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For the traveller walking into St Pancras International Station, they would look around and consider it a masterpiece of Railway Station design, however this disguises a rather chequered past.
St Pancras was considered one of finest of the “new” London station built in the Victorian age, the train shed, completed in 1868 by the engineer William Henry Barlow, was the largest single-span structure built in the world at that time. The front of the station was taken up by the Midland Grand Hotel, designed by George Gilbert Scott, an illustrious example of Victorian Gothic architecture.
Product of the boom in railways in the 19th century it was in the 20th century that problems began to appear, the merger of a number of railway companies meant that Euston became the main London terminus serving the Midlands and the North. By 1935 The Midland Grand Hotel was closed and used for offices and during the Second World War bombing damaged the famous train shed.
By the 1960s St Pancras was seen as surplus to requirements for the now state owned British Railways and plans were made to demolish the station and the former Hotel. These plans provoked strong and successful opposition, with the campaign led by the later Poet Laureate, John Betjeman.
The completion of Channel Tunnel held out hope that St Pancras would become the Eurostar terminus in London, the go ahead for this plan led to one of the largest renovations of a railway complex in the UK, costing an estimated 800 million pounds the station and the former hotel were dramatically restored to or even surpassed their former glory and now included upmarket shopping areas.
Walking through the Gothic masterpiece now called St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel, the visitors are faced with a nearly 30 feet bronze statue called The Meeting Place by Paul Day, the statue tries to depict the romance of the railway station but in reality the romance is in the incredible restored Train shed roof and the wonderfully placed statue of Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman gazing at the roof which he helped to save.
Strangely as you walk along the platform, the huge Paul Day statue disappears below the station clock and the smell of the Eurostar trains takeover, perhaps not the romance of steam trains but a nod back to the glory days of the elegance of the Orient express.
To show how far the station has come, people not even travelling come into the station to use the bars, cafes and shops or gaze at the amazing roof.
If you are a visitor in the area, take a short detour into one of London’s finest railway stations and breathe in the romance of train travel.