No doubt about it: I'm a fan of 19th-century brick archtecture, whether it be an exuberant City Hall, a stately but friendly office building, or even a cathedral or two. But last summer I fell in love with my favorite pile of bricks: St Pancras in London.
In the U.S., and in England, these red-brick confections reflect an era of confidence, a belief by those with the money to build them that they were becoming more powerful, that they and their kind would go on forever. For Britain, it was late in the Victorian era, and the British Empire was reaching its greatest extent; in the U.S., it was the period after the Civil War, the so-called Gilded Age, fueled by what seemed like endless opportunities for growth and industrial expansion.
We'll leave aside what was waiting behind the curtain, and just have a look at the buildings with which they rewarded themselves, and in particular this building, which combines London's view of itself as the center of the earth, the 19th-century's romance with railroads, and the hand of George Gilbert Scott, an architect whose family's architectural touch was felt all over England, right down to the red phone box designed by his son.
Actually, the building we know as St Pancras has two main parts: the station itself, whose glass trainshed was the world's largest span when it opened, and Scott's Midland Grand Hotel (the station and hotel belonged to the Midland Railway) that stands in front of it. Spectacular as the shed is, it's the hotel most think of as St Pancras, and it's what I love.
We almost never met. By the 1930s, the hotel closed and was partly used for railroad offices. Most of its long-distance rail service used next-door Euston station. And during World War II, the train shed was damaged by bombs; after the war, only part of it was rebuilt. In the 1960s, there were plans to tear the whole thing down.
And then came the Channel Tunnel and Eurostar, the high-speed train to France and beyond. After years of the train speeding across France at over 200 mph and then reaching London backed up behind local commuter trains from Kent, Britain finally decided on a new high-speed rail line (oddly named High Speed 1), and a new terminal for the trains.
After a great deal of planning and re-planning and shifting around of the various long-line and commuter services still using the station, and at a cost of over a billion dollars, St Pancras became St Pancras International. A new operator took over the hotel and refurbished it as a luxury hotel and apartments. And so, it was there for us to meet and love.
Inside the station, there are more wonderful views...
The other shows the poet John Betjeman, who took a big role in the campaign to save the station from demoli-tion.
Interior of the station, and the impressive arches that hold the glass ceiling.
And some scenes in the refurbished interior of the hotel.