London's Cultural Guide

St Pancras is 150 today! And they’ve baked a 5-foot cake

A brief history of the iconic station - and how you can celebrate tonight

St Pancras by Philipp Pley

uston Road’s vast gothic landmark oozes so much history, such dramatic twists and turns of fortune through the decades, that it seems almost arbitrary to get excited about a simple birthday. Reaching the grand old age of 150 is certainly a milestone, but the arrival of the first postal train at 4.20am on the morning of October 1st 1868 is probably the chapter of least note in the station’s page-turner of a story.

The original Victorian-era ambition (for many years it held the record as the largest single-spanned roof in the world), quirky design (raised platforms plus a vast undercroft for the purpose of storing barrels of beer) and subsequent fall from favour via the failure of the Midland Grand Hotel, Blitz bomb damage and the slow decline of the railways, are all far more exciting.

As is the bit where the nation’s beloved Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman, enters the plot during the 1960s. Appalled by the destruction of nearby Euston station’s Doric Arch during the frenzy of post-war modernisation, he mobilised misty-eyed railway buffs and dragged town planners back from the brink of unfathomable vandalism.


Now it’s Grade I-listed – talk about a change of perspective – and English Heritage ruthlessly police the slightest hint of change, (even down to approving ‘temporary installations’, like a bloke from our team stood handing out copies of Gasholder on the forecourt).

St Pancras interior. Photo: PR

nd yet possibly the most exciting part of the unfinished tale of St Pancras has happened since rerouting of the Eurostar, from cramped Waterloo to capacious platforms at the heart of 2007’s £800m refurb. Not only did this loving restoration bring Paris to our doorstep, but it included the return of glam hotel accommodation to that iconic frontage, a vast new extension of the original shed, plus the arrival of all manner of stylish concourse boutiques, that put the tired old Gare Du Nord at the other end of the line to shame.

So authentic was the restoration in fact, that the original station clock, a monster of a timepiece at 18ft across, made by Dent (of Big Ben fame), was fully recreated down to using slate from the same quarry as the original.

And what exactly happened to that one? The 1970s saw cash-strapped British Rail sell it to an American collector for £250,000 but they were a bit clumsy when taking it down; dropping and smashing it into thousands of pieces. A railway worker swept it all up, then painstakingly and incongruously recreated the thing on the side of his barn in Nottinghamshire. It was to prove invaluable for Dent when replicating one for the station’s new era.

That clock is now joined by rotating public artworks (Tracey Emin’s neon Brexit comment ‘I Want My Time With You’ is currently in situ), Betjeman’s statue forever gazing up in awe, pianists tinkling the public ivories, hurrying commuters and animated holidaymakers enjoying pre-train champagne. A golden age has well and truly returned.

Celebrate 150 Years

150th birthday cake, created by Le Cordon Bleu. Photo: PR

Eat cake
They’ve baked an enormous bespoke birthday cake in celebration of the station’s 150th anniversary, created by prestigious Parisian cookery school, Le Cordon Bleu. In position on the station’s Grand Terrace, the five-foot showstopper depicts the iconic station’s architecture and 150-year history in edible detail – from the Pullman steam trains to the original vaults. An official cake cutting ceremony is open to the public at 6pm (tonight, 1st Oct) with a choir of a hundred Year joining forces to sing Happy Birthday.

Drink at the Betjeman Arms (1st – 8th October)
The Betjeman Arms will kick off the beer festivities on the station’s official birthday day (1st October), by handing out a selection of some of the best cask ales that London has to offer, as well as limited-edition beer mats, which double up as vouchers and entitle visitors to a free beer at the venue on the station’s Grand Terrace.

Sourced Market (8th – 15th October)
The popular deli will be championing the London’s micro-brewers by showcasing some of the city’s best small batch beers, giving local brewers the chance to share their deep knowledge of the tastes and techniques used in microbrewing. Plus bespoke, discounted beer gift boxes or free gourmet platters will also be on offer for loyalty card members who collect stamps.

Main image: St Pancras

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