Tuesday, 9 November 2010

St Pancras station

I recently found myself in St Pancras station, the first time I have been there for over ten years.

I spent hours at this station whilst I was at university, waiting for trains back to my native Derby. Back then the station exemplified faded grandeur: the glass in the magnificent roof was dirty and jaded, and the brickwork was covered in a patina of grime. Yet it was a magical place, much more suitable for the boundary between reality and fantasy in Harry Potter than the adjacent King's Cross. In some ways the dirt and grime suited the structure: the Victorian dream brought down to a firm twentieth-century base.

The change was startling.

It has been radically altered to become the London terminus of the Channel Tunnel rail link; the undercroft has been opened out and the roof cleaned and painted a magnificent eggshell blue. I wandered around, utterly captivated.

When the plans for the new international terminal were announced I was dismayed - the magnificent arched overall roof was being extended with a flat roof to cater for the longer Eurostar trains. I was keen for the extension to be in a similar style to the existing roof instead of the more industrial looks of the extension.

I am pleased to say that I was wrong; the different styles actually complement each other. The changes within the train shed - including the opening out of the undercroft - have improved the facilities massively. George Gilbert Scott's stunning High Victorian Gothic hotel is also being extended and reopened as a hotel and flats.

British Rail wanted to demolish St Pancras in the 1960s; a campaign led by John Betjemen eventually prevented that fate. Thank God this architectural gem survived to be reused.

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