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Photo Friday: Looking up the grand staircase at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

The grand staircase at the St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel

I know I’m not alone when I say St Pancras station is one of my favourite London buildings. The Gothic Revival, Victorian masterpiece puts its (rather dull in comparison), rival London mainline stations in the shade. St Pancras was built as an hotel and train station in 1868 to a design by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878).

The Midland Grand Hotel as it then was known was very luxurious when it first opened and boasted fireplaces in every room (although sadly not ensuite bathrooms, which contributed to its demise in the 1930s when it was closed). The centrepiece of the hotel was – and still is – its grand staircase and gold leaf wallpaper. When the building was taken over to reopen as the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel in the 21st century, the double staircase was restored to its former glory. Why not take a look on a visit to the Gilbert Scott restaurant and bar and gaze up at the starry vaulted ceiling and its Neo-Gothic features.

  • St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Road, NW1 2AR. Nearest station: King’s Cross St Pancras.

For a review of Afternoon Tea at the Gilbert Scott at the St Pancras Renaissance, click here.

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Missing – One church: The lonely bell tower of St Alban

The history of the lone church tower in Wood Street in the City of London.

St Alban church tower © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Marooned: The church tower of St Alban stands in on a traffic island in the middle of Wood Street

World War II caused a lot of damage and destruction to Sir Christopher Wren‘s churches in the City of London. Some were completely destroyed by bombs, while some damage was repairable. In some cases, the main church buildings were beyond repair, while their towers were able to be saved. One such church tower now stands alone, stranded on a traffic island with cars and taxis weaving along tarmac roads in the very spot where the congregation used to sit and pray.

St Alban church tower stands on a traffic island on Wood Street, separating the north and southbound traffic. The road starts north of Cheapside and crosses London Wall. A church has stood on the site since at least 930AD, with some arguing it dates back to the 8th century, during the time of Offa, King Of Mercia (757-796AD). The Anglo-Saxon ruler was believed to have had a palace on the site which included a chapel. Offa founded a monastery and abbey dedicated to Saint Alban (the first English martyr, who died in the 3rd or 4th century) in what later became St Albans, Hertfordshire. Offa also dedicated several churches in the City to the martyr, hence the theory the church went back this far. However, later parish records date the church to 930AD. During King John’s (1166-1216) reign, the church was called St Alban Wuderstrate. Records in the 16th century show the Medieval church included five bells.

St Alban tower © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The tower was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in a late Perpendicular Gothic style

By 1633, the church was in a pretty bad state. Architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652), landowner/politician Sir Henry Spiller and others inspected the building and found it was beyond repair so it was demolished with a new one constructed on the site a year later. After designing the first 17th century St Alban, Jones went on to repair and remodel St Paul’s Cathedral. However, Jones’s replacement of St Alban’s Church didn’t stand long thanks to the Great Fire Of London in 1666, which destroyed great swathes of the City.

St Alban church London

A sketch of St Alban church in 1839 from the The Churches of London by George Godwin
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

St Alban became one of the many churches rebuilt by Wren after the Great Fire. Construction was completed in 1685 and was fashioned in a late Perpendicular Gothic style at a cost of £3,165. The new building featured piers shaped as clustered columns separating the structure into naves and aisles. At the north end of the church was a bell tower, which stood tall at 92 foot (28 metres) and included two bells. In the 19th century, the church was restored by another acclaimed architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878). Sir George was famous for building St Pancras station and the Albert Memorial and had a fondness for a neo-Gothic style, which would have suited Wren’s original design. Scott added an apse (a semi-circular recess) to the structure during his restoration.

However, around 274 years after the Great Fire Of London destroyed the City of London, this time it was the Nazi bombing campaign. St Alban was hit by a bomb on 29 December 1940, which left the building burnt out and partially destroyed, with only the tower intact. The main church building was eventually demolished in 1955, but it was decided the tower should remain after being designated a Grade II-listed building in January 1950. Today, the bells have long since been removed and the tower was converted into a private building in the mid 1980s.

Other existing Wren church towers in London missing the main church building included Christ Church Greyfriars, St Dunstan-In-The-East, All Hallows Staining, St Augustine Watling Street, St Mary Somerset and St Olave Old Jewry.

  • St Alban church tower stands on Wood Street, EC2. Nearest stations: Moorgate, Barbican or St Paul’s.

