Welcome to the London History podcast, where we explore and celebrate the history of our beloved city.
Today’s episode is about one of London’s most iconic landmarks – St. Pancras Station. This station is one of the major railway stations in England, located in central London. It has been an integral part of the transportation system since 1868, when William Barlow built it as part of the Midland Railway.
Ian McDiarmid qualified as a City of London tour guide in 2017 and has a particular passion for Roman and Medieval history, having in an earlier incarnation studied history at Cambridge and London universities.
He began working life in the early 80s in the City, and has since written extensively on the share and bond markets as a journalist. He loves talking finance and taking people around the narrow alleys where today’s massive trading centre was born.
When not walking and talking, Ian enjoys pottering about in the garden. His expertise is such that he often spends several hours doing this.
Hazel Baker: Hello and welcome to our London History Podcast, where we share our love of London. It’s people, places, and history. We designed it for you to learn things about London that most Londoners don’t even know. I am your host, Hazel Baker, a qualified London Tour Guide and CEO and founder of londonguidedwalks.co.uk.
[00:00:25]Hazel Baker: Each episode is supported by show notes, transcripts, photos, and further reading all to be found on our website. Click on londonguidedwalks.co.uk/podcast and then select the episode that you fancy. And if you enjoy what we do, then you’ll love our guided walks and private tours that we offer throughout the year.
[00:00:46]Hazel Baker: All to be found on our website, londonguidedwalks.co.uk. Get that cup of tea, put your feet up and enjoy.
Today we’re going to be talking about the gorgeous St. Pancras station and hotel. City of London Tour Guide Ian McDiarmid joins me in the studio today, who also does a Kings Cross walking tour around the area covering Euston Kings Cross and St.Pancras. One of the things, the challenges that we have as tour guides is that we sometimes have so much information, we have to choose the best bits to share at that moment. But this podcast allows us to share some of the finer with you. Hello, Ian. Hello, Hazel. So first things first, for those who don’t know where St. Pancras station is, Ian, can you please enlighten us? Yeah,
[00:01:42]Ian McDiarmid: It’s just north of Central London and built on Euston Road. And Euston Road is a modern name for what was originally the new road, which was built in the 1750s. And this new road is quite significant for the. History of St.
[00:01:59]Ian McDiarmid:[00:02:00] Pancras because on the new road now Euston Road are three of London’s great termini in very close proximity. Euston Station is a quarter of a mile to the west of where we’re talking about today. And then, bang next door, to St. Pancras on the other side. Immediately adjacent to it is King’s Cross, and it’s no coincidence that these three stations are so close together and in a line in 1846.
[00:02:30]Ian McDiarmid: There is a Royal Commission on London’s termini, and the commission advises parliament that no big stations should be built south of this line. But there’s another reason this marks a kind of border regarding overground railway development. And that is simply because of the area to the north of Euston Road.
[00:02:52]Ian McDiarmid: Had always been a slum district, and that means that the land is fairly cheap for the railway [00:03:00] companies to buy. And once you go over the other side to the southern side of it, you’re getting into an area where wealthy people live and where the land would be. Extremely expensive. So it’s rather odd that you have these three big termini together.
[00:03:17]Ian McDiarmid: And one other aspect when we’re looking at London’s railway stations is that London had an enormous number of termini. It had, I think, 15 in the 19th century. And this is a huge number. Paris has or had eight, and this profusion of termini in a way reflects the free-for-all that marked at the construction of the railways in Britain.
[00:03:40]Ian McDiarmid: In that, it is a purely private enterprise, that they have to get acts of parliament to approve the construction of the railways, but it’s purely by private enterprise and it’s often remarked on that. The British railway system isn’t terribly efficient because there’s a lot of duplication of lines and resources, and this duplication can also be seen in the proliferation of [00:04:00] London’s termini.
[00:04:01]Ian McDiarmid: Apart from talking about where St. Pancras is I think you’d probably agree with me, Hazel, that it is probably isn’t the best-known neo-gothic. Building in Britain, but it’s certainly up there isn’t it, along with the Houses of Parliament and the Natural History Museum. I think I’ve just subconsciously revealed my London bias there.
[00:04:18]Ian McDiarmid: Cause I said in Britain and then I’ve reeled off three London buildings. But actually, I think that probably is valid. I think that they are probably the best known. Neo-Gothic buildings. Do you agree with that? Yeah. You
[00:04:29]Hazel Baker: might be right there. And I think that Harry Potter and a certain flying car helped.
[00:04:35]Hazel Baker: And so people might recognize the building, but they might actually think that is King’s cross station where the children catch the Hogwarts Express to go to school. But of course it is indeed St. Pancras.
