ALL ABOARD FOR ST. PANCRAS!
The well attended October visit of London Studies 1 was to St Pancras Station and the surrounding area..
On arrival in London, our first stop, inevitably had to be for a traditional coffee break. Suitably refreshed we met up with our guides below the extremely large statue of the greeting couple at the Station aptly named "The Meeting Place". Then after inspecting the friezes around the base depicting people and incidents in the station's colourful history our group moved on to where we could admire the magnificent Grade 1 Victorian Station and Hotel buildings known as "The Cathedral of Railways".
We heard about the innovative work in its construction in 1868 including the revolutionary glass roof and the surprisingly important role of beer in its early years before the talk moved on to its eventual decline to the point of the threat of demolition.
This was followed by the story of its reprieve as a result of the intervention of the likes of John Betjeman and the Victorian Society. It was, however, made clear to us that saving the station was only the first stage in bringing it back to a modern fully functioning station and hotel - now separate entities. There were years of having to deal with the requirements of organisations such as English Heritage whilst having to overcome objections from a number of local organisations including complaints by ladies of the night that the reconstruction work would adversely affect their trade!
After hearing that the Victorian building
was now a combination of an upmarket hotel and luxury apartments (which can shake quite significantly when trains move by but still command very high prices!) we moved on to stand by the statue of Sir John Betjeman and shown how much of the Victorian work had been incorporated into the new complex as a hub for both Eurostar and numerous railway lines which give it direct access to the Continent and many parts of the
After passing the restored Victorian booking office (now a restaurant/bar) we moved downstairs through the station complex where old brick and metalwork exist hand in glove with a modern mixture of shops and restaurants. Then it was outside to see how new buildings had been integrated into the old followed by a walk through the surrounding area and heard about its major redevelopment including nearby Kings Cross - one of the biggest in Europe.
As well as many new buildings (some more attractive than others!) we saw how a number of remnants of our industrial heritage had been re-utilised. Perhaps the most imaginative was the conversion of Gas holders into apartments illustrating the gentrification and enhancement of an area that had previously been run down and decidedly seedy.
Finally we moved back into the station and parted company with our guide after thanking him for a fascinating and illuminating insight into a wonderful combination of Victorian enterprise and modern technology.