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).
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.
Main image: St Pancras