[00:04:47]Ian McDiarmid: Oh, yes. Alright. Amongst younger people recently, yes. Yes. And there, there is I.
[00:04:54]Ian McDiarmid: certainly the case can be made for saying that St. Pancras is the finest go gothic revival building in [00:05:00] Britain. So of enormous importance. And I think one of the problems that we have as Londoners is that we obviously use St. Pancras as a station, primarily as an underground station, but you we also use it as a mainline station.
[00:05:12]Ian McDiarmid: And the problem with that is that when you tend to go there you tend to be on the way to somewhere else and you tend to be in a hurry cuz you’re worrying. Getting wherever you’re going. It’s a building that really repays, giving it some attention. And certainly, over the past couple of years, I’ve tried to do that by just w wandering around slowly.
[00:05:31]Ian McDiarmid: You have to be a bit careful. I’m aware that in describing it as the finest near Gothic, saying how well-known it is, how popular it is. And we’re gonna go on, to describe some of the details of the station, which is why. It repays attention. Not only is it a fine building, but it’s one that’s absolutely covered in detail and it’s so enjoyable to take in those details, but you must be cautious.
[00:05:52]Ian McDiarmid: Given this kind of advertisement for tourism in that part of London you have to be a little bit careful because you might be relieved of some of your [00:06:00] possessions. So just put that out there as a warning that pickpockets operate still in this area, although it’s been cleaned up a lot.
[00:06:07]Hazel Baker: I think that you can say that about any city when you were doing a different behaviour than the locale than you do.
[00:06:13]Hazel Baker: Your attention to yourself.
[00:06:14]Ian McDiarmid: Yeah. Yeah. The yes that is.
The company contracted W H Barlow to design the train shed.
[00:06:18]Ian McDiarmid: There are two elements to the building. There’s the train shed, which is the station proper, and the facade. And the facade has always been mainly occupied. They’re not exclusively occupied by the hotel.
[00:06:32]Ian McDiarmid: And the train shed is designed by w h Barlow, the company’s contracting engineer. That station is a triumph of Victorian engineering using the latest materials, wrought iron and glass. And when it was built, it was the largest single-span building anywhere. And then, the station frontage is designed by George [00:07:00] Gilbert Scott, the architect.
[00:07:01]Ian McDiarmid: So this is significant. You’ve got the engineer doing the train shed bit, and then you got a leading architect doing the front of the station. This is what we’ve been talking about in terms of it being a really important neo-gothic building. This is a sort of masterpiece, it’s a riot of detail.
[00:07:18]Ian McDiarmid: And it’s a fantastic building. So it’s the marriage of this triumph of Victorian innovation with this splendid neo-gothic building and the two. They’re separate in terms of function, separate in the way they’ve been conceived, they work extremely well together and they work seamlessly together as well,
[00:07:37]Hazel Baker: and they also use two different architects.
[00:07:40]Hazel Baker: One for the station itself and another for the hotel.
[00:07:44]Ian McDiarmid: Yeah, there are two bits to it. There’s the engine chair, designed by Barlow, which is the functioning station part, and then they want to build a front onto it. And that’s the bit that George Gilbert Scott designs. And that is largely built as a hotel, though there were important rooms for the station, so the tickets [00:08:00] office was part of it.
[00:08:00]Ian McDiarmid: There were also offices for the Midland Railway. And that has continued down to the modern day because it’s all. Done up now, and it’s now the turban is for Eurostar, but they reopened the hotel. But the difference today is that a lot of the upper floors on the front are being converted into flats now as well.
[00:08:19]Ian McDiarmid: So that, that’s one difference. But the, yeah the key contrast is between the front of some Pancras and the rear of the station part.
[00:08:26]Hazel Baker: And the ticket office is beautiful, and it’s a nice restaurant.
[00:08:31]Ian McDiarmid: Yes. So when they did the hotel, they opened up the ticket office as a restaurant, and it’s rather a nice place to go in and sit and admire the architecture.
[00:08:42]Ian McDiarmid: The restaurant is quite pricey, but there’s also Kalu Chos down there on the court. And in addition, at the station’s eastern end, there is a pub called Rather Strangely, the Benjamin Arms Rather Odd Combin. Benjamin and the word arms, but [00:09:00] nevertheless, Benjamin is an extremely important figure, in savings and Pancras.
[00:09:04]Ian McDiarmid: obviously, you can go and sit in those two, and they extend out the back into the station proper part.
[00:09:09]Hazel Baker: St. Pancras was built in the 1860s, making it the third big station to be built on what is now Euston Road. Could you give us a bit of background behind its construction?
