The station has an interestingly long and chequered history, one you can read in more detail from many internet sources, but here’s my summary.
The station opened in 1868, built by the then Midland Railway to gain a London presence linking the city with Bedford. Soon after its opening, the Midland Railway built the Midland Grand Hotel in front of the station, but the hotel closed in 1935.
Avid rail enthusiasts will know that railway companies have changed names many times. The Midland Railways was no different as it merged with London and North Western Railways, becoming the London, Midlands and Scottish railways (LMS), and then British Rail in 1948.
The main train shed saw bomb damage during WWII. Despite British Rail’s investment to increase destinations, by the 1960s, the use of the station had declined, resulting in attempts to close the station and demolish the hotel building. But following strong opposition by several prominent figures, including the Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman, plans for the station’s closure were withdrawn by British Rail. The station was subsequently protected by it receiving a Grade I listed status. In recent years, those who have visited the station may have seen Sir John Betjeman’s statue honouring his involvement in saving the station.
Fast forward 30 years through the time of British Rail’s privatisation, and the political changes that saw several Government Secretaries of State for Transport, and plans to reuse the station as the London terminus for the cross channel rail emerged. As a result, and at over £800 million, the station has been redeveloped into what we see today.
The facade has retained its stunningly attractive gothic Victorian charm. Looking around the station and its buildings, you’ll see a mix of original and modern architectural styles coexisting harmoniously. Gaze upwards towards the roofline with its stunning brickwork and access ladders and ask yourself – would you climb these?
And by contrast, there’s a modern, glazed entrance on the east of the building facing Kings Cross station.
Train Operating Companies (TOCs)
In keeping with Network Rail’s open approach to rail enthusiasts, my first task when I arrive at a mainline station is to report to the station reception to tell them what I am doing. Unfortunately, I was unprepared for their response as they explained the station, although managed by Network Rail, is owned by High Speed 1, which has different conditions for taking photographs at their station.
The receptionist explained that I needed permission to take photos with a ‘professional’ camera, but I was OK to take photos with a mobile phone. Whilst I complied, of course, I think this approach, which I’ve also encountered on many of London’s private developments (e.g. around the O2), is somewhat confusing and outdated.
In my opinion, I believe that some companies have a misplaced policy in that those carrying a professional-looking camera should be treated differently from those taking pictures with a mobile phone. I think this is a cop-out because it’s not practical to prevent anyone from taking photos on their mobile phones, even though their devices are technically more capable and advanced than some d/SLR (digital/Single Lens Reflex) cameras.
But I digress…so I continued my exploration inside the station with just my mobile phone.
The station is now a world-class destination for international travellers and those heading to the Midlands, the shires, and the Kent coast on the high-speed link. There are four Train Operating Companies:
High-Speed: Eurostar operates international high-speed train services to cross channel destinations with an airport-style check-in system on the ground floor. Southeastern operates a 35-minute service to and from Ashford for other domestic high-speed services to Kent on their ‘Javelin’ class 395 trains. This service runs via Stratford International, which only takes 7 minutes, and was part of the infrastructure planning that helped to secure the London 2012 Olympic experience.
The Midlands and the Shires: East Midlands Railway (EMR) provides Intercity rail services to Leicester, Sheffield and Nottingham with regional services to many destinations, including Matlock, Worksop, Lincoln and Skegness. This route map shows the full extent of the EMR service.
Thameslink spreads its rail links closer to London into the commuter shires. North into Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, and south into Kent and West Sussex. Thameslink is part of the Govia transport company that also operates Southern and Great Northern rail services, and their map shows the extent of their reach.
Before the modernisation of St Pancras station, Thameslink services stopped at an unconnected Kings cross Thameslink station. This has since been closed, and Thameslink trains now use the subterranean platforms A & B at St Pancras. Despite their stark concrete appearance, the platforms have a somewhat rugged/brutalist beauty which is probably missed by most of the travellers here.
Shopping and people watching.
The original main train shed is now an attractive shopping destination where leading boutique style experiences await. And it’s where those keen to demonstrate their piano playing skills are found as the station has two pianos open to anyone to play. It’s at one of these I found Ibrahim. By his admission, Ibrahim isn’t an accomplished pianist, but he enjoys tickling the ivories, which he was happy to do whilst he waited for the Eurostar service to depart.
Running parallel with the Eurostar platforms on the upper level is the delightful Searcys Champagne Bar. To me, its moody lighting evokes an early 20th Century feel reminiscent of the glorious days of steam travel. Although it was closed at the time of my visit, probably due to Covid restrictions, I’m pleased to tell you it has since reopened.