For other posts on Sir Christopher Wren’s life and buildings read…

For more Metro Girl posts on London history, click here.

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Afternoon tea at The Gilbert Scott review: Treat yourself in stunning Gothic surroundings

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Let’s hope they don’t fall! The bell chandeliers suspended above our heads in The Gilbert Scott bar

Gilbert Scott afternoon tea © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Savoury treats (below) and mini desserts of praline mousse, Eccles cakes, Eton Mess and lemon cupcakes

Like many Londoners, and visitors to the capital too I’m sure, the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel and train station is one of my favourite buildings in the capital. Designed by Victorian architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, the Gothic Revival masterpiece was originally opened in 1873 as the Midland Grand Hotel. Although impressive when it first opened with its grand staircase, fireplaces in every room and striking architectural features, decades later it started falling out of favour due to the lack of ensuite bedrooms and closed to guests in 1935. After 76 years as railway offices, the building was finally restored to its original intended use and opened as the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel in 2011.

Given how long I have loved the building, I’m surprised I haven’t visited one of the restaurants or bars inside the hotel sooner. So when I was eyeing possible venues for afternoon tea for my birthday last week, I was thrilled to see The Gilbert Scott featured it on their menu. Booking the afternoon tea option through their website, I opted for a 2pm slot on a Friday. We entered through the main St Pancras Renaissance Hotel entrance so walked through some of the stone Neo-Gothic arched doorways, passing by the red and gold leaf Medieval-style wallpapers and, the pièce de résistance, the grand staircase.

Gilbert Scott table door © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

The comfortable tables (left) and the striking Neo Gothic archways leading in the bar from the hotel (right)

Gilbert Scott afternoon tea © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Scones, clotted cream and jam

We were seated inside The Gilbert Scott bar – next to the adjoining restaurant of the same name. We entered from a hotel hallway through twin arches featuring golf leaf detailing and polished limestone columns. The bar was absolutely stunning, with equilateral arch windows letting in lots of light through its three exterior walls. On the ceiling was ornate, tapestry-like patterns of predominantly red, blue and green, with huge bells hanging from the ceiling as chandeliers. The bar used to the ‘coffee room’ in the former Midland Grand Hotel.

Seated at our table, we were greeted by an attentive and friendly waiter. After being presented with the menu, there are various afternoon tea options – the standard at £25 or with a glass of Moët & Chandon champagne for an extra £8 – which we opted for as we were celebrating my birthday. Alternatively, there is also a Ruinart afternoon tea with a glass of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV for £36.00.

St Pancras exterior Gilbert Scott © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s Gothic revival masterpiece

We started with a flute of Moët each before we were presented with our three-tier cake stand. A selection of savoury treats – cucumber rolls, sausage rolls, egg mayonnaise and coronation chicken sandwiches on the lower tier. The middle featured a selection of mini desserts – Eton Mess, lemon cupcakes, Eccles cakes and praline mousse. Then finally on the top-tier were quite possibly two of the biggest scones – handmade of course – I have ever seen in my life with clotted cream and jam. The food was all delicious and despite forfeiting lunch or a decent sized breakfast, my sister and I struggled to finish all our food. We had the options of refilling the savoury platter, but honestly couldn’t eat any more. After finishing our bubbly, we were served individual pots of tea. As an extra, surprise treat, I was presented with two chef-made chocolate truffles with ‘happy birthday’ written in chocolate sauce and a candle, which was a lovely thought by the waiter.

Overall, the whole experience was brilliant. The service was attentive and friendly, the food was delicious and incredibly filling – the mini desserts were a lovely alternative to the usual afternoon tea experience. Finally, the striking setting – along with the opportunity to check out some of the hotel’s halls and staircase – completed a perfect afternoon. I would highly recommend booking an afternoon tea at The Gilbert Scott. I can’t wait to come back and try the menu at the restaurant next door.

  • The Gilbert Scott, St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Road, NW1 2AR. Afternoon tea is served between 12-4pm. Nearest station: King’s Cross St Pancras. For more information and bookings, visit The Gilbert Scott website.
St Pancras staircase © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

If you enter through the hotel, you get to check out the stunning grand staircase


To read Metro Girl’s other restaurant and pub reviews, click here for the contents page.

