My next Open House London tour was of St Pancras Chambers – the building above St Pancras Station. The station, originally constructed in 1868, was refurbished between 2001 and 2007, the threat of demolition narrowly averted thanks to the efforts of a passionate group of people including the poet John Betjeman.
At the time of original construction, the East Midlands Railway wanted to surpass the recently built King’s Cross Station, so commissioned George Gilbert Scott to create the beautiful, opulent Gothic Revival style building. The money ran out partway through construction, leaving no money for the planned extra storey or for the statues supposed to be dotted around the building – the empty niches are still visible.
On the tour we saw some fascinating details: the theme of the wyvern (a mythical creature) runs through all of the architecture, and the materials used in the building come from the various towns and cities served by the East Midlands Railway, such as Sheffield steel and stone from Nottingham.
The original entrances to the station still exist but are now more commonly used as the entrances to the apartments and hotel. The Hansom Hall is the current name for the hotel lounge, as it was originally where travellers were dropped off outside the ticket hall.
We then got to go inside the building. The most exciting part for me, I must admit, was seeing the very staircase that featured in the Spice Girls’ video for “Wannabe”.
We got to go all the way up to the top floor: this part of the building has been converted into flats. You can see from the staircase that originally, the more prestigious rooms were on the lower floors: the design becomes less ornate as you go up the building. Nowadays, of course, the best flats are at the top, where it’s still possible to see the former servants’ quarters above your head (the original floor has been removed. My tour was given by the man who actually lives in one of the apartments – the one with the bell tower – so we got to look in there too – a fascinating experience.