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.. 

 

108584 items
RIBA125819Designs for the interior decoration of the addition to Lythe Hill, Haslemere, Surrey, for James Stewart Hodgson Esq.: plan and section of the billiard room ceiling

 
RIBA125820Designs for the interior decoration of 52 Prince's Gate, London, for Thomas Eustace Smith, Esq.: plan of dining room ceiling

 
RIBA125821Design for the staircase, Wildernesse House, Seal, near Sevenoaks, Kent, for Lady Louisa Mills: section


RIBA125822Design for the interior decoration of 15 Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London, for F Lehmann, Esq: elevation of a wall of the Green Drawing Room

 
RIBA125823Design for the interior decoration of 15 Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London, for F Lehmann, Esq: elevation of a wall in a second floor dressing room

 
RIBA125824Design for the interior decoration of 15 Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London, for F Lehmann, Esq: plan and elevation of the ceiling in small drawing room


RIBA125825Designs for the drawing room & dining room, No. 22 Prince's Gate, London, for H. S. Keating: elevation of wall in the drawing room with two doorways, in blue and gold

 
RIBA125826Designs for the drawing room & dining room, No. 22 Prince's Gate, London, for H. S. Keating: elevation of wall in the dining room with one doorway, in dark red, black and pink

 
RIBA125827Designs for the interior decoration of 1 Grosvenor Crescent, London, for Sir Wilfrid Lawson M.P.: elevation of dining room wall with three doorways, in green & brown


RIBA125828Royal Exchange Assurance Offices, 29 Pall Mall, London: perspective of the facade, as built except for minor details

 
RIBA125829Royal Exchange Assurance Offices, 29 Pall Mall, London: perspective of the interior of one of the rooms

 
RIBA125830Designs for the interior decoration of the addition to Lythe Hill, Haslemere, Surrey, for James Stewart Hodgson Esq.: design for gates in wrought iron work incorporating the initial H


RIBA125831Designs for the interior decoration of 1 South Audley Street, Mayfair, London: plan and section of the ceiling

 
RIBA125832Designs for the interior decoration of 1 South Audley Street, Mayfair, London: elevation of the window wall

 
RIBA125833Designs for the interior decoration of 1 South Audley Street, Mayfair, London: elevation of a wall with entrance doors


RIBA125834Studies of apples

 
RIBA125835Unidentified designs for a drawing room in the Adam style: elevation of a wall with one doorway and paintings hung either side of the door with much decorative plasterwork including medallions with Roman figures and garlands

 
RIBA125836Unidentified designs for a drawing room in the Adam style: elevation of a wall with one chimneypiece and two doorways and much decorative plasterwork


RIBA125837Unidentified designs for a drawing room in the Adam style: elevation of a wall with three windows, two pier glasses and decorative plasterwork

 
RIBA125838Unidentified designs for a drawing room in the Adam style: design for the ceiling with much decorative plasterwork

 
RIBA125839Topographical drawing of a house, Noordzandstraat, Bruges


RIBA125840Topographical drawing of an old house at the corner of Bridge Street, Chester, Cheshire, and Old Brig, Cramond, Lothian

 
RIBA125841Topographical drawing of the Vleeshal, or covered meat hall, Haarlem

 
RIBA125842Design for a portiere with tasselled fringe and canopy, for the Duchess of Newcastle