Forget the stark airports of London, it’s a magnificent train station that should wow visitors.
If you’ve ever flown into London you can be forgiven for thinking the British don’t care about first impressions. The soulless shacks that ‘welcome’ visitors to Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, or City airports are some of the most desolate hubs I’ve ever had the misfortune to step inside. There is nothing happy or pleasantly memorable about them at all. But there is a port of entry to the UK that provides a real ‘wow!’ factor, one that you should definitely consider taking the time to use.
How it once was
In 1868 St. Pancras railway station was opened to provide links to the Midlands, places like Nottingham, Langley Mill, Sheffield, and Leeds. In 2007 a long redesign of St. Pancras was completed and it replaced Waterloo as London’s international rail terminus – where Eurostar services from Europe spill tourists into London.
I have memories of St. Pancras in the 1980s and ’90s as a smoky and grimy place. The beautiful ironwork of the main shed over the platforms was stained the grubby brown of age-old newspaper by over a century of coal and diesel smoke. What glass remained was opaque, gloomy, and sad. Nevertheless I was always awed by the scale of the Victorian architecture in the station, and the beauty of the station’s facade, which is dominated by the neo-gothic Midland Grand Hotel, recently refurbished and reopened as the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel.
Today the change to St. Pancras is absolute.
The airy, bright interior of the main shed is jaw-dropping. Especially when you compare it to the relatively dismal Gare du Nord. The architects have retained the original ironwork but have simply slapped a cornflower blue on the ribs and struts to brighten the arc. The stunning brickwork has been lovingly cleaned back to its vivid original red and yellow patterns. The platforms areas have been raised over the shopping areas, and simplified so that there’s a feeling of space throughout the station. Statues adorn the concourses; one of a couple embracing after meeting again under the enormous clock, and one of John Betjeman who was largely responsible for the delivery of the hotel facade from abandonment and decay.
The present state of St. Pancras is a fantastic fusion of modern space and Victorian intricacy. It’s somewhere I truly love, now more than ever. If you are planning to visit London then why not enter Europe through Paris or Brussels, and take the Eurostar to London – I can guarantee that you won’t find any better first impression.
You know what though? I really wish I’d waited for the fat photographer to get out the way of that picture of Bejteman’s statue. DAMN!