St Pancras Station and the adjoining hotel are looking at their very best at the moment. These fabulous examples of Victorian architecture are jewels in the crown of this area of London and were the first buildings in the locality renewed as part of the regeneration of King’s Cross.
St Pancras Old Church
Before St Pancras station there was a graveyard.
The bodies from part of the graveyard had to be moved to make way for the Midland Railway line which would connect London with the East Midlands. 8,000 corpses had to have a new home.
You can still see the beautiful St Pancras Old Church and what’s left of the graveyard (one of the largest green spaces in the area) in Somerston, not far from the railway stations of King’s Cross and St Pancras. There’s thought to have been a church on the site since Roman times.
In the churchyard there’s an ancient ash tree against which the gravestones of the displaced have been piled up. It’s called the Hardy Tree, because the novelist Thomas Hardy in his role as architect was an overseer of the move, and the grey stones are now part of the tree itself, as it grows through them.
John Soane’s grave, inspiration for the iconic red telephone box, also lies in this graveyard.
As well as normal church services, gigs are occasionally held there in the evenings, and publicity shots were taken of the Beatles in the grounds to promote Hey Jude and the White Album:
The Station and Hotel
Built 18 feet above the Regent’s canal, the main train shed (which was an engineering wonder in itself), and the over-the-top Victorian gothic extravaganza that was the Midland Grand Hotel opened in 1873.
The combination of soot, a lack of bathrooms (none of the bedrooms had them) and competition from newer hotels in the West End meant that it was loss-making for years. It was eventually turned into railway offices.
The hotel and station escaped demolition in the 1960s when it was to be replaced by a concrete office block and sports hall, largely down to a last minute campaign led by the poet laureate John Betjeman. (His statue now graces the train shed).
It’s appeared in the films “From Hell”, “Chaplin”, “Richard III”, and “Batman Begins”. And it was famously the location of the Spice Girls’ Wannabe video.
60,000,000 bricks were used in the original construction and an additional 16 million have been kilned to build a new extension to the hotel, which has now become a five star en-suite bathroomed Renaissance Hotel. The upper floor, St Pancras Chambers, has been converted into penthouses, providing living spaces for people like supermodel Lily Cole.
St Pancras, Then and Now
There was much excitement as the Eurostar arrived in 14th November 2007. In the boarding lounge where passengers wait before boarding trains for the continent, beer used to be stored (the station could accommodate up to 23 million barrels of the stuff).
The beer company Bass used this storage area to keep their beverages before its transport round the city and three large beer barrels could occupy the space between pairs of the columns supporting the roof in that area.
Above, on the station concourse, there is the world’s longest champagne bar with heated seats as well as a range of restaurants and shops throughout the station.
Whether on a weekend break in the city, or just passing through, there’s usually something going on in the station: a huge Christmas tree made of lego stood here last year, and two pianos were left in the station after a recent music festival.
Any member of the public can now have a go on them and there’s usually someone tinkling the ivories on your way past. And there’s more music to be had: at Christmas, concerts are held on early Thursday evenings.
Whether in the mood for a carol service in the church, a spot of shopping, music-listening in the station or perhaps a cocktail or afternoon tea in the hotel, this area of London is a sweet spot. Architecture, history and culture combine and there’s more to come as the area develops even further. Watch this space.