a city through the eyes of a girl who's not sure how she ended up here

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

St Pancras International: A station reborn

When the Accidental Father was a small boy, many moons ago, he and a similarly be-shorted school-friend used to pass many happy days hopping between Kings Cross and St Pancras rail stations, trainspotting.  The two train stations are united by a common underground stop, with subways facilitating the transfer from one to another; providing a highspeed trainspotting transfer route, if you will.  However after the recent heavy redevelopment of both stations, trainspotters have become lesser spotted.  St Pancras station, redeveloped first, has becoming a surprising icon of the city, or if that's taking it too far, a rather popular location in the city, given that it is 'just' a train station.  A train station which has risen from the ashes more than once, avoiding demolition in the 1960s, and decrepitude in the years that followed.

On the completion of its £800 million refurbishment in 2007, St Pancras became home to the Eurostar train service, making it an international station, and allowing passage from London to the rest of Europe on a single train.  The new station is undeniably majestic.  A stunning, high barrel roof with hundreds of glass panes, allows in swathes of sunshine (when the city's weather sportingly obliges).  Two layers of trains contribute to the bustle and activity within the terminus. Were it not for the quiet and unsatisfyingly steam-free trains one could easily imagine billowing smoke, and glamorous strangers in trench coats and homburg hats with a folded newspaper tucked under their arms meeting for assignations and affairs.
The lower concourse of the station contains the sorts of shopping and eating venues that make you long for a delayed train, so that you have time to browse and graze.  There are civilised and charming (rather than simply the bland and ubiquitous Costa and Starbucks) places to drink coffee and eat cake.  Lunch need not be a limp sandwich and a bag of Walkers crisps here.  There are freshly-made salads and tartines to munch, or, if you're feeling flush, even oysters at the station's own champagne bar.  You can pick up the perfect gift for whoever you may be travelling to see, or re-buy whatever crucial piece of luggage you have left behind.  

The station is home to several pieces of artwork, some of which were loathed instantly on installation.  Paul Day's 9 foot high, bronze sculpture of an embracing couple was criticised endlessly, famously by Antony Gormley. It is not the most subtle of art pieces, and sadly it just does not do justice to this beautiful old space, which has otherwise effected its rebirth with great style. Less offensive is the bronze of Sir John Betjeman, who stands marvelling at the station's staggering roof. Suspended high above the station's trains, in anticipation of next year's sporting festival, currently dangles an enormous set of Olympic rings.  (At least they're better than the awful logo.)

And there is now of course also a suitably glamorous hotel for the secret assignations of the homburg hat-wearers, or just an excellent cocktail for the weary Londoner.  I took the Accidental Father here for supper one evening when he was in town, and lost him to his younger self.  I finally found him, snapping away with his camera-phone, at a series of brass plaques on the roof supports.  Forty or so years on he could tell me the date they bore without looking.

7 comments:

  1. Stumbled across your blog by chance and just wanted to let you know how much I have enjoyed having a nose around. I absolutely love London; I live just outside and have always wanted to move into the city. Your writing is very honest, it's a true account of what London is like when you havent lived there your whole life; I feel exactly the same. But it's a beautiful city, it takes you in no matter who you are, what you do, or where you're from. I'm your newest follower, look forward to reading lots more! Keep it up!

    Seema

    http://diaryofmissraj.blogspot.com/

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  2. Thank you so much for your lovely comments, Seema! Am thrilled to have you following, and will do my best to keep providing things for you to read.

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  3. Ah...train stations! I just love them. St Pancras is absolutely fantastic and i always make sure, when I have to catch a Eurostar service, to arrive well in advance to be able to look at the shops (there is even a LK Bennett, they have lovely shoes and bags). St Pancras looks a little bit like a cathedral. So tell me, Accidental Londoner: why is St Pancras so beautiful and Euston station so...let's say...bland?

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  4. Good question, MuMuGB. Euston is decidedly depressing isn't it? Maybe its the trapped pigeons launching their droppings down onto the crowds of passengers awaiting platform announcements...or the dismally vast amount of concrete that surrounds the place. Or its lack of LK Bennett shops/Peyton & Byrne cafes!

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  5. Euston is dreadful, even after the recent tidy up that involved putting in more shops and lots of big TV screens to show more adverts, in place of the old disarray of uncoordinated adverts. And of course that 70s architecture can't hope to compete with St Pancras.

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  6. I love the thought of a whole load of transport executives who got together to discuss how to improve Euston and the best they could managed was a vast TV to show SkyNews highlights all day long...you're right, Duncan - a definite failure.

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  7. My grandma used to live in that hotel when she was a little girl, and I think you can book guided tours with the historian there, which we're hoping to do at some point. I like St Pancras now! But what is happening with the King's Cross part, last time I went it was worse than ever - except post fire :(?

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