Painted Rooms and Victorian Gothic at St. Pancras Station
St Pancras Station with its integrated grand hotel is a marvel of high Victorian engineering and design, recently restored and redeveloped as part of a major regeneration project in the King’s Cross area. Originally conceived and built by Sir George Gilbert Scott , the Grand Midland Hotel opened as a state-of-the-art luxury hotel in 1873, and survived as a hotel untill the mid 1930s, when it closed and remained so for several decades – something of an anachronistic grand old dame from a bygone era. It is remarkable that it has survived intact, and this has much to do with the campaign launched against its proposed demolition in the 1960s by the poet Sir John Betjeman and architectural historian Nicholaus Pevsner. I am grateful to them.
Victorian Gothic and the work of the people who created these wonderful edifices are now enjoying a renewed interest. A great deal of care and attention to detail has been expended on restoring the old Grand Midland Hotel to its original glory, and it now lives again as the five-star St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel. Sadly too expensive for me, but you can stop by at the Gilbert Scott bar and enjoy drinks with friends.
I had the opportunity to have a sneak preview of the interior of the hotel before it opened – apart from the odd waiter or concierge, the place was deserted, but totally in readiness for the first guests to arrive. In this silent, timeless sense of expectancy, I wandered up the magnificent staircase, down painted corridors and into magnificent painted rooms. The odd people I encountered barely noticed my presence – it was like being a ghost in an abandoned palace.
The sweeping staircase at the heart of the building is magnificent, its fine Victorian Iron supportive structures proudly exposed. You can look all the way up to the top floor ceiling, iron-vaulted with the painting freshly restored to its original brilliance.
The colours are brilliant and intense – this was the style in Victorian Gothic interiors, which can also be seen in the work of Gilbert Scott’s contemporaries, such as Augustus Charles Pugin (designer of Westminster Palace). One of the most influential authorities on design at this period was Owen Jones, and echoes of the patterns and concepts in his seminal publication Grammar of Ornament can be seen in interiors such as this. Many of the hand-painted walls and ceilings in the hotel could almost be plates from the book.
Wandering down the first floor corridor, I came into a most beautiful spacious room that warmed my heart – the Ladies’ Smoking room!
Just look at that ceiling! This was the first public space in which women could smoke – sadly society has regressed dismally since then, and ladies who smoke, such as myself. are now unceremoniously ejected into the street.
If you want to find out more, St Pancras Renaissance Hotel provides some interesting background information about its history in two PDF booklets on their website
Finally, I would like to congratulate the army of anonymous conservators, restorers and craftspeople who so lovingly brought this work of art back to life, and if any one of you happens to read this post, please get in touch and tell us your story.