I've not been unfamiliar with St Pancras Station, down the years. When I lived in Sheffield it was the station we travelled down to on infrequent visits to London. When I came to live here and my mother was still alive, it was the station I left from for weekend visits and returned to on Sundays. It was always romantically Victorian, all grime and darkness, fronted by the astounding Gothic edifice of Pancras Chambers, very quiet because only trains to the Midlands and Yorkshire and the commuter traffic on the Bedford-St Pancras line used it. The suburban platforms I use at King's Cross, just across the road, give you a good view of St Pancras. I've seen it more or less every day since I came to live in London. It was quite unlike any other station in London. It turned up in films - it stood in for Liverpool Street in The Fourth Protocol
when Michael Caine caught a train from there to Colchester, it appeared in the opening credits of Porridge
, and unless my memory's faulty it was also in the opening scenes of The Ipcress File
Today, it's different.
Today, it's the London end of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, and dear lord have they made a good job of it.
I went through there for the first time in a very long while a few weeks ago on my way to Nottingham for FantasyCon. Going out, I was a bit late and hurrying for my train, but coming back on the Sunday afternoon I was staggered. The dark, grimy, decaying old station I remembered was gone.
Or rather, not gone
, but given one of the most intelligent makeovers I can remember a public building having. Firstly the brickwork has been given a good clean, which always makes a difference. Then the roof has been reglassed and the ironwork repainted. The platforms have been raised a good forty or fifty feet and what is basically a whole station built onto the end of the platforms to accommodate the longer Eurostar trains and the average Midland Mainline commuter trains (also, I have to report, much
improved since I last travelled north on British Rail)
People have been using the words `cathedral-like' to describe what St Pancras is like now, and that really is the only way to describe it. The dirt and darkness disguised just how sodding big
Barlow's original Victorian `shed' (in its time including the largest single-span roof on Earth) really is. Now it's been cleaned up you can see, and it's huge
I popped in on the way home last night, with about seventeen hours to go before the first Eurostar left, and it is not
finished. A lot of the franchises aren't in yet, and won't be until next year, and there is still a lot of hoarding about. But, my hand to god, I think it's the most impressive building in London. I just stood there gawping. If you're going to have £800 million, you might as well use it to do something like this. I like Waterloo International - whose future is still uncertain - a lot, but St Pancras just gets mediaeval on Waterloo International's ass. It's an extraordinary
thing. Really. A truly fitting international terminus for London.
And then, of course, the international traveller leaves St Pancras and finds themselves on the Euston Road...