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
RIBA125891Half-elevation of a dormer with an elaborate decoration of masks, swags, shells and foliage

 
RIBA125892Two half-elevations of dormers at the Chateau of Montceaux

 
RIBA125893Three half-elevations of dormer windows and, below, a semicircular decorative motif


RIBA125894Three half-elevations of dormer windows and, below, a horizontal decorative panel inscribed Monceau

 
RIBA125895Four half-elevations of dormer windows

 
RIBA125896(Top) Round-headed dormer window surmounted by triangular pediment; (below) three half-elevations of decorative elements


RIBA125897Three half-elevations and one whole elevation of dormers with segmental pediments

 
RIBA125898(Top) Two whole and one half-elevation of dormers; (below) part of a three-storey pavilion with part of an adjoining wing to the left

 
RIBA125899Elaborate elevation of a pedimented double dormer window


RIBA125900Elevation of double dormer windows surmounted by a large, single triangular pediment with an oeil-de-boeuf in the centre

 
RIBA125901Elevation of one and a half bays of a gallery built over an arcade and with lucarnes and oeils-de-boeuf in the attic storey

 
RIBA125902Elevation of double dormer windows with broken triangular pediment covering both, military trophies on each side, and all surmounted by a fleur-de-lis and ducal coronet


RIBA125903Three half-elevations of dormer windows and (at top right-hand side) half-elevation of a two-storey rusticated facade with steps to the entrance door

 
RIBA125904Two elevations of oeil-de-boeuf lucarnes for an attic storey: the top one is possibly a variation on those of the garden facade of the Petite Galerie of the Louvre, the lower one is from the end facade of the Petite Galerie, facing the Seine

 
RIBA125905One whole elevation and four half-elevations of circular lucarnes with oeils-de-boeuf, as well as a decorated tablet at lower left


RIBA125906One half-elevation of a lucarne with an oval niche surmounted by military trophies

 
RIBA125907Trevi Fountain, Rome, seen from the side

 
RIBA125908Foro Romano, Temple of Vespasian, Rome


RIBA125909So-called Temple of Bacchus, later Church of Sant'Urbano, Rome: exterior view

 
RIBA125910Baths of Caracalla, Rome: interior of the central hall

 
RIBA125911Arch of Janus Quadrifrons with the Arch of the Moneychangers, Rome


RIBA125912St Peter's Square with St Peter's Basilica and colonnades, Rome

 
RIBA125913Capriccio known as The Skeletons

 
RIBA125914Capriccio known as The Triumphal Arch