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.. 

 

109696 items
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RIBA125548Measured drawings of the Theatre of Marcellus and the Baths of Caracalla, Rome: (Theatre of Marcellus) sketches and details of the entrance, orders and vaults; (Baths of Caracalla) plan, section and profile of a porphyry urn

 
RIBA125549Studies of architectural details of the Forum of Nerva and the Temple of Minerva, Rome and sketch designs for the Palazzo Thiene, Vicenza: (Rome) sketch profiles of the orders; (Vicenza) sketches for the plan


RIBA125550Studies of the Baths of Nero, Rome: plan and elevation sketches

 
RIBA125551Design for the Villa Ferramosca, Barbano: project plan and elevations

 
RIBA125552Measured drawing of a Venetian palace, Venice: elevation


RIBA125553Measured drawing of a Venetian palace, Venice: plan

 
RIBA125554Measured drawing of a Roman palace, probably Palazzo Chiovenda, Piazza di Montevecchio, Rome: facade

 
RIBA125555Measured drawing of a basilica: sectional elevation


RIBA125556Design for San Francesco della Vigna, Venice: project for the facade

 
RIBA125557Study of Donato Bramante's Palazzo Caprini (House of Raphael), Rome: corner elevation in perspective, detail of a shop, profile of the Doric capital

 
RIBA125558Study of the Temple of Venus Genetrix, Rome: half-elevation


RIBA125559Unidentified script on the verso of the drawing of the Temple of Venus Genetrix, Rome

 
RIBA125560Design for San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice: half-elevation

 
RIBA125561Calculations and sums in pencil on the verso of the drawing of a design for San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice


RIBA125562Design for Il Redentore, Venice: plan project

 
RIBA125563Design for Il Redentore, Venice: longitudinal section project

 
RIBA125564Design for Il Redentore, Venice: facade project


RIBA125565Alternative design for Il Redentore, Venice: plan project

 
RIBA125566Design for the Palazzo Porto, Vicenza: plan, showing the site

 
RIBA125567Reconstruction of the Domus Augustana, Rome: plan, showing the site


RIBA125568Reconstruction of the Basilica of Maxentius, Rome: reconstructed plan

 
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RIBA125570Design for a circular structure: half plan of an enigmatic circular structure