THE VERDANT PATH St.Pancras Midland Railway Station
The construction of the station was not without its own special problems. Financially the whole project
depended on the capital markets, which were hit in 1866 by a major depression. Disaster was narrowly
avoided despite widespread panic among its investors and contractors.
On its way from Hampstead to the Thames the river Fleet’s effluent flowed through the site. Our
Victorian forefathers treated this as a simple plumbing problem. They simply diverted the river and then
encased it in a large metal sewer pipe.
The populated area around St. Luke’s lay in the middle of the proposed development. The church
was simply moved stone by stone to Wanstead. Families living nearby were thrown out of their homes with
out ceremony or recompense. Navies dug up the dead and cleared their decomposing bodies from the
graveyard. The young apprentice architect, who supervised this macabre work during a cholera epidemic,
soon afterwards exchanged his soiled spade for a pen. His name was Thomas Hardy.
In 1868 William Henry Barlow completed the shed of the southern terminal of the Midlands
Railway, connecting London with the industrial wealth of the Midlands and Yorkshire. A narrow strip of
land was left facing the main road for the proposed grand hotel.
In collaboration with Rowland Mason Ordish his 243ft single-span, 100ft. high glassed roof then
covered the largest enclosed space in the world.
He raised the platforms on 20ft. high cast iron columns, the resulting undercroft, the area under
the platforms, was used to store barrels of Burton-upon-Trent beer, with coal being the other important
commodity transported. This allowed the trains to cross over the Regent’s Canal on a bridge, rather than
having to burrow under it.
Disappearing under a cloud of coal-fired soot, surrounded by seedy streets, frequented by drunks and
prostitutes, the station sank into a hinterland of industrial slums and soon lost its intended prestigious
status. Following a change of ownership the station was downgraded. The problem of smoke from the coal-
fired steam engines was partially solved when the glass roof acquired added ventilation courtesy of the
German Luftwaffe. The Clean Air Act of 1956 and the electrification of the railways finally eliminated the
problem. Following Dr. Beeching’s railways report of 1965, British Rail’s improvement plans,
supported in principle by The Royal Fine Art Commission, involved the wholesale demolition of both St.
Pancras and Kings Cross stations, replacing them with one nice new modern contemporary Mega Station.
Fortunately for posterity, there was one member of the British Rail staff in the know, who
knew that this would be ‘a criminal folly’, and discreetly blew his whistle in the ear of his friend
John Betjeman. The recent destruction of Euston’s Great Hall with its iconic Neoclassical
Gateway and the imposition on London of the brutal architecture of the newly built Barbican had
created a public receptive to Betjeman’s magic message for preservation championed by the
Victorian Society, chaired by Nikolaus Pevsner. Once alerted, at the Ministry of Housing and
Local Government in 1967, the hereditary Labour Peer Lord Wayland Young promptly upgraded
the station and hotel from ‘scheduled for demolition status’ to that of a protected Grade 1 listed
But it still remained shabby and neglected, with some suburban services being transferred to the
Thames Link route. The prospect of a revival came with the creation of the Channel tunnel, when in 1996
it was designated as the home of Eurostar’s High Speed 1 rail service, and renamed St. Pancreas
International. Now £8 hundred million has been spent on a sympathetic redesign and refurbishment
programme, under the assured hand of the British architect Alastair Lansley CBE. As Chief Architect
and Curator he has blended a brilliant mix of high-tech ultra modern for the domestic services extension
with Victorian period engineering to accommodate the longer Eurostar trains, that forms a seamless and
aesthetically uplifting design. This has not only guaranteed the station’s future but it has now finally found
the role that its creators aspired to and has even surpassed its early prestige and glamour, not only as Great
Britain’s gateway to and from the Continent, but as a destination in it’s own right.
In appreciation of his unique contribution, Betjeman’s accessible and cuddly bronze statue, designed
by Martin Jennings, has been placed on a slate circle on the upper level of the station. He now stands
proudly, his coat and hat blown by the wind of an arriving Eurostar engine, gazing up in awe at his restored
station’s sky blue metal ribs that float above pristine pink decorative brickwork, and all inspired by
Sir John Betjeman Statue Documentary