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
RIBA3918Edward Hodges Baily completing the statue of Nelson for Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square, London, in his studio

 
RIBA3919Designs for the interior decoration of Montagu House, 22 Portman Square, Westminster, London, for Mrs Elizabeth Montagu: plan for the carpet of the Great Drawing Room

 
RIBA3920Designs for gardener's house and hot houses, Lambton Hall, County Durham: elevation of the south front of the hothouses


RIBA3922Design for the Great Drawing Room in Montagu House, 22 Portland Square, London

 
RIBA3923Design for a drawing room

 
RIBA3924Design for Leeds Grammar School


RIBA3926Design for the grotto, Oatlands Park, Surrey

 
RIBA3928Studios for Messrs. Sound City (Films) Ltd, Shepperton

 
RIBA3929Studios for Messrs. Sound City (Films) Ltd, Shepperton


RIBA3930Langham Hotel, Portland Place, London

 
RIBA3931Design for the Three per Cent Consols Office, Bank of England, Threadneedle Street, City of London

 
RIBA3932Design for a monument


RIBA3937Design for stained glass windows depicting Saint Michael and Virtue for an unidentified 18th century church

 
RIBA3938Design for windows for the 'Willow Cathedral'

 
RIBA3939Design for the English School (later Bedford Modern School), Bedford


RIBA3940Design for Crom Castle (or Crum Castle), County Fermanagh: perspective of the facade overlooking the terrace and lake

 
RIBA3941Design for Goodrich Court, Herefordshire: perspective

 
RIBA3942Design for a conservatory, Beckford House, Southampton


RIBA3943Frei Otto

 
RIBA3944West German Pavilion, Expo '67, Montreal, by night

 
RIBA3945Design for an organ case, Burton-upon-Trent


RIBA3948Drawings from a sketchbook showing the gatehouse of Cockermouth Castle, Cumbria, and part-plan of Norris Castle, East Cowes, Isle of White

 
RIBA3949Design for a cottage ornee

 
RIBA3950Design for the interior decoration of a house