The champagne bar is an ideal stop for a bit of luxury, and if romance is in the air, why not get some flowers from the colourful display at Moyses Stevens’ stall on the ground floor. It was here I met Ka-yi who was clearly enjoying her work. She didn’t mind this intrusive photographer stopping to chat and capturing her smile.
Out and About
If you have the inclination and time to walk around the outside of the station, you’ll discover many interesting spots. You’ll also learn a little about the social and economic history if you’re prepared to look beyond what you see today. So let’s take an anti-clockwise tour around the station:
Pancras Road – head north to the station’s east. But beware of the cyclists who zoom through the extensive underpass as they traverse their way up to Goods Way. This is an appropriately named road in recognition of a large goods station that once stood here, just north of the Regents Canal, to transport coal and other goods.
This is now the fashionable Coal Drops Yard destination, home of fine dining, artistic study and children’s play area. You can get here from Goods Way or over Somers Town bridge that skirts Camley Street Natural Park, where you can watch those who meander along the canal towpath with Camden only one kilometre away to the west.
But it’s a drizzly day on Regent’s Canal, and it seems the occupant of this barge has set up their stove to keep warm (or make a brew), evidenced by the smoke drifting out of the chimney as runners on the opposite towpath pass by.
St Pancras Old Church: For most passengers going through the station, they’ll never know, let alone give a thought to the station’s name. However, if you have time, I recommend a short stroll north to enjoy the church and gardens which you can get to by continuing under the railway bridge from Camley Street.
The church’s website gives a very good and detailed account of its history which is reckoned to be one of the oldest places of Christian worship in England. And here’s a snippet from their website about Pancras and his brief encounter with our mortal world:
‘Pancras was born in Phrygia and moved to Rome with his uncle around the year 300 when he was orphaned. The story goes that Pancras became a popular figure in the early Roman Church and with sectors of Roman society, and he is often depicted in the uniform of a Roman soldier. However, as a consequence of his conversion to Christianity at the age of 14, he was beheaded at the wishes of Emperor Diocletian in the year 304.’
Crowndale Road: A little further up in Crowndale Road, the Old St Pancras Church House is now home to Theatro Technic, an arts organisation founded in 1957 to serve its local community. And it’s on the side of the building that street artist D*Face has created a wall-size mural entitled ‘The Face’ in 2020 as part of London’s Mural Festival.
I so love stumbling across ‘hidden’ wall art, and although you can’t really miss this, you do have to know where it is to enjoy its scale and beauty. I believe London’s wall art is now one of the city’s newest immersive experiences.
Nearby, there’s a small parade of shops opposite Goldington Crescent Gardens, built under a residential block of flats. But sadly, the entrance to the block of flats is unwelcoming and is indicative of the measures needed in this area to keep its residents safe and secure.
Pancras Road leading into Midland Road: From Crowndale Road, Pancras Road emerges and heads down the western side of the station until it does a dog-leg under the railway lines and continues on the station’s east side. At this point, Midland Road starts, and it was here the Midlands Railway had constructed its own goods yard, which was one of the main economic justifications for extending its services into London. The goods yard is now long gone and replaced by several prestigious buildings. There’s the world-renowned Francis Crick Institute and the British Library.
But I end my journey peering into the windows of the many trades that have made their home under the arches of the old goods yard. This curious shot from one of the windows of Relic Antique Warehouse just made me smile.
Picture of the Day – Specialist Tailor
My picture of the day comes from one of those traders from under the goods yard arches. It wasn’t an instant contender, but it seemed to absorb the building’s history once I’d applied a sepia filter.
The tailor’s name is on the small sign above the door, and if you look closely, it has also been scraped onto the panelling above the windows. The name is ‘L Y Triantafillou’, Specialist Tailor. You get the impression that the business isn’t doing well, because of its dishevelled state, out of the way location and lack of internet presence. However, the alternative view is that the quality of service provided must be second to none, as all the factors mentioned have no bearing on the demand for their expertise.
I leave you to decide, but the photo has a curious and surreal quality as it captures the small, almost insignificant stickers on the window and the upside-down face that probably has nothing to do with the tailoring service.
- Location: Midland Road
- Date/Time: Tuesday 15/02/2022 1:23pm
- Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ5.6; Shutter Speed – 1/250; Focal Length – 75mm; Film Speed – ISO 1250