Yes, they built St. Pancras in the 1860s. So the background to it is obviously the development of railways in Britain, and the story begins with the construction of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825, which is the world’s first.
[00:09:32]Ian McDiarmid: Railway with a steam locomotive on it. However, the world’s proper first railway in the modern sense is the Liverpool of Manchester, which is built in 1830. The Stockton and Darlington relied on horses to draw its passenger traffic, and also it was run on a different model to different railways whereby the company, the Stockton and Darlington allowed other companies to run traffic on it on its line.
[00:09:56]Ian McDiarmid: So the Liverpool and Manchester is. Really the first modern [00:10:00] railway in the sense that it’s the first one with steam locomotives pulling all of the traffic. And the company that runs it, runs the services, runs the track, owns and owns the track, and owns the locomotives on it. And one significant thing about these two early companies is that they regularly pay very good dividends.
[00:10:21]Ian McDiarmid: And this is one thing that contributes to the expansion of the network. And there are two. , big railway booms, firstly in the 1830s, and secondly, an even larger one in the 1840s, which is often referred to as railway mania. And as the word mania suggests, both of these booms ended in rather dramatic crashes.
[00:10:42]Ian McDiarmid: But nevertheless, their long-term effect was that by the early 1850s, Britain has a reasonable Rail network. There, there are bits that aren’t covered very well. Whales, there’s hardly anything. The Highlands of Scotland is sparse. The southwest of England isn’t that great, but it [00:11:00] other, apart from that, it is a fairly complete network and.
[00:11:05]Ian McDiarmid: Within this system, the two most important lines were the two running into North London, which is the one that goes into Euston, which is the London and Birmingham Railway. And Euston is the first of the it’s the first big terminus built in the world. It’s the first of the London term, and I opened in 1838.
[00:11:26]Ian McDiarmid: And this is the London and Birmingham Railway. And this is of enormous importance because of the time. taken to get to Birmingham is cut to five and a quarter hours. By stagecoach. It would take you the best pass of 24 hours. And. Then in 1852, King’s Cross opened and King’s Cross is the Great Northern Railway which connects London with York.
[00:11:48]Ian McDiarmid: And it’s not just connecting London with York and London Birmingham. This com are the sort of main lines of a. Burgeoning network run by each of these companies. But those two sections of the line [00:12:00] are by far and away the most important in this network and the people who are gonna build some Pancras; they’re gonna be the third station long here.
[00:12:07]Ian McDiarmid: In a way, they’re the interlopers in this system. The Midland Railway owes its origins. To the amalgamation of three companies that get going around Darby in the Midlands, and they’re amalgamated in the 1840s. And this is a time before the GNR is built. So the London and Birmingham railway is built, but not yet the g n r and one of the reasons that the railway network becomes so, inefficient in the eyes of its critics and duplicates.
[00:12:32]Ian McDiarmid: A lot of the structure is that actually, it’s in the individual interests of a company to build as much track and control as much track as possible. Because it’s in a way it’s like rather like a board game whereby you are trying to create a monopoly in your own area, but also you are trying to.
[00:12:48]Ian McDiarmid: Get in the way of other railway lines. You’re trying to force other companies to use your, have to use your tracks. And if they do that, they then have to pay you a toll for so doing. And this, an [00:13:00] original business plan of the Midland Railway, is somewhat spoiled by the construction of the G N R because the G N R provides a direct link between London and York and bypasses their network entirely.
[00:13:13]Ian McDiarmid: And one of the interesting things is that the Midland railway lobby is very hard. In Parliament against the construction of the G N R Outta Kings Cross. And as a result of the Midland Railway lobbying, the GNR is forced to spend the colossal sum of one and a half million pounds on getting its bill through Parliament.
[00:13:34]Ian McDiarmid: This is relevant to the construction of St. Pancras because it’s a hugely expensive venture when they actually come to do it. The train. And the hotel individually cost around 435,000 pounds roughly each, and hugely expensive. But this has to be placed in the context of the enormous amounts of money being thrown around by the other companies.
[00:13:56]Ian McDiarmid: So the GNR, not of its own choice, is forced to spend all this money on getting [00:14:00] its bill through Parliament and then the other one down the road, Euston. It goes mad in a an architectural sense as well by building two very famous buildings which were later knocked down by British Rail. The Euston Portico or Euston Arch Plus, also had this thing called the Great Hall at Euston, which is built in the 1840s, two enormously expensive bits of architecture.
[00:14:23]Ian McDiarmid: So they lavished the the expense that lav on St. Pancras has to be placed in this context of these hugely expensive railways, and they are enormously capital intensive. Exercises when the Midland railway is eventually constructed, they are enormously expensive, and when the Midland railway eventually gets to build its line to London, which it does in the 1860s, the short bit of railway between Bedford.
