Saturday, 16 May 2009

St Pancras

Origin & Fabric

In the 1960s, the historian Jack Simmons played an important role in the salvation of St Pancras Station through his extensive research. He wrote, “St Pancras was the child of the Midland Railway...the character, form and scale can be understood only in light of the company that built it”.[1] John Betjemn felt that Simmons’ book St Pancras Station was, ‘readable, learned and inspiring’.[2]
Created from a confederacy of colliery owners in the Erewash Valley,[3] the Midland Railway was based in Derby, with lines concentrated between Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester and Leeds. St Pancras was, a trade display by the industries of the East Midlands, which influenced it’s very fabric, function and construction. The same company built an almost carbon copy of the station - Manchester Central - which has now been refurbished as a conference centre.

Eric Robinson from The Geological Society states that St Pancras, “offers us the widest range of rock types of any Victorian building in London”.[4] Featuring Leicestershire slates and granites, Nottinghamshire sandstone, limestone from Lincolnshire and Rutland, and of course, iron from Derbyshire. The manufacture and erection of the iron roof was completed in 1867 by The Butterley Company from Derbyshire, who were major customers of the M.R. (Midland Railway). Further still, the 50,000,000 red bricks which make up the shed and hotel, were specially fired from a supply of Keupar Marl Clay in Mapperley, Nottingham by Mr Gripper. The M.R. had branch lines running out to all these major quarries, brick yards, works and not to mention collieries.

Function & Construction

The chief engineer of the station shed William Henry Barlow explained how not only the construction of the lower floor was influenced by Burton Beer, but also the impressive station roof :

That it was determined by the directors to devote the whole area to traffic purposes...The special purpose for which this lower floor has been arranged is for Burton Beer traffic; and in order to economise the space to the utmost, it was determined to use columns & girders, instead of brick piers and arches, making the distances between the columns the same as those of the warehouses, which were expressly arranged for beer traffic. This, in point of fact, the length of a beer barrel became the unit of measure, upon which all the arrangements of the floor were based. This decision led to a reconstruction of the question of roofing the station. It became obvious that, if intermediate columns were employed, they must be carried down through the lower floor...on the other hand, it was seen that the floor girders across the station formed a ready made tie sufficient for an arched roof crossing the station in one span...the weight of the roof was carried on the floor line and did not rest on the tops of the walls... [5]

Decline & Renewal

By 1935 when the Midland Grand Hotel was closed and the reputation of St Pancras had sunk to it’s lowest depths. Victorian architecture was seen as over elaborate and superfluous and modernist critics failed to see how St Pancras was in fact a functional design built before the age of steel. As road transport became increasingly popular there were plans by British Rail to demolish the site and in 1975 the M.R.’s Somers Town Goods Depot (now the site of the British Library) was closed. The revival begun in 1994, when the government announced St Pancras would be the best option for a new Eurostar terminus in order to connect a larger portion of the UK to the continent, than was previously allowed at Waterloo. London & Continental Railways - a consortium of engineering, transport and financial businesses - won the bidding to develop this new enterprise. In order to accommodate the Eurostar, the old Burton Beer undercroft was opened up by laying concrete on top of the wrought iron beams, which enabled breaks in the structural grid to be made. A new flat north lit roof across all platforms was designed by Foster & Partners alongside leed architect Alistair Lansley. This provided natural light and cover for the 18 carriage long Eurostar, while trains from the Midlands had a new extension. Although British Rail’s fromer chief architect Nick Derbyshire wanted at least one Midland train to arrive in Barlow’s shed, perhaps a symbolic gesture of the station’s origins, these diesel trains were deemed to filthy for the restored station.6



1. J. Simmons, St Pancras Station, (Leicester, 1968) p.13.
2. J. Betjemn, London’s Historic Railway Stations (1972), p. 15
3. E.G. Barnes, The Rise of the Midland Railway 1844 – 74 Vol II (London, 1966), p. 1.
4. E. Robinson, London: Illustrated Geological Walks: Book 2 (Edinburgh, 1985), p.132.
5. ‘Minutes of the Proceedings of Civil Engineers’, cited in J. Simmons, St Pancras Station, p. 35-6.
6. R. Thorne, ‘St Pancras Revived’, in J. Simmons, St Pancras Station, (London, 2000) p.

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