I recently spent a day in London with my camera and a desire to capture the details of two stations that I’ve frequently passed through. I have shared the results of half of this trip in my King’s Cross article and here is an account of my experiences and thoughts while I was at St Pancras.
St Pancras is the 10th most used station in Great Britain according to 16-17 government statistics, which measure almost 33 and a half million entries and exits during the year.
Victorian built St Pancras Station was designed by engineer William Barlow, and opened by the Midland Railway Company in 1868. The station was built using a wrought iron framework of lattice design and was the largest single span roof structure in the world at the time of its construction. This method of construction was used to maximise space in the undercroft of the station so that it could be used to store barrels of beer.
Upon arrival at London St Pancras you are greeted by the magnificent roof which at one end features a Dent clock.
The current station platform clock isn’t the original one; that one was sold to an American collector for £250,000. When that clock was taken down, before being transported to its new owner, it fell and broke into tiny pieces. These pieces were then luckily bought by a retired train driver rather than being thrown away, so when Dent was commissioned to make the new station platform clock the company was able to use these fragments to help them recreate a clock which would have elements of the original and be in keeping with the architectural environment.
On the platform level of the station there is a statue of the poet Sir John Betjeman (1906 – 1984) by Martin Jennings. This larger than life figure is surrounded by an excerpt from one of Sir John Betjeman’s poems ‘Cornish Cliffs’ which circles the statue on the floor:
‘And in the shadowless, unclouded glare
Deep blue above us fades to whiteness where
A misty sea-line meets the wash of air’
Sir John Betjeman is commemorated at St. Pancras because in 1966 British Rail put forward a proposal to demolish St. Pancras, and it was thanks partly to the efforts by the poet, and also of the efforts of Jane Fawcett as part of the Victorian society, that this episode ended in the station achieving grade 1 listed status and therefore being saved in 1967.
Dotted about close by to the statue are other excerpts from poems by John Betjeman.
On the Grand Terrace, which is relatively close to the Betjeman statue, is a 9m tall Paul Day statue called ‘The Meeting Place’ which features a loving couple. This statue, to my mind, represents both the parting and reuniting aspects of travel and maybe also travel as a romantic adventure.
From the Grand Terrace it’s easy to get to the outside via archways to admire the station’s imposing facade on Euston Road. The outside of the building consists of a clock tower and what is currently called the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, both of which were designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott.
To my mind the best feature on the arcade, which is what currently occupies the undercroft of the station, is the free for anyone to play piano! This opportunity sees a constant stream of willing participants. I love watching the activity there; from the flamboyant players to the ones that sneak on after psyching themselves up to have a go. All of them deserve a round of applause in my opinion which I duly stepped in to provide while I was there! I highly value public opportunities like this and think that they really add value to humanity for many reasons. I love the thought of a child hearing or playing a piano for the first time because of that piano’s existence. It’s also lovely to think of a traveller’s soul being calmed or enriched because of that piano or even of a passerby being cheered briefly as they pass.
Even though the station was saved from demolition in the 1960s, the station continued to be run down. The thing that changed that state of affairs to the vibrant station that we see today was the fact that the station was selected to be the London terminal of the Channel Tunnel rail link, now known as High Speed 1. During the refurbishment of the station at this time, platforms were extended to accommodate 400m Eurostar trains and seven new platforms were built in an extension to the station for trains using Midland Mainline and also domestic services on High Speed 1. This domestic train HS1 service is operated by ‘Javelin’ trains, affectionately so called because their aerodynamics make them look like a javelin and because they provided a shuttle service between St Pancras and Stratford International for those attending the Olympic Park during the 2012 games. (Each train is named after a British Olympic or Paralympic medal winner.) Subterranean platforms were also constructed for suburban Thameslink services.
On 6th November 2007 St Pancras International and High Speed 1 were launched. The opening ceremony included Eurostar trains arriving through a cloud of dry ice and also the unveiling of ‘The Meeting Place’ statue. There is a plaque in the undercroft of the station, next to the entrance to the underground, to commemorate this event.
Below is a picture of Eurostar trains standing in the Barlow shed. (Thanks to Paul H for taking it for me.) The picture was taken on the platform level at St Pancras from inside the security sealed terminal area with ‘The meeting place’ statue directly behind where the photograph was taken. These trains provide links to Paris and Brussels via the channel tunnel.
Railway stations and airports are the heart of travelling experiences. People from all walks of life are united in their mission to move on, to get to or to return from somewhere. How lovely it is that while they are doing that, they have interesting and uplifting surroundings to help them along their way. This is very much the case at St Pancras.