flight of steps leading to arched entrances in an elaborate upper storey; over the central niche are the French royal arms and in the niche a classical bust

RIBA125156To the left: half-elevation of entrance and one window bay of a house, the entrance pediment decorated with military trophies; to the right: half-elevation of an arched entrance with rectangular superstructure supported on consoles and flanked by Doric pilasters (see RIBA125162 for half-elevation facing the courtyard)

RIBA125157Perspective elevation of part of a facade showing half of an arched entrance with a window above and one bay to left, with superimposed orders of pilasters

RIBA125158Elevation of part of an elaborately rusticated and sculptured facade

RIBA125159To the left: elevation of part of an entrance screen with an arched entrance and one window bay to the right; to the right: half-elevation of a doorway with a triangular pediment and military trophies above

RIBA125160Half-elevation of a central arched entrance and on bay to the left, possibly the entrance screen to a town house

RIBA125161Elevation of the end facade of a three-storey house having square-headed windows with a sculptured head over; brick and stone materials indicated; details of mouldings at right lettered and corresponding to the elevation

RIBA125162Two half-elevations: (left) arched entrance - or triumphal arch - one bay at left with niche containing a figure between half-column, pediment with sculpted figure; (right) half-elevation of an arched entrance with rectangular superstructure facing the courtyard (see RIBA125156 for half-elevation facing the street)

RIBA125163Hotel Zamet, Paris: Elevation of one bay of a two-storey facade with attic above

RIBA125164Part of the facade of the Palazzo Cenci alla Dogana, Rome

RIBA125165Part of the facade of the Palazzo Cicciaporci (Palazzo Alberini Cicciaporci), Rome

RIBA125166Part of the facade of the Palazzo Caprini, Rome

RIBA125167Part of the court facade and arcade of the Hotel de Gondi (later Hotel de Conde), Paris

RIBA125168Elevation of a two-storey pavilion with attic, the central door approached by a double flight of curved steps

RIBA125169Elevation of part of an upper storey and attic of three bays

RIBA125170Elevation of the south-east angle pavilion and part of the entrance screen at the Chateau of Montceaux