It’s been a while since my last ‘Photo Friday’ post… admittedly the least time-consuming and the easier posts to write. This isn’t the first time St Pancras has been the focus of a such a post either. This week, I finally got to have a closer look at Tracey Emin’s new-ish art at St Pancras International station, which was unveiled in April 2018. Suspended from the famous Barlow trainshed roof, are the words ‘I Want My Time With You’ in pink lights (LED, not neon due to health and safety). Emin said the message is a love letter to Europe ahead of impending Brexit, which has divided the UK. While art critics have been non-plussed, I like the message and am a fan of neon-esque writing in general so it’s a hit with me. I also didn’t realise until I saw my photos on my laptop that you can see the iconic clocktower of St Pancras peeking through the glass roof.
- ‘I Want My Time With You’ by Tracey Emin is on the upper concourse of St Pancras International, Euston Road, Kings Cross, N1C 4QP. Nearest station: Kings Cross St Pancras.
To find out about the nearby Sir John Betjeman sculpture, click here.
Heritage campaigner and poet has been immortalised at St Pancras International.
Whatever your taste in architecture, few would deny the St Pancras station and hotel is one of London’s finest buildings. After decades of neglect, the station was given a huge facelift in the Noughties, with the former Midland Grand Hotel reborn as the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. Every year, over 28 million passengers pass through the Victorian Gothic architectural masterpiece.
However, while today we appreciate architecture from yesteryear, it wasn’t always the case. In fact, St Pancras nearly followed the fate of nearby Euston, whose famous Doric arch was demolished in 1961. One of the heritage campaigners who fought to save the Euston Arch was English poet, writer and broadcaster, Sir John Betjeman (1906-1984). Betjeman was a founding member of the Victorian Society, which was established in 1957 to fight to preserve 19th and early 20th century architecture, which had fallen out of favour at the time.
St Pancras station and the Midland Grand Hotel were built in 1868 to a design by acclaimed architect Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878). Originally a luxurious hotel, as technologies advanced, it lost its popularity and was closed in the 1930s. British Rail then moved into the former hotel – then known as St Pancras Chambers – and its bedrooms became offices. By the 1960s, British Rail made several attempts to close and demolish the hotel. However, Betjeman and his colleague Jane Hughes Fawcett (1921-2016) at the Victorian Society led a ferocious campaign to save the Victorian wonder.
At the time, Betjeman wrote: ‘What (the Londoner) sees in his mind’s eye is that cluster of towers and pinnacles seen from Pentonville Hill and outlined against a foggy sunset, and the great arc of Barlow’s train shed gaping to devour incoming engines, and the sudden burst of exuberant Gothic of the hotel seen from gloomy Judd Street.’ Fortunately, Betjeman, Fawcett and the Victorian Society’s campaign was a success and St Pancras was saved. It was protected forever in 1967 when it was given Grade I listing.
When St Pancras International re-opened in 2007, the late Betjeman was commemorated with a bronze sculpture of his likeness. The 6ft 7in statue by artist Martin Jennings shows the former Poet Laureate holding on to his hat as he gazes up at the Barlow roof. Explaining the piece at the time, Jennings said: ‘The piece is an image of him as if he has walked into the station for the first time and gazes up at the roof. He’s got a bag with his books and his coat is billowing up behind him as if in the wind of a passing express train.’ Under his feet is a disc of Cumbrian slate with lines from his poem Cornish Cliffs: ‘And in the shadowless unclouded glare. Deep blue above us fades to whiteness where. A misty sea-line meets the wash of air.’
- The Sir John Betjeman statue stands on the upper level, above the shopping arcade concourse at St Pancras International station, Euston Road, N1C 4QP. Nearest station: King’s Cross St Pancras.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
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.
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.
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.
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 the red London phonebox