For another Metro Girl blog posts on a George Gilbert Scott creation, read about the Albert Memorial, or his grandson Giles Gilbert Scott’s creations Battersea Power Station or London Calling: BT Artbox celebrates 25 years of Childline

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Square Meal

A bit of bling amongst the green: The glistening Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens

The history of this glittering gold monument opposite the Royal Albert Hall.

Albert Memorial © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens stands as a monument to a prince by his devastated queen

Albert Memorial © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

A gilt bronze statue of Prince Albert seated while holding a catalogue of the Great Exhibition

Of all our monarchs over the past 1,000 years, Queen Victoria is one of Britain’s most famous and iconic. During her reign of 63 years, the country was in the middle of a great change due to the Industrial Revolution. Although she was only 18 when she became Queen following the death of her uncle William IV, many of us picture her as an elderly widow dressed in black. Of course, the reason for her black clothes was her decades of deep mourning for her late consort, Prince Albert, who died at the age of 42.

Following Prince Albert’s death in 1861, his grieving wife ordered his legacy to be enshrined both in Britain and across the Empire. The novelist Charles Dickens actually commented to his friend John Leech in a letter: ‘If you should meet an accessible cave anywhere in the neighbourhood, to which a hermit could retire from the memory of Prince Albert and testimonials to the same, pray let me know it.’ This is where we come to the Albert Memorial and Royal Albert Hall – a Taj Mahal of sorts from the Queen. Us Brits aren’t known for flashy, gold monuments, so tourists may well find it a surprise to see the glimmering Albert Memorial standing in Kensington Gardens.

Ahead of the Royal Albert Hall’s existence, Albert had proposed an entertainment venue on the site following the success of the Great Exhibition of 1851. However, he died before work began, with the Queen deciding the venue should be titled the Royal Albert Hall, instead of the earlier, rather boring title Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, after laying the foundation stone.

Albert Memorial close up © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Golden canopy: A mosaic of an allegorical figure representing the art of architecture

Albert Memorial © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The allegorical sculptures of the Americas (right) – on a bison – and Africa (left) – on a camel

Albert Memorial © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Costly: The Albert Memorial finally opened in 1872 at an estimated cost of £120,000

However, the Albert Memorial was always part of the plan following the Prince’s death. In 1862, the Lord Mayor at the time headed a committee to find a suitable design for a public lasting memorial, which had to include a statue of the Prince, under the Queen’s orders. Eventually, noted Victorian architect Sir George Gilbert Scott submitted the winning design – which demonstrated the Prince’s passions for the arts and sciences.

After much delays – some due to the rising public costs – the 176 foot tall Albert Memorial was officially opened by the Queen in 1872, although Albert’s statue wasn’t ‘seated’ until three years later. Construction cost around £120,000, equivalent to £10million in today’s money.

Rather unusually for the period, the statue of Prince Albert – made of gilt bronze – was seated, rather than standing. In one of his hands is a catalogue of the Great Exhibition, which had been organised by the Prince. Above the statue, is a Gothic canopy featuring mosaics depicting allegorical figures of the arts – painting, poetry, sculpture and architecture. Also adorned on the sides are eight statues representing Christian virtues, including faith, hope and charity.

At the base of the canopy are four white sculptures depicting Victorian industries and sciences, including agriculture, commerce, engineering and manufacturing. Situated further from the statue are four more sculpture sets depicting four continents Europe, Asia, Americas and Africa. A group of people and products associated with the continent sit on four different animals – a cow, camel, bison and bull.

Albert Memorial © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Wildlife: The allegorical sculpture of Asia (left) with an elephant and Europe (right) with a bull

Over the years, the memorial saw some decline, and spent many decades black instead of gold. Prior to its restoration and re-gilding in the early 2000s, English Heritage discovered the black coating on Albert’s statue pre-dated the war and believe it may have been painted as such following pollution damage to the gold, not in an attempt to hide the landmark from the enemy during the two World Wars as had been previously thought.

  • The Albert Memorial is located in Kensington Gardens, directly across Kensington Road from the Royal Albert Hall. It is open and free to visit during park hours. Nearest stations: High Street Kensington, Hyde Park Corner, South Kensington or Gloucester Road.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The memorial stands opposite the Royal Albert Hall


For a post on another Sir George Gilbert Scott’s creation in London, read REVIEW: Afternoon tea at The Gilbert Scott at St Pancras.

Or to read about his grandson Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s creations, click A look inside Battersea Power Station or the story behind the red phone box.

For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.

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