[00:14:52]Ian McDiarmid: And London, which is gonna build, will come in at an entire cost of 6 million pounds. And inevitably, as always, with these projects, it’s grossly over budget when it [00:15:00] comes in 6 million pounds. But there, there’s a problem for the Midland Railway in that. Once the G N R is constructed, it’s forced to rely on the GNR and the old London and Birmingham Railway, which has now become the London and Northwestern railway.
[00:15:20]Ian McDiarmid: It’s forced to rely on these lines to get its traffic into London, and it’s those two companies, the L N W R and the G N R. They both. The Midland railway charged tolls for using its network, and those tolls weren’t cheap. And in particular, the GNR goes in for prohibitive pricing on coal, which is the Midlands.
[00:15:42]Ian McDiarmid: Main money spinner. And it’s forced to run its coal down the lines to Euston. And the other problem is that you can work as you can well imagine, throughout its history, the British Rail Network has suffered from congestion. If there’s congestion, what’s gonna happen? These two companies, they’re gonna prioritise their own traffic over that, the Midland [00:16:00] Railway.
[00:16:00]Ian McDiarmid: We should also add that. The two termini of Euston and Kings Cross can get very congested, and things really come to a head in 1862 when there is the international exhibition. So this is the second great international exhibition after the, that first, great exhibit exhibition of 10 years earlier and the railway traffic coming in to see this is enormous and it creates huge problems at King’s Cross and the G N R.
[00:16:28]Ian McDiarmid: Gives the Midland railway an ultimatum to stop using some of its sidings, and then the Midland railway drags its feet. And there are all kinds of arguments over it. And this is really the final thing that the Midland Railway needs to kick it into, build its own extension down. So, it builds the Bedford to St.
[00:16:46]Ian McDiarmid: Pancras line. Bedford is part of it, its network, 50 miles of track, and the Midland now has its own network running directly into London, and that’s why they’re on the Euston Road. Yes indeed. So [00:17:00] that they’re all very close together. They’re all competing very intensively. This ex explains quite a lot of the architecture, so you’ve got to imagine there’s this animosity between the railway companies, and the Midland Railway is really trying to pull one over on the other companies and by spending a lot of money on its station and on.
[00:17:24]Ian McDiarmid: The two parts of the station, the train shed and actual frontage. It is making a statement to customers that they can have a particular experience, and perhaps we might use, say, in modern language, in using the Midland Railway, but also it’s making a big contrast between St.
[00:17:40]Ian McDiarmid: Pancras and King’s Cross next door. One of the features of Barlow’s design for the engine shed is that like the other two, termite Euston and Kings. He had to deal with the problem of crossing the region’s canal, which runs roughly in an EastWest direction to the north of East [00:18:00] Termini. And at King’s Cross, they had gone to the solution of going underneath, and Barlow decides to go over the top.
[00:18:06]Ian McDiarmid: There probably were very good engineering reasons for this. One of the problems with the King’s cross solution was that there was a very steep gradient leading out from the canal to go up to the street. to meet Kings Cross, difficult for the locomotives at the time, but also the Kings Cross Network suffered for many years from flooding.
[00:18:24]Ian McDiarmid: So if there was a heavy downpour, it was likely that the tunnels underneath the region’s canal could flood, and that could shut down the entire network. So Barlo goes over the top. And what he does, what that means is he has to then build the approach into St. Pancras on big archways. And this means that St.
[00:18:39]Ian McDiarmid: Pancras is built up and is about 20 feet higher than. Street level. However, it may not be entirely coincidental, but when, as a result of this, when you’re standing at King’s Cross and you look at some Pancras, you are looking up some Pancras completely overlooks and dominates King’s Cross because it is 20 [00:19:00] foot higher.
[00:19:01]Ian McDiarmid: The other reason, perhaps for the expense lavished on both of them, a as I indicated, was the Midland is distinguishing itself in a general sense and perhaps contributing to the passenger experience. And here, it may well be significant that the Midlands railways lines were never the fastest. The roots out of St.
[00:19:20]Ian McDiarmid: Pancras was slightly longer than the other roots, and the track had many curves, which meant it was difficult to run. Big fast locomotives on it. And Midland, later on, tried to distinguish itself by creating a particular by making it so very competitive on customer comfort. And one of the things it later does in the 1870s as, shortly after they built the station, is it innovates by saying that it will run third.
[00:19:49]Ian McDiarmid: Carriages on all of its trains, and then later on it actually does away with second class entirely. And when it does this, it basically upgrades its third class to the [00:20:00] standards of the old second class. So passengers travelling third class get upholstered seats, which they never had before. And also they have.
