Half an hour to spare at St Pancras station, before catching the Eurostar back to Paris. Sky blue ironwork, springing up to a clear, glazed roof; iron lace borders and stone arches striped with brick; tile friezes and leaded lights. The architecture of the beautifully restored station hall is busy with layers of decorative detail but the overall effect is calm, light and airy.
The train shed roof, designed by engineer William Henry Barlow, was the widest single span structure in the world when completed in 1868. It’s a great feat of engineering but also an extraordinary work of art. The ironwork was originally painted a sombre dark brown (practical in the days of steam and smoke), but at its first repainting sky blue paint was used. That colour, chosen for the 2007 restoration, gives an illusion of blue sky above, even on grey days.
The busy main concourse of the modern station is on the lower level, where Victorian porters once trundled beer barrels, delivered by steam train from Burton on Trent. Up on street level, the old Booking Office is now a smart restaurant and the atmosphere is unhurried.
Only the platforms for the international, Eurostar trains extend right through the original train shed. Platforms for local and long distance domestic trains are grouped in the new station extension at the north end. This development allowed large light wells to be cut in the old station floor, taking daylight to the undercroft.
The portly gentleman, cast in bronze, who seems to be admiring the station roof, is Sir John Betjeman. The former Poet Laureate led the campaign to save the redundant, Victorian building, which British Rail applied to demolish in 1966. The statue stands on a slate disc inscribed with lines from Betjeman’s 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.
Heading home again or away? I’m never quite sure whether I’m coming or going. Both arrivals, at St Pancras or Gare du Nord, feel like homecoming now, but St Pancras has the better view!
(Click on any photo for a closer view)