St Pancras Station

St Pancras Station – Simon Bradley (Profile Books, £14.99)

I have some sympathy with the hard-working architect George Gilbert Scott, who designed that great redbrick edifice, the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras. He was such a busy man that he was known to telegraph his assistants from provincial stations to ask: ?Why am I here??

The Midland Grand is perhaps his greatest legacy, certainly a great London landmark that has found its way (with its extremely fine adjoining train shed designed by W. H. Barlow) into an excellent series of small books on the Wonders of the World. It?s up there, in fact, with the Parthenon.

St Pancras Station is a beautifully written book of 180 pages, which explores the building, use and reputation of this remarkable complex. Simon Bradley?s erudition makes it not merely a pleasure to read, but also an excellent introduction to the 19th-century Gothic Revival (which so many moderns regard as backward looking, ignoring the sheer flexibility and ambition of the style) and the great age of railways. St Pancras is, after all, the one place where these two strands actually meet.

The author deals eloquently with many different subjects, not least the bitter campaign fought against the demolition of this marvellous complex, after the hotel closed as early as 1935 to become offices. (One chairman of the Gordon Hotel Company remarked in 1928 that hotels were like battleships, obsolete after 20 years.) All this has changed at St Pancras station, which is about to reopen this year.

I especially like Mr Bradley?s thoughts on the rather advanced sounding Ladies? Smoking Room of this great Victorian hotel, which, during the warmth of the summer, would have its doors thrown open towards the road: ?To imagine a fashionable lady of 1900 in the room, straining to decode the muffled chords of Wagner or Debussy above the roar of horseshoes and cartwheels, is to feel the poignancy of the gulf between the present and the not so distant past.?