Kings Cross St. Pancras
We have come to what is unquestionably the zenith of the circle line, and what might be considered the epicentre of the tube: no station has so many lines going through it as King’s Cross: Victoria, Piccadilly, Northern, Hammersmith and City. Metropolitan and of course our beloved Circle line all make their way through Kings Cross St Pancras, which consists of two major national and indeed international stations.
The first tube station was opened here in 1868, the end (or beginning, depending on your point of view) of that first stretch of the Metropolitan railway which we have been following. It was rearranged at the end on the 19th century, and in the 20s, each time to allow for expansion, and for further lines to be added.
It’s greatest re-arrangement was to come in 1987, when the escalator room caught fire, and it spread rapidly (a perfect example, it is thought, of Trench effect). It devastated the station, and left 31 people dead. 2005 also saw a bomb exploding on a piccadilly line train between here and Russell Square which left 26 dead.
The underground station is not much to look at, though the great round tunnels through which pedestrians pass as spectacular in a minimalist way. However, when we emerge into either Kings Cross or St. Pancras, we are confronted with a different story. Let’s look at Kings Cross first, and save the best til last.
I wish to state categorically, here and now, that this is the only mention that Harry Potter will receive, and anyone mentioning him further will be disqualified and have to start again from the beginning.
Kings Cross has a very fine gold exterior, first built in 1852, but it’s traditional, Victorian exterior belies its modern and not (in your author’s opinion) unattractive interior, re-opened after re-furbishment in 2012. The platforms retain much of their olde worlde charm.
The architect claims that the ceiling is the largest single span station structure in Europe. What is gratifying to see is the British Rail standard issue memorial boards to the fallen have been given a place of prominence. It has also been hypothesised that Queen Boudica is buried somewhere under a platform (presumably if she was buried under a line the spikes on her chariot would play merry hell with the undercarriages).
The patron saint of train spotters.
The station and hotel, having escaped demolition in the 60s (there was a lot of it about), due in no small way to Sir. John Betjeman, who is commemorated with a magnificent statue (which acquires a birthday card around about the time of the poet’s birthday) by Martin Jennings.
The ceiling is by the great station engineer William Barlow, as is all the iron lattice work. When it comes to the brick work, however, we encounter a slight mystery. Whilst it is without question that Scott designed the station hotel in 1863, it is not entirely clear whether it was he or Barlow who designed the brickwork for the station itself. Looking at the building, and given what other work Scott was doing around that time (most notably Kelham Hall, home of the Society of the Sacred Mission and Kelham Theological College, and also St. Saviour’s, Leicester, now closed and in a very sorry state, but a great landmark on the way into Leicester if you are arriving by train) it seems entirely reasonable to suppose that Scott had a hand in the station brickwork.
The station was substantially, and very successfully refurbished in the 2000s, and is now a very remarkable and beautiful testament to sensitive modern restoration. One end, beneath the great clock is not quite dominated by Paul Day’s 30 feet tall statue “The Meeting Place”, and beneath it is Martin Jennings statue of Betjeman, looking up in wonder at Barlow’s ceiling.
The attached hotel has led something of a charmed life. Starting out as The Midland Grand Hotel, from 1873-1935, it then closed and was re-opened as railway offices (legend has it that the plumbing was a Problem). From then until the 1980s it served as railway offices, becoming the headquarters of British Rail from its inception. However it failed fire safety, and stood closed and dilapidated until it was restored extensively in the mid-90s. It re-opened as an hotel in 2011, exactly 138 years after its first opening.
The interior is breath-taking and lavish in the extreme: covered in gold leaf, there was a fireplace in every room. The staircases have to be seen to be believed, and the sweeping exterior is one of the finest in London.
St Pancras Old Church
One of the oldest churches in London, probably built on the site of a Roman settlement. There has been a community worshipping here since about the 4th century, though this is disputed. It has seen a great many important faces down the centuries: Sir John Soane is buried here; Shelly planned to elope from here; Thomas Hardy helped to clear the graveyard, and it is generally thought that the design for the iconic British ‘phone box came from Sir John Soane’s tomb; which is certainly arguable.
Betjeman gives it one sentence:
(St. Pancras, Old Church)
Medieval and 1838 Norman Revival, embellished inside by Martin Travers, 1930.
The presence of Travers’ work shows that the place must have been High. The most recent Gazetteer lists the work as:
Travers carried out two phases of work in this remarkable survival: it is probably the oldest church in London. In 1925 he designed a tabernacle surround which has a trompe l’oeil effect, appearing to be a concave box; this is in the tower, and after a desecration was repaired and is now used as the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham (there are no extant designs for this); he may also have removed the galleries, which was work done at that time. In 1947-8 he carried out repair work after the War, which involved rearrangement of the sanctuary, which has since been again rearranged, a plaster tympanum with dove effect, and a fine bas-relief of Our Lady, which may have been designed for St. Mary, Northolt and used to have a sunburst backing. There is a similar image in the Priory of St. Michael, Covent Garden, Westminster. A rood loft and pulpit were not installed.