When the Midland Railway commissioned William Barlow to design St Pancras Railway Station they also wanted a spectacular front to the building and the designs of George Gilbert Scott were selected, even though he far exceeded the cost and scope of the original commission. Gilbert Scott, whose other designs included the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and restorations of Worcester Cathedral and Lichfield Cathedral, wanted a building with the presence of an ornate palace in the Gothic Revival Style, and he certainly succeeded.
The station opened in 1868 while the hotel was under construction – the first paying guests were admitted in 1873. I’ve not been inside myself (it is on my wish list, though staying there is definitely out of my budget!) but the pictures above show an intention to impress on every level. Inside and out stonemasons were employed to create intricate capitals (the top of the column) and gargoyles that are certainly worth examining up close.
Fun fact, in 1899 the hotel entrance was fitted with the first revolving door in Britain. It was also the first hotel in the world to have “hydraulic ascending chambers” (water-driven lifts essentially) and had flushing toilets – not a feature of any other hotel at the time.
However by the 1920s these innovations seemed very behind the times – the hotel had 300 rooms which had to share 5 bathrooms while most of the other hotels in London were by now en suite. Costs mounted up and it eventually closed in 1935.
It survived the Second World War, despite being bombed three times in one month and was used afterwards as offices, though were not particularly well cared for. In the 1960s city planners wanted to knock it down and replace it with more modern office blocks but thankfully Sir John Betjeman, Poet Laureate, raised objections and spearheaded a public campaign to save the hotel and the station. In 1967 it was given Grade I listing, saving it for the nation and in 2002 plans began to restore it to its former glory.
If you’re travelling through St Pancras International do try and find time to pop outside and take a look at the building, it really is one of London’s best. You can find more photos here.
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