Saturday, June 14, 2008
A day around St Pancras
It was my mother's birthday today, and being a dutiful son I took her for lunch at the champagne bar at St Pancras.
I have used the new station several times now. It has undergone an extraordinary transformation - quite how extraordinary, only those of us who remember the dirty, neglected station it used to be. It was magnificent even then, and a wonderful secret confined to those of us who caught trains to prosaic places like Wellingborough, Loughborough and Long Eaton.
So there is a small, nostalgic part of me that regrets the transformation, but the larger and more sensible part celebrates it. Because of the dominating presence of the EuroStar trains, it has to be admitted that St Pancras is now something of a cross between a railway station and an airport. But it is far more attractive than any airport I have ever used, and the architecture is magnificent enough to carry this off.
I have also made up my mind about the two statues inside the train shed. The one of John Betjeman is witty and human, and actually quite moving in that it marks the victory of a certain literary, oppositional sort of Englishness over the self-proclaimed forces of progress that would have seen the station demolished in the sixties or seventies.
Meanwhile, "Meeting Place" by Paul Day, which was intended to be the centrepiece of the transformed station, is an embarrassing monstrosity and should be donated to another country far, far away.
We also visited two favourite location of mine which are close to the station.
St Pancras Old Church is reputed to be the oldest Christian site in England - although it is unlikely (as once discussed on this blog) that Christ is buried there. The Victorian Web has the its history and some atmospheric photographs. The church has a remarkably rural feel for such an urban site.
The church is usually locked, but the surrounding churchyard is well worth exploring, notably for the Soane Mausoleum, which is said to have inspired Giles Gilbert Scott's classic K2 design for the GPO's telephone boxes.
Go down the steps beside the charming little gothic building that houses the St Pancras Coroner's Court and under the long bridge that carries the lines out of the station and you arrive at Camley Street Natural Park.
This is a wonderfully unexpected oasis in the unlovely heart of King's Cross. A BBC video lets you enjoy it too.