[00:20:07]Ian McDiarmid: Proper railway compartments. So before this time, if you were travelling third class, the, you’d be sitting on wooden benches, which would be back to back. And so the Midland, and when it does this, the Midland is hugely successful. It, it attracts a lot of traffic this way. And it’s a very wise move because by the end of the 19th century, the overwhelming majority of traffic, passenger traffic being carried is third class.
[00:20:29]Ian McDiarmid: So they latch onto this in modern terms, they’re very successful in marketing, and I suspect in the back of their minds when they’re lavishing all this money on the station, they’re trying to create a kind of unique passenger experience, which will differentiate them from their competitors.
[00:20:43]Hazel Baker: You said it was the largest single-span roof. In what other ways was it impressive?
[00:20:49]Ian McDiarmid: Yeah, there, there had been other single span roofs before this, so chairing crossing Cannon Street to other Termini had them, though unfortunately, their roofs are [00:21:00] no longer. There, but in addition to this just simply being the largest single-span roof, it’s also innovative in that the other single spa roofs of the time had lots more trusses and spars at the top of the roof to keep the horizontal to control the outward pressure on, on, on the outside of the arch.
[00:21:18]Ian McDiarmid: And Barlow had an innovative design solution to this because he ran metal ties underneath the platform floor, which did a lot of. Did away with a lot of the need for additional horizontal reinforcement, higher up, and this gives it a kind of unique space. It’s a very clean space. So it’s single-span, but in addition to being single-span it’s also very clean.
[00:21:40]Ian McDiarmid: Wh when you look at it, Part of the innovation is running with these new materials. And the arch at St. Pancras is supported by a series of 25 sets of ribs made out of wrought iron. And when you go into the train shed, you can see in huge letters [00:22:00] stamped on these. Big ribs, painted light blue, the name buttery of Darbyshire.
[00:22:05]Ian McDiarmid: So he’s the iron founder that makes them. And it is these iron ribs that support the weight of this art. The walls running down the side there are not structural at all. This makes for a very striking space. I think in the context of the 1860s, it would’ve been extremely modern and innovative.
[00:22:26]Ian McDiarmid: but it also, the fact that you’ve got this open space makes it very easy to use as a passenger. It is easy to see where you are in the station and know your way around. So there were practical advantages to it. Also, before, when they had. ROS that were supported by pillars.
[00:22:42]Ian McDiarmid: There was always a danger of trains crashing into them. And this happened at there. There used to be a terminal that just saw it south of where London Bridge is known as bricklayer’s arms. And they had an accent there when one of the, one of the locomotive ran into one of the, ran into one of the columns causing a lot of [00:23:00] damage and When Barlow decides to make the station high up, he initially thinks of filling the space beneath the platforms just with Earth.
[00:23:09]Ian McDiarmid: And, but it, the idea then, It is put to him that actually, this space could be very useful for storage. And they have a very big potential customer for this storage space. And that is the breweries in Burton. And metal columns support the space underneath the platforms. And those metal columns are.
[00:23:31]Ian McDiarmid: The spacing is based on that in Burton, in the warehouses. So ultimately, the spacing between the columns is based on the dimensions of the beer barrel. And when they redevelop St. Pancras in the early two thousand, what they do is they open up this basement space and. The iron columns no longer support the waste, the platforms above, and they take a lot of the iron columns out.
[00:23:54]Ian McDiarmid: But when you walk through them, you can walk through this., what was the basement space? It is now [00:24:00] the main concourse. It’s the main way of moving. people around the station, and it is used as a retail space, so there are shops down the side. When you walk down there, they’ve left some of these metal columns in place, so you can see the remains of what was a huge field of.
[00:24:18]Ian McDiarmid: Iron columns supporting the way to the platforms above. And when you walk through this space on the western side of the station, these retail outlets are placed in the arches well underneath the wall, which again at this basement level, was supporting a lot of the waiter wa weight above.
[00:24:35]Ian McDiarmid: So that’s quite an impressive thing. And what we’ll do is we can put some photographs on the website illustrating.
[00:24:41]Hazel Baker: and was the station built at the same time as the
[00:24:44]Ian McDiarmid: hotel? N a little bit afterwards. So the station is completed in October, 1868 and that is the point at which they actually begin the construction of the hotel.
[00:24:56]Ian McDiarmid: And the hotel is completed around 1876. [00:25:00] It opens for business in 1873, but they’ve completed it by 1876 and before this time I think it’s around 1865, the. They hold a competition for the design of the hotel. And this is significant because when you have a competition, you’re trying to demonstrate to your shareholders that you’re getting value for money.
