Sunday, 19 June 2011

St Pancras - church and station

I'd completely forgotten that I'd set up this blog - but that may be something to do with the general madness of last year!  Anyway, I've been away from London over the weekend and I returned to St Pancras station, which makes a nice change from my usual, dreary gateway of Euston.

John Betjeman statue & Olympic rings at St Pancras station.
It's the first time I've had a chance to look around the Victorian front of the station since it was restored.  I studied the work of Sir George Gilbert Scott in some detail for my Master's thesis, which centred on Preston's former town hall, a Gilbert Scott design (sadly destroyed by fire in 1947).  There's actually a remarkable similarity between the old Preston town hall and what is now known as the St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel.

The Midland Grand Hotel opened in 1873.

Preston's old town hall - same sort of idea, smaller scale. Completed 1867. Photograph courtesy of Blackburn and Darwen Council at

Gilbert Scott submitted his designs for St Pancras in 1865, four years after his designs for Preston's town hall were accepted.  Similar to many large municipal projects of the Victorian era, both schemes had run a competition to find a suitable architect.  Like Preston, his design turned out to be hugely expensive - Preston's town hall cost £70,000 after an original estimate of £30,000, and St Pancras cost over £300,000 even after alterations to the design had been made.  The latter in particular was a massive sum of money, but rather like Preston's corporation the Midland Railway Company chose pride and an impressive building over cost-effectiveness.

I didn't really feel like heading straight home, so rather than jumping on the Tube I wandered round the corner to check out St Pancras Old Church, which I've been meaning to investigate since I moved to London in January.  Unfortunately as it was getting quite late, the church building wasn't open so I had a wander around the churchyard instead.

Part of the churchyard had to be cleared to make way for the railway leading into the aforementioned St Pancras station, and today very few gravestones remain.  Those that do are mostly quite faded and crumbly and from the ones I had a closer look at date from the late 18th and early-to-mid 19th century.  The site itself has reportedly been used for Christian worship since the early 4th century AD, making it one of the oldest known Christian sites in Britain.  The church standing today was extensively rebuilt in the 19th century and little remains of the earlier structure it was adapted from.

Luckily, the churchyard contains a few interesting gems - although I managed to miss the memorial to Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, who were originally interred in this churchyard but now rest in Bournemouth.   However, I think I managed to catch a few other items of interest - the first of which is a shape familiar to many, although not in its guise at Old St Pancras: the tomb of Sir John Soane.

This brings us on to the second Gilbert Scott of the evening - Sir George's grandson Giles, another illustrious architect who designed Liverpool's Anglican cathedral.  Giles was inspired by Soane's tomb for his design for the famous red telephone box.  Today the tomb is Grade I listed and fenced off.

I'd heard of Soane's tomb before, but I'd not heard of the monument above - the Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial.  Built in the gothic style (again rather similar to the spire at St Pancras station, although I am not sure if this is intentional), it commemorates Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts, a Victorian philanthropist who was the first woman to be created a peer, in 1871.  I'd like to revisit this monument with a more powerful camera as it's covered in beautiful mosaics, and also features a list of eminent people buried in the churchyard.  It is also guarded by four dog statues, apparently based on a pet belonging to Baroness Burdett-Coutts.

One notable absence from my photographs is the Hardy Tree - a tree around which a large number of gravestones are arranged after they were moved during the churchyard's downsizing in the mid-nineteenth century.  Unfortunately this evening there was a rather intimidating group of catcalling youths hanging around near the Hardy Tree and... well, yeah.  I gave them a wide berth.

Anyway, my plan - now that I've resurrected this blog - is to try and go round some of the smaller, less well known historical sites in London, take a few pictures and report back here.  I've been out of academia for half a year now and have certainly been having a few withdrawl symptoms - although I could also do to get my arse in gear and finish adapting my MA thesis for publication, which I'm hoping to do before the Preston Guild comes around next year.  So this blog is a little project to keep my history muse happy.

A few more photos from St Pancras Old Church...

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