In 1865 the Midland Railway Company launched an architectural competition for a design for a hotel to front their new station at St Pancras. The brief called for a relatively modest, 150 bed hotel. The winning entry was an extraordinarily lavish, 300 bed hotel, designed by George Gilbert Scott in the fashionable neo-gothic style. Maybe carried away by the grandeur of the station hall (still under construction), the company directors seem to have agreed that nothing was too good for their railway.
The interior design of the hotel was just as lavish as the medieval style detail of the red brick facade. Sweeping staircases, vaulted ceilings and marble columns were complimented by hand-stencilled wallpaper, carved wooden bannisters and gold leaf decoration. The design also included modern innovations such as hydraulic lifts, fireproof concrete floors and revolving doors. Unfortunately, by the time the hotel was completed in 1876, the heating and plumbing were already a little dated. Every room had an open fireplace and guests relied on an army of servants to bring jugs of hot water when they wanted to wash.
By the 1930s the hotel was losing trade to hotels with modern amenities, like en-suite bathrooms, and it was losing money. From 1935 the building was used as offices, first by the Midland Railway Company and then by the nationalised British Rail. In the 1980s the building failed a fire safety inspection and was closed.
A 2011 article in the Guardian describes the journey from ruin to renaissance of this building that is ‘both magnificent and a little demented’. The St Pancras International website gives more views of the restored hotel interiors. And if you’re passing through St Pancras with time to spare you could stop for a coffee at Mi & Me, on the inner ‘terrace’ of the station, and ask for directions to the loo. The café shares the toilets of the Booking Office restaurant, so there’s a chance of a glimpse inside Gilbert Scott’s mad masterpiece, without a five star price tag.
(Click on any photo for a closer view)