[00:25:18]Ian McDiarmid: And I think the implicit idea behind competition is that perhaps the cheapest design is the one that will win. They have competition. They don’t have a problem because George Gilbert, Scott doesn’t enter the competition. So one of the directors quietly has a word with him and he’s persuaded to put it in an entry.
[00:25:35]Ian McDiarmid: And then his entry happens to be the most expensive one they have to consider, yet he wins. So clearly they wanted they, they wanted their man, and eventually, they got him.
[00:25:45]Hazel Baker: Can you describe what it looks like?
[00:25:46]Ian McDiarmid: Yeah. Again we’ll put up some photographs on the website and.
[00:25:51]Ian McDiarmid: It’s, as already said, it’s designed to contrast with. King’s Cross. So it has this curved frontage as you look at [00:26:00] it from across the Euston road, which then straightens out. So the curve is on the left as you look at it from across the road or on the western side. And then when the curve flattens out, there’s a huge arch.
[00:26:13]Ian McDiarmid: And that arch was originally. Departures. So the idea is that you arrive in your cab, the cab drives in through the arch, and you’re on the platforms for the departures. And then on the other side of this big facade is in another arch, and that is for the arrival. So again the train pulls in and you get your cab, immediately stepping outta the train.
[00:26:33]Ian McDiarmid: Your cab is there waiting and it drives you out of that arch. And then the forecourt sweeps up these two arches. They’re rather elegant the roads, and they’re. Make a very efficient use of limited space. So you’ve got two roadways sweeping up in this narrow courtyard, and it’s quite a steep gradient.
[00:26:50]Ian McDiarmid: Ups I was saying that St. Pancras stands out from Kings Cross because it is higher up. It’s built 20 feet above street levels that it completely dominates. It completely [00:27:00] overlooks King’s Cross. But two other features immediately make it stand. in contrast to the great rival, the G N R, and the first is colour.
[00:27:10]Ian McDiarmid: St. Pancras is a very distinct red, whereas King’s Cross is made out of yellow London stock Bricks. I. My, personal opinion is actually the two buildings, despite the animosity between the two companies, work very well together. I think they make a very pleasing contrast. But anyway, the, they are indeed a contrast.
[00:27:30]Ian McDiarmid: And the red bricks on the front of St. Pancras are expensive. Brick bricks. They’re made by a manufacturer by the name of Gripper in, in Nottingham. And then they’ve got slightly cheaper, slightly dull red bricks down the side of the building. But the colour itself is a big statement.
[00:27:47]Ian McDiarmid: And the other big contrast that leaps out of you is that St. Pancras is flamboyant, Gothic and Kings Cross. When you look at it insofar as it’s done in a kind of voca has an architectural vocabulary, it [00:28:00] is that of Classicism. But the outstanding feature of Kings Crosses is it’s highly functional.
[00:28:04]Ian McDiarmid: It’s basically two train sheds stuck together with support. Wall down the middle. So this is the way that they dealt with the problem of having a spanned roof over the top of it. It’s basically two smaller span roofs stuck together, and it’s ba one side is for departures, one side is for arrivals, but also the facade of it.
[00:28:22]Ian McDiarmid: When you look at it it is very obviously two train sheds put together because it’s very plain. Personal note, I think it’s a very attractive building that it’s got nice brick mouldings on it. And I think it’s the huge windows on the front are very interesting, but it is a highly functional building and although the shareholders gripe at the time, the cost of it, By the standards of London Turbine, I don’t think you could get a better value building than King’s Cross.
[00:28:48]Ian McDiarmid: And St. Pancras is flamboyantly gothic. We said that they spent a lot of money on it. It screams money at you. And this flamboyant, gothic theme is important also in [00:29:00] distinguishing St. Pancras from Euston, where the Arch and the Great Hall are both done in a classical style of architecture.
[00:29:07]Ian McDiarmid: Behind the gothic style of Gilbert Scott’s architecture. You can identify various architectural styles and perhaps the one when you are looking at St. Pancras in the round from a distance. Me, an immediately obvious influence on it is the town halls and the cloth halls of Flanders. It’s this huge block of a building with very steep pitched roofs with a sort of forest of pinnacles and chimneys coming up from the top of it.
[00:29:33]Ian McDiarmid: And, Impacted those pitch roofs. It and the pillars and pinnacles is really to emphasise the height of the building. And y I think I’m probably repeating myself, but the whole thing is just, there’s just so much detail. To take in. And one interesting note here is that originally the station was actually planned to have an additional floor on it.
[00:29:52]Ian McDiarmid: And the, it was cut back in a rather perhaps notional nod towards cost-cutting. And again, a sort of personal opinion, I actually think that the [00:30:00] actual building looks. A lot better to look at the drawings for the original plans. The proportions look a lot better, and the building has actually been affected.
