St Pancras is a 19th century station that delivers a 21st century regional, intercity, continental and high speed railway to London..
Owned by HS1 Limited and managed by Network Rail, today it is a key London interchange and the very definition of a ‘destination station’.
- 858: the Midland Railway agree access to north London running lines and Kings Cross station with the Great Northern Railway.
- 1863: June, the Midland Railway gain parliamentary authority to build an extension from Bedford to London along with a new terminus on the Euston Road. William Henry Barlow, the Midland Railway’s consultant engineer draws up plans for the line and a new station.
- 1865: a competition is held to determine the design of the hotel which will provide the front to the station building. The gothic design by George Gilbert Scott wins.
- 1866: construction on Barlow’s train shed begins.
- 1868: Work is completed on the train shed and work on the Gilbert Scott’s hotel begins.
- 1873: the Midland Grand Hotel is opened by Queen Victoria.
- 1883: work starts on building the Midland Railway’s goods station just west of St Pancras; this is now the site of the British Library.
- 1923: Railway grouping puts St Pancras under the control of the London Midland & Scottish Railway.
- 1935: the Midland Grand Hotel closes and becomes railway offices known as St Pancras Chambers.
- 1939: the station is a busy departure point for soldiers going to war and children being evacuated to the countryside.
- 1967: despite attempts to close and demolish the St Pancras, the station and hotel become Grade 1 listed buildings, thanks to a campaign to save them spearheaded by Sir John Betjeman.
- 1978: British Rail agrees the sale of the St Pancras clock, to an American buyer. As removal takes place the clock is dropped and smashed into pieces. A signalman buys the pieces and restores the clock, fixing it to the side of his barn. During the restoration project this original is studied and an exact replica hung at the south end of the train shed.
- 1985: St Pancras Chambers is no longer used by British Rail and falls into disrepair.
- 1990s: St Pancras undergoes emergency repair.
- 1993: a scheme to join St Pancras with Kings Cross to make an international terminal is dismissed in favour of St Pancras alone.
- 1996: London & Continental Railways are commissioned to build the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL); a high speed railway between London and the Channel Tunnel. Plans to develop St Pancras International begin.
- 2005: work starts on refurbishing Gilbert Scott’s gothic hotel by Manhattan Loft.
- 2007: St Pancras International is officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II. Eurostar and East Midlands train services are joined by Thameslink services in December.
- 2009: 13th December, new high speed domestic rail services from St Pancras to Kent began.
- 2011: March, the St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel opens. The Booking Office Bar gives customers direct access to the station platforms.
- 2012: St. Pancras International plays an important part in transporting spectators to the London Olympic park; the journey from St Pancras to Stratford International takes just 7 minutes.
A new grand terminus for London
By the mid 19th century, the Midland Railway was hurting from agreements entered into with the Great Northern Railway that enabled it to reach London with goods and passenger traffic. They wished to extend its line from Bedford to London in order to compete with the London & North Western and Great Northern railway companies for the Yorkshire railway traffic. St Pancras was to be a suitably grand terminus for their rail services.
The station was designed and constructed in two parts; the train shed and the hotel frontage. William Henry Barlow, the Midland’s consultant engineer, designed the extension route and station layout, including the single span arched train shed constructed of iron and glass. At 243ft by 110ft high at its apex, it was at the time the largest ironwork structure of its kind. As the 6 platforms were tied to the ribs, the train shed area was clear and spacious compared to other termini, making the structure much more flexible and allowing for future changes.
Barrels of beer
As the line had to bridge the Regents Canal to the north of the station, the platforms at St Pancras were built at a high level which made it much more imposing than its Euston Road neighbours. Resting on 850 cast iron pillars, this gave the station space underneath for storage of goods. The distance between the columns was measured using one of the Midland Railway’s most lucrative goods traffic; barrels of beer from Burton on Trent.
In 1865, a competition was held to design the front façade of the station including a new hotel. George Gilbert Scott, the most celebrated gothic architect of his day, won the competition even though his design was larger than the rules allowed. Construction of the hotel started in 1868 however the economic downturn of the late 1860s meant that the hotel, named the Midland Grand, was only completed in 1876. Striking and self confident, the station and hotel completely dominated its Great Northern neighbours.
The station's decline
In 1923 St Pancras was transferred to the management of the London Midland & Scottish Railway; the LMS focused its activities on Euston, and so began the decline of St Pancras over the next 60 years. In 1935 the Midland Grand was closed as a hotel due to falling bookings and profit, blamed on the lack of en suite facilities in the bedrooms. It was used instead as office accommodation for railway staff and renamed St Pancras Chambers.
During WWII, the station played an important role for troops departing for war and children being evacuated from London. Although the station was hit hard during the blitz, there was only superficial damage and the station was quickly up and running.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the decline of St Pancras continued and British Railways tried to close and demolish the station a number of times. John Betjeman spearheaded a campaign to save the station and hotel, and in November 1967 was successful in getting the buildings declared Grade 1 listed just days before demolition was due to begin.
Although the buildings were saved, their decline was allowed to continue; the hotel building was mothballed in 1985 and the train shed roof fell into a state of serious disrepair.
A destination station
The 1990s saw the start of St Pancras’ revival. The Channel Tunnel opened in May 1994, but high speed trains were only able to reach their maximum speeds on the French side of the Channel. In 1996 Government passed the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act authorising the construction of a high speed line from the tunnel to a redeveloped St Pancras International.
In consultation with English Heritage and with painstaking reference to original detail, Barlow’s original train shed roof was restored to its Victorian glory with 18k panes of self cleaning glass, 300k welsh slates and the iron girders stripped and repainted in their original pale blue. New oak doors for the main entrances were made, the brass furniture copied exactly from original drawings.
To extend platforms to accept Eurostar trains, an additional train shed to the rear of Barlow’s original was designed by Foster & Partners. The west wall of the station was rebuilt using 16 million bricks manufactured identically to the original. New public works of art include the statue of the station’s saviour John Betjeman and the 30ft tall bronze sculpture ‘The Meeting Place’, positioned under the station clock.
Opening up the station undercroft allowed developers to let in the light from the roof and the building to be seen from the new Eurostar check-in lounge, shops, restaurants and food halls, created in the space Barlow had originally designed for beer barrels.
The new St Pancras International station was officially opened on in November 2007 with Eurostar and East Midland services, and with Thameslink services joining that December. At the end of 2009 high speed domestic services began between St Pancras and Kent. In 2012 this high speed line transports spectators to the London Olympic Park at Stratford International in just seven minutes.
Did you know?
The construction of the line and station at St Pancras required the demolition and clearance of many properties, including the old St Pancras burial ground. A young Thomas Hardy, before finding fame as an author was employed to oversee the excavation and re-internment of the bodies.