Friday, 17 June 2011

St. Pancras Renaissance - A Visit

The clock tower.
The clock tower of the old Midland Grand Hotel — now rechristened the 'St. Pancras Renaissance' — is one of London's great Victorian landmarks, its gothic splendour lending the rather unlovely Euston Road a touch of fantasy and romance. I would dearly love to creep out the little door beneath the clock face, stand on that lofty balcony, and survey the metropolis; and I suspect many other London-philes share the same ambition. Hence, when an offer of a free tour of the station arose — well, I snapped it up. I didn't expect to ascend to the giddy heights of the tower (which, if memory serves, is accessed through one of the private apartments that now fill much of the attic space) but I was curious what might be on offer.



The Ticket Office
The story of the hotel and St. Pancras station (the hotel forms an integral facade to the station behind)  has been told again and again — scheduled for demolition in the 'white heat of technology' 1960s (like the classical masterpiece that once stood at Euston, tragically flattened in that devastating decade) St. Pancras was saved and granted listed status, thanks to the nascent Victorian Society and the campaigning efforts of the poet John Betjeman. The hotel had already lost its commercial function in the 1930s, due to changing economic conditions and a failure to modernise — unusually, for such a grand building of the 1870s, its original design did not include the contemporary innovation of the water-closet. By the 1960s, British Rail were using the building as offices. With demolition cancelled, the hotel was occupied with little thought to its long-term maintenance or the beauty of its architecture; rooms were partitioned, decorative murals covered in paint. By the 1980s it was deemed unsafe and looked fated to become a tragic ruin.


The hotel abandoned.
Yet the Midland Grand has risen again, to match the rejuvenation of its station, which now serves (amongst other things) as the Eurostar terminal. The hotel's exterior was given a facelift in the 1990s with money from English Heritage; and, decades after its closure, following a multi-million restoration project under the aegis of the Manhattan Loft Corporation, the building has now reopened for business a luxury hotel — much like in its heyday.

 




What did I find on my tour? Well, not surprisingly, it looks absolutely beautiful. The principal staircase (which infamously appears on the Spice Girls' first video and numerous movies) is simply glorious — a gothic spectacle to rival any cathedral. The contrast between the state of the hotel in the 1990s (when many of us visited to view the devastation on guided tours) and the present day is astonishing. The old ticket office now serves as a bar area; the central roadway, where hansom cabs once drove through the building to deposit customers inside the hotel under a glass canopy, is now the main reception and a separate function room. The rooms themselves seem sumptuously appointed, although Victorian fans should be warned that the style of decor is tastefully modern, not period. You will find full details about the hotel on the Marriott site — like any five-star accommodation in central London, it's not cheap, but it is undoubtedly a unique location.


If you're fascinated by the building, I would also recommend the historical tour. I don't do this lightly. I normally dislike guided tours — often because the guides lack in-depth knowledge and stick rigidly to a script. No danger of that in this case. The official 'Hotel Historian and Tour Guide' (how many hotels can boast an offical historian, I wonder?) is one Royden Stock, who came to the site in the 1990s whilst working in security, and, from what he told me, has all but lived there ever since. He has seen every aspect of the restoration process, tutored himself extensively in the building's history, and is a charming gentleman to boot. Click here for details of his tour; it's well worth your time and money.

UPDATE 2014: No idea if still the same guide; but tours are now here.


Royden Stock, our guide, and the grand staircase.

If you would like to see more pictures from the building, I have created a folder on Flickr - click here for the slideshow in a larger pop-up version or see below ...



10 comments:

  1. St Pancras is just down the road from us and many of our train rides depart from there. We waited impatiently and anxiously as the work continued through long years, creating problems for traffic on the roads next to the station and making access difficult. As the wrappings finally came off we were enchanted with the result. Examined closely, we can see that the work has been finished to high quality.

    I speak above of the station as we have not yet managed to sneak past the gentlemen in long black coats and get a glimpse inside the hotel. Your article gives us hope and encouragement.

    I am surprised but also touched to see how many people pause by the sculpture of John Betjeman on the station's upper deck to photograph it and be photographed with it.

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  2. At £20 the tour (even with free tea and cake) isn't cheap; but the guide is excellent - worth considering.

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  3. Please .Please how do i start to organize a group tour for about 20 people next May to St pancras

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    1. No, sorry the link doesn't work. I have been unable to find details of the tour of the St. Pancras Hotel.

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  7. Hi, the links in your article no longer work but I've managed to find the right page now! Hooray.
    http://www.marriott.co.uk/hotel-info/lonpr-st-pancras-renaissance-london-hotel/history_tours/pj8m41t/home-page.mi

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