[00:30:07]Ian McDiarmid: And then within this sort of gothic detailing, there are various other influences at work. The cathedrals of England and France have quite a big impact on it. When you follow the building round from the left to the right, when you’re facing it, I e you’re going from west to east and you, your eye comes round.
[00:30:23]Ian McDiarmid: This first big arch, which is the departure arch that is contained within this massive block, this massive tower, which looks a bit like the tower you might find on a French shadow. And then when you go over to the other side, the eastern side, and you’ve got the arch for the arrivals above that is a clock tower, which is a little bit reminiscent of Big Ben.
[00:30:43]Ian McDiarmid: And then within, having said that, the influence is very much French and. Cathedrals your eye then goes over, goes up to roof level, and you see these chimneys. And the chimneys are done in the style of sort of English Tudor chimneys. So it’s a right old mixture. Where the original station, sorry, [00:31:00] where the original hotel entrance was, which is on the extreme.
[00:31:03]Ian McDiarmid: Western side, the extreme left. As you look across the road at the building, a lodger comes out, forming the original hotel en entrance. And that looks like something that could be out of an Italian Medieval Piazza Gilbert Scott used lots of different types of stone on detailing the building.
[00:31:20]Ian McDiarmid: So there are lots of little columns. The stone surrounds the windows. There are lots of different colours of stones. There are two kinds of different marble used in the building. And then perhaps the thing that is. Really interesting when you go up to look at it in close detail is all the carving that can be found.
[00:31:36]Ian McDiarmid: So there’s lots of carving of heads and foliage on the outside of the building and inside, there are lots of birds, animals and flowers. And there are two bits that Are particularly interesting and attractive. I think one is that when you go and stand in the departure’s entrance and it’s very easy to walk in there, little dragons are running down the side of the arches.
[00:31:57]Ian McDiarmid: And then if you go and sit in the ticket [00:32:00] office, which is now this restaurant at the far end, there are four interesting sculptures of contemporary railway workers. So you’ve got all this kind of medieval detailing and then you’ve got. Contemporary railway workers up high in on the walls of the building.
[00:32:15]Ian McDiarmid: The ironwork is amazing. There are railings all over many of the windows in, in, in the front. And then, finally, when you’re standing in the forecourt of King’s cross being rather overshadowed by this flamboyantly Gothic building of the Midland Railway. If you look up to where the clock tower is, just to your right, there’s a statue of Britannia up there holding her Trident.
[00:32:36]Ian McDiarmid: It’s, yeah, it, as I was saying earlier, it’s one of those buildings that really repays just looking at slowly. I if you can, and
[00:32:43]Hazel Baker: the hotel was a hallmark of luxury, wasn’t. .
[00:32:48]Ian McDiarmid: Yes, babe Decker, I think described as one of the best hotels in London. It’s big. It had 400 rooms, bedrooms and sitting rooms.
[00:32:57]Ian McDiarmid: It had electric lifts. It has this [00:33:00] grand staircase leading up to the. The first floor of you if you’re not taking the lift. The lodger that I’ve been describing to on the top of that was a balcony. You wouldn’t want to sit out there now cuz of the Euston Road and in fact, back then it looks as though the noise of the traffic created problems because they had a special wooden surface put onto the roadway in front, which was rubber.
[00:33:20]Ian McDiarmid: To deafen the noise. But nevertheless, you could sit out on this rather large, splendid-looking balcony, and that balcony gave on behind to a very long room, which was the lady’s coffee room. And then later on in the 19th century, that lady’s coffee room, was converted into a lady’s smoking room.
[00:33:37]Ian McDiarmid: And this is one of the first. Public ladies’ smoking rooms for women to smoke openly in public was very modern, and, I think a bit controversial as well. These features made it so luxurious and didn’t save it from quickly becoming old-fashioned, particularly after the first World War. And the main problem [00:34:00] was a lack of bathrooms.
[00:34:02]Ian McDiarmid: and a lack of central heating. And the hotel, I think became very run down. And in 1935 it is closed and converted into offices. And I think in the introduction when we were saying why it was so important in talking about it, I think it’s quite clear that I, amongst millions of other people really love this building.
[00:34:23]Ian McDiarmid: In the 1930s, a lot of these Victorian buildings were seen as run down. They were hopelessly old-fashioned. And what I remember from my childhood of St. Pancras is of it being incredibly grimy. And obviously, my childhood. Before you say anything, I we’re talking diesel technology rather than steam technology, Hazel.
