St Pancras International is not just a railway station, it is a permanent home for the high-speed terminus to Ashford thanks to Southeastern, the Continent thanks to Eurostar, and with its accompanying five star Renaissance Hotel, it may well be the grandest railway station in the world.
Dressed in towering and exuberant Victorian red-brick and coloured stone, this dazzling piece of Gothic architecture looks reminiscent of a Cathedral with its clock tower and spiralling turrets.
Its sprawling interior is a hub for transport both overground and underground, but it is also a hub for humanity: around 48 million travellers and visitors per year set off or stay put to enjoy the retail, dining and cultural opportunities.
Originally built as the Midland railway in 1863 it housed Sir William Barlow’s train shed which looked awesome with high arches made of iron and glass and was one of the great engineering feats of the Victorian age. By 1873 the accompanying hotel Midland Grand Hotel was completed.
Once earmarked for demolition, it was restored instead and in 2007 it became the frontage to a vast gateway for High Speed 1 (HS1), the speedy rail service between Britain and mainland Europe and together with Southeastern provides the UK’s first high speed (140 miles per hour) domestic train service from Ashford in Kent to London in just 28 minutes.
As a departure or arrival point, it would be hard to find one more pleasing. Or to experience one with so much sociability. Fortnum & Mason, Hamleys, Gant, Thomas Pink, John Lewis and Benugo are amongst the many retailers and eateries that have a home at St Pancras.
“St Pancras is a station for our times,” said Will Gordon, Marketing Manager at HS1. “This station has become a retail, social and cultural destination in its own right.”
With constant investment, St Pancras has elevated the everyday travel experience into something extraordinary with well-known high-street names and boutique independent retailers. On its upper concourse, The Grand Terrace, is Europe’s longest champagne bar. Downstairs at The Arcade are thirty three familiar outlets including Accessorize, Cath Kidston, Fat Face, Dune and John Lewis and 24 food outlets from Patisserie Valerie to Searcys. By the main entrance there is an authentic Farmer’s market.
The accompanying hotel, the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel adds its own style of glamour with its spa and a clutch of diverse restaurants. It’s a surprisingly serene space.
Had St Pancras actually been knocked down, it’s hard to imagine that anything better than this gorgeous, vibrant landmark on King’s Cross’ Euston Road, could possibly have given this part of London a better boost.
Or indeed the commuters from Ashford a better way into London.