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.. 


108594 items
RIBA125185Three designs for decorative cresting for walls; the upper design incorporates the royal crown

RIBA125186Five designs for decorative cresting

RIBA125187Three designs for decorative cresting

RIBA125188Elevation of half the central bay and of one bay to the right of a two-storey facade in brick and stone

RIBA125189Two half-elevations: (left) one bay of an arcade with a gallery over, the window above the arch breaking up through the cornice; (right) elevation of part of a facade articulated by a colossal order of fluted Corinthian columns, one bay in half-elevation has arched openings on two storeys with an elaborate frieze separating the upper and lower floors

RIBA125190Elevation of an elaborate, rusticated arched entrance; the two sides show alternative designs

RIBA125191Two entrances in half-elevation: (left) round-headed rusticated entrance with Doric pilaster and frieze, broken triangular pediment enclosing tablet with curved pediment; (right) entrance with steps, broken pediment supported by male figure

RIBA125192Three designs in half-elevation: two windows or screen openings and one arched gate or doorway

RIBA125193Elevation of three bays of a two-storey brick and stone facade with attic above

RIBA125194Elevation of the entrance facade of a two-storey brick and stone pavilion with an attic and flight of steps leading to the entrance

RIBA125195Elevation of one and two half-bays of an arcade with gallery above having square-headed rusticated windows

RIBA125196Elevation of a part of a facade of one-storey with an attic, to the left a single-storey wing with a balustraded terrace above

RIBA125197Two elevations: (top) single-storey pavilion with an oeil-de-boeuf lucarne above and single-storey wing with similar lucarnes; (below) elevation of a building on a rusticated base with pavilion at left with high-pitched roof (drawn as a plane elevation), central door approached by steep flight of steps flanked by stone panels, rusticated half-windows above the string course, single-storey wing at right with balustrade and terrace above (see RIBA1

RIBA125198Elevation of the Porte de l'Arsenal, Paris

RIBA125199Elevation of three bays of a two-storey facade with basement and attic; door at the right approached by double flight of steps with an arched basement entrance below

RIBA125200Elevation of three bays of a two-storey facade with basement and attic; the door is approached by double flight of steps with an arched basement entrance below

RIBA125201Elevation of half the central bay and two bays to the right of a two-storey facade with basement and attic; to the right half-elevation of a pavilion or or termination of a projecting wing

RIBA125202Slightly inaccurate drawing of the landing of the staircase at the Scuola Grande de San Giovanni Evangelista, Venice

RIBA125203Drawing of a seated soldier

RIBA125204Engraving of a fountain from Franco Fanelli's Varie architetture (Paris, 1661) (top); elevation of the upper chapel of Saint Saturnin in the Cour de l'Ovale at Fontainebleau, the side seen from the Stable Court (bottom)

RIBA125205Elevation of the funerary chapel of Diane de Poitiers at the Chateau d'Anet

RIBA125206One of a set of illustrative panels for the 'Britain can make it' exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, showing interior design 1837-1937

RIBA125207Designs for an unexecuted office building, Moorgate, City of London: roof plan (with areas numbered)

RIBA125208Designs for an unexecuted office building, Moorgate, City of London: roof plan