[00:34:41]Ian McDiarmid: But one can imagine that in the day days of steam, it was probably even worse. And, There some is featured in various films and including one of my favourites, which is The Lady Killers a, an eing comedy of the 1950s. I’d recommend people to watch it. You may not like eing [00:35:00] comedies.
[00:35:00]Ian McDiarmid: British comedies of the 1950s, hopefully you will, but St. Pancras is really a star of that film, and it captures it. It’s great being able to see St. Pancras and the immediate surrounding area I in the 1950s and looking back now. Very interesting. But one of the things that does is it captures the last days of steam and the sort of rundown nature of the area quite well because it was rundown.
[00:35:27]Ian McDiarmid: Partly because of that and partly because some people at least were hostile to Victorian architecture. This leads on to the recent chapter in its history, and we’re talking about the 1960s when British Rail contemplated knocking it down. So in 1966, they announced that its future was under a review.
[00:35:47]Ian McDiarmid: Now, fortunately, this. A great deal of fear amongst the public And British Rail had formed because I’ve mentioned in passing the Euston Arch and the Great Hall at Euston, which were both [00:36:00] tremendous buildings built, both built by Philip Hardwicks father and son. So the elder built the arch, the younger the hotel, but they were two absolutely spended buildings and British whale just knocked them down in the sixties.
[00:36:11]Ian McDiarmid: They had to give two months notice, but basically, people had. Loved Victorian buildings and then suddenly they were gone. And it’s British rail putting up a modern building. The architect is more craft. Shall we say that the merits of Euston station have always been. questionable. Ever since.
[00:36:31]Ian McDiarmid: Actually, there is a publicity leaflet from the time when Euston opens and the leaflet boasts. It says something like Simplicity is the key to Euston. Yeah, simplicity. Sorry, you’ve just knocked down two of the finest buildings in London and whenever with simplicity part of Euston Station. A lot of people.
[00:36:51]Ian McDiarmid: Listening to this probably won’t be familiar with Euston Station, but I dunno about you. I’ve always found it quite difficult to walk around. It’s quite an unpleasant place really. But anyway [00:37:00] I think most people would sympathize with me. W I’ve realized that I’m I’ve just held back from descending into a rant, which you shouldn’t do obviously on, on a podcast.
[00:37:08]Ian McDiarmid: I’ve reigned myself in, but I suspect that a lot of people. Join with me in that rant and lament the loss of these fantastic buildings at Euston and just wonder at not just how they can conceive about knocking some Pancras down, but just the arrogance of it. But anyway, fortunately there’s this huge outcry headed by.
[00:37:28]Ian McDiarmid: The Victorian Society, which was chaired by Nicolas Ner, who was an architectural critic. And yeah, somebody I admire a lot. One of the reasons I like him was that he was German and he wrote tremendously well in English, which I always admire. But the other important figure, of course, will John Beman and the, there’s a stature of Beman looking up at the building.
[00:37:46]Ian McDiarmid: He absolutely loves some pancras. The final chapter in the story is that the station lives on, but 2003 to 2007 the station is remodeled because they decide to make it into a terminus for the Eurostar. Eurostar had originally stopped in [00:38:00] Waterloo, but it moved to some Pancras.
[00:38:02]Ian McDiarmid: And because the Eurostar trains are so long, this required a remodeling of some Pancras the adding of an extens. Onto the north and side, and they use the opportunity to remodel the station and in particular to improve access to the underground from St. Pancras, which is now quite easy to do.
[00:38:20]Ian McDiarmid: And other big change is, the one that I’ve already hinted at is that they, where the basement used to be storing the. The beer that is now where you enter as a passenger and the main part of the engine shed is now fenced off with glass partitions to stop people wandering in there. And if you are catching the Eurostar, you go down into the basement area and then you come up having sh gone through all the security and stuff, you then go up via escalators up to the platform level.
[00:38:46]Ian McDiarmid: And there is one rather fortunate byproduct of all of this: the station itself is actually. Fairly quiet at station level, at the old railway platform level, which is a good place to stand to admire [00:39:00] Barlow’s engine shed and some of the detailing on Gilbert Scott’s building is actually quite pleasant to stand in there because.
[00:39:08]Ian McDiarmid: People can’t get access to the trains from this. You’ve got quite a space. It’s not busy. And if you do want to look dreamily up at a building, that’s a relatively safe space to do it from you. And unlike in the concourse, you won’t get in anybody’s way.
[00:39:25]Hazel Baker: Brilliant. Ian, thank you very much.
[00:39:27]Ian McDiarmid: Oh, my pleasure, Hazel.
[00:39:50]Hazel Baker: Ian does a King’s Cross walk covering the areas surrounding Euston, St. Pancras and Kings Cross. As all for now, till next time.
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