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.. 

 

108600 items
RIBA125780Elaborate small design for a variation on the fleur-de-lis motif

 
RIBA125781Two putti, winged, with bows and quivers, fighting over a palm frond

 
RIBA125782Three half-designs for cartouches


RIBA125783Female allegorical figure, robed, standing on a pedestal, holding in her raised left hand a wreath

 
RIBA125784Half the front elevation of a gateway with the side elevation at the right

 
RIBA125785Half the front elevation of a gateway with the side elevation at the right


RIBA125786Half-front elevation of a doorway of the Villa Sforza with its side elevation to the right

 
RIBA125787Top part only of a door on the Campidoglio

 
RIBA125788Half-elevation of a gateway in a screen


RIBA125789Two half-elevations of an entrance

 
RIBA125790Four designs apparently for wall panels with, at the bottom, a winged figure with a helmet at his feet

 
RIBA125791(Left) Half the front elevation of an arched entrance, the entablature supported by a winged herm; side elevation of the same at right; (right) design for an overmantel


RIBA125792Elevation of an entrance doorway or gateway with an entablature supported by winged herms

 
RIBA125793Elevation of an arched entrance with alternate designs right and left, the cypher P and reversed B in a laurel wreath over the curved pediment common to both designs; to the right, the side elevation of the entablature supported by winged figure with console base

 
RIBA125794Design for the Economist Building, 25 St James's Street, London: revised plans for the bank building


RIBA125795Competition design for the development of Beachlands, Hayling Island, Hampshire: aerial perspective

 
RIBA125796Competition designs for baths and wash-houses, New Islington, Manchester: plan and perspective

 
RIBA125797Competition designs for baths and wash-houses, New Islington, Manchester: ground floor plan


RIBA125798Competition designs for baths and wash-houses, New Islington, Manchester: south-west, north-east and south-east elevations

 
RIBA125799Competition designs for baths and wash-houses, New Islington, Manchester: sections

 
RIBA125800Competition design for public baths, library and fire station, Gorton Road, Reddish, Stockport: perspective from the north-west


RIBA125801Designs for Montpellier Rotunda (or Pump Room) and for alterations and additions, Montpellier Spa, Cheltenham, for Henry Thompson Esq.: unexecuted design for newly exposed side elevation to the 'New Gloucester Road' (Lansdown Place)

 
RIBA125802Designs, as executed, for Putney Swimming Baths, Upper Richmond Road and Dryburgh Road, Wandsworth, London, for Wandsworth Borough Council: site plan

 
RIBA125803Designs, as executed, for Putney Swimming Baths, Upper Richmond Road and Dryburgh Road, Wandsworth, London, for Wandsworth Borough Council: sections