Cranleigh Arts Centre
West Surrey Area
Museums & Art Galleries
and Around St Pancras"
with Andrew Davies
Monday 27th September 2010
After an unpromising start as a result of the late arrival of the coach, this
proved to be an excellent day. Thirty-nine members of Cranleigh DFAS
accompanied Andrew Davies, such a well-informed and charismatic guide, on a
walking tour of St Pancras Station and the surrounding neighbourhood.
gave each member a handout containing an outline of the history of the station
and helpful diagrams. The overall impression of St Pancras is the integration
of the old and the new and nowhere was this more apparent than standing by the
plaque unveiled by Her Majesty the Queen in November 2007. From here we could
see the old columns of the undercroft, the Victorian engineering of the train
shed, the new extension built to accommodate the Eurostar carriages, and the
brickwork, where it has been left untouched, set against the new. In 1868, when
the train shed was opened, it was the largest uninterrupted space in the world.
The columns that supported it were hidden away in the undercroft where beer,
transported from the Bass brewery at Burton on Trent, was stored. Andrew
brought the history of the Midland Railway to life for us: the creation of the
station as a showcase for the Midlands and the desire of the Midland Railway
Company to outshine its competitors, with the beautiful detail of the mosaic
decorating the train shed brickwork and the magnificent Midland Grand Hotel.
and Sir John Betjeman
A panel in the 3D
the station is a hub of activity linking the capital with Kent, Sussex, the
Midlands and the continent. In two years' time Norfolk will be added to this
list. In 1967 St Pancras was four days from demolition and was saved by the
efforts of Sir John Betjeman, an amazing networker, and others. His statue,
looking up at the soaring arches, and lines from his poems set in the floor,
provide a worthy memorial. Not far away is "The Meeting Place", a
large statue by Paul Day of himself and his wife. Fascinating is the plinth on
which it stands, its frieze, added only four or five months ago, depicting so
many different aspects of the life of this busy station. The 3D effect is
remarkable and few of us could resist rubbing the nose of the homeless person's
dog which is already becoming noticeably polished! The imaginative scheme to
let light into the undercroft, supporting the upper floor with a concrete raft
strong enough to carry Eurostar, has provided accommodation for many upmarket
shops, with a range of eating places upstairs including the famous champagne and
oyster bar. It goes without saying that there was plenty of choice for our
lunch and coffee stops!
afternoon was spent exploring the surrounding area. In the German Gymnasium we
looked at the plans for the King's Cross development and then headed off to
Camley Street Natural Park, the headquarters of the London Wildlife Trust.
Here, as we walked by the Regent's Canal, an oasis of calm, it was impossible to
believe that we were still in central London. Again the old and the new were
inextricably linked. We looked across the canal towpath to the stables for the
horses which were changed every two or three miles. We continued to Old St
Pancras churchyard where Shelley and his wife Mary "romped" before
their marriage and where the Sir John Soane mausoleum provided the basic design
for the red telephone box! We were fortunate enough to be able to go inside the
church and see the seventh century cross carved into what was probably a
portable stone altar.
From the churchyard we returned to St Pancras Station, passing the
former site of the Midland Railway Milk and Fish Depot at the back of the
British Library. The main gates from this depot now stand at the entrance to
the wildlife garden we visited. We could admire the new Midland Grand Hotel
development which lives so harmoniously next to its predecessor. The modern
brickwork blends in with the style of the Victorian building: this hotel,
however, should not suffer from the problems of the old: very few bathrooms and
This report can only give the flavour of what was a superb visit.
Lasting memories? Well, so many: the lofty blue arches of the train shed; the
forest of columns in the undercroft; the ornate frontage of the Midland Grand; a
crumpled John Betjeman looking upwards; the ambitious designs for the
development; a little skip garden, to name but a few.
Our thanks must go to Andrew for sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm
with us in such an exuberant and interesting way, and to Gwen Wright for all her
hard work in making this trip possible.
Pancras Old Church