Another of the opulent Victorian hotels built at London’s railway termini, the Midland Grand Hotel was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott in an ornate High Gothic style.

Scott’s design for the new hotel – which was to be built adjoining the railway station and would form its southern facade on Euston Road – was selected over 10 other submissions to win an 1865 competition run by the Midland Railway Company.

Scott was apparently reluctantly involved – he only entered the competition after pressure from one of the company’s directors despite apparently previously refusing to get involved with the project prior to that.

His expensive – and expansive – design (apparently resembling his rejected plans for government offices in Whitehall) included an 82 metre high clock tower at the east end of the more than 170 metre long facade and a 76 metre high tower at the west end (it also originally had an extra floor that wasn’t included in the final building).

The luxurious property – considered from the outset one of London’s best hotels, it cost whopping £438,000 – featured some 300 bedrooms, a grand double staircase, curved dining room and mod-cons like water-driven lifts (it was the first private building to boost these and one remained in place until 1958), an electric bell calling system and flushing toilets.

Staff communicated via a system of speaking tubes and wary of fires after the Palace of Westminster burned down, a “fireproof floor”. The property also boasted the first ladies’ smoking room in London in 1873 and, in 1899, the first revolving door in Britain was installed at the entrance.

Decorative details in the best guest rooms, meanwhile, included Axminster carpets, carved marble fireplaces, 18 foot high ceilings, and vast windows. En suite bathrooms, however, were not included.

The hotel’s east wing opened on 5th May, 1873, but it wasn’t completed until spring of 1876. One Herr Etzesberger, formerly of the Victorian Hotel in Venice, was apparently appointed general manager.

Guests included music hall singer and comedian Marie Lloyd, Jesse Boot (of Boots chemists fame), railroad and shipping entrepreneur Cornelius Vanderbilt and George Pullman (of the Pullman sleeping car fame).

The hotel was taken over by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1922. It closed in 1935 thanks to its now outdated and expensive-to-maintain facilities and, despite innovations like a Moroccan coffee house and in-house orchestra.

Renamed St Pancras Chambers, the building was subsequently used as railway company offices. It survived the Blitz and attempts to have it demolished thanks to a high profile campaign led by poet Sir John Betjeman, architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner and the Victorian Society and in 1967 the hotel and St Pancras station were given Grade I-listed status.

British Rail continued using it as offices but in the 1980s the building was deemed unsafe and closed. It was restored in the 1990s and in 2004, permission was given for it to be redeveloped into a new hotel – the same period during which the station was being redeveloped into one of the largest rail termini in Europe in order to accommodate cross-channel trains.

This project saw the main public rooms of the old Midland Grand Hotel kept and restored as well as some bedrooms while the former driveway for taxes was converted into the new lobby and a new bedroom wing constructed. The upper floors of the original building, meanwhile, were converted into 68 apartments.

The five star, 245 room St Pancras Renaissance Hotel opened on 14th March, 2011, to guests but the formal opening took place on 5th May that year – exactly 138 days after it first opened its doors.

Facilities at the property today, part of the Marriott group, include The Chambers Club, The Booking Office Bar & Restaurant, MI + ME, The Marcus Wareing-designed Gilbert Scott Restaurant, the Hansom Lounge – where afternoon tea is served, and George’s Bar. There’s also a spa and leisure club and pool and meeting facilities.

The premises has appeared in films including the The Secret GardenRichard III, Batman Begins, Bridget Jones’ Diary and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It also served as the backdrop for the Spice Girls video clip, Wannabee.

For more, see www.stpancraslondon.com.

PICTURE: Top – LepoRello (licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0);  Right – David Adams; Below – Jwslubbock (licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0).

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London’s railway network stands out as one of the greatest achievements of the Victorian age for it was during the 19th century that much of the railway infrastructure still in use today was first established.

St-PancrasThe first railway line in London opened in February 1836 (six years after the UK’s first line opened) and ran between Spa Road in Bermondsey and Deptford on the south bank of the River Thames. The line was extended to London Bridge in December that same year and again to Greenwich, from cross-Channel steamers left – in April the following year.

That same year – 1837 – the station at Euston opened as the final stop for trains from Birmingham (an earlier terminus as Chalk Farm was deemed too far out). It was followed by Paddington in 1838, Fenchurch Street – the first permanent terminus in the City – in 1841, Waterloo in 1848 and King’s Cross in 1850.

Having seen a boom period during the 1840s, development of new lines took a back seat in the 1850s but resumed apace the following decade with the opening of Victoria Station, connecting the city to Brighton and Dover. Stations followed at Charing Cross, Ludgate Hill and Cannon Street and alongside the grand terminus’ around the outskirts of London where trains arriving from distant destinations arrived, numerous smaller railways began to be built, such as the West End of London and Crystal Palace Railway and the Victoria Station and Pimlico Railway, which took passengers on only short journeys across the city (these smaller railway companies all disappeared by 1923 when the 1921 Railways Act resulted in the creation of what are known as the “Big Four” British railway companies).

And, of course, the London Underground, has its first journey in 1863 but we’ll look at that in more detail next week.

Interesting to note that there were three classes of rail travel and while first and second class passengers had seats, this wasn’t always the case in third class where, writes Michael Paterson in Inside Dickens’ London, passengers, such as those on the Greenwich line, were initially forced to stand in open topped carriages known by some as ‘standipedes’.

Naturally, with the building of the railways came some spectacular stations – among the most spectacular is the late Victorian building which stood at the front of St Pancras Railway Station and housed the Midland Grand Hotel (pictured above). An exemplar of the Gothic Victorian style, it was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and, following a massive recent refurbishment, is now home to the five star Renaissance London Hotel and apartments.

We can, of course, only touch on the history of the railways in such a brief article – but we will be looking in more detail at some more specific elements of the system in later posts.

The State Dining Room at Apsley House, the Duke of Wellington’s former London residence, reopened to the public last weekend after a make-over. The revitalisation works included repairing and cleaning the ceiling and chandelier as well as the Portuguese silver centre piece, which was presented to Wellington by the Portuguese Council of Regency to commemorate his victories over Napoleon in the Peninsular War. The house, which bears the landmark address of Number One London, was given to the nation in 1947 by the 7th Duke of Wellington, whose family continues to occupy private rooms in the premises. See www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/apsley-house/.

Seventy-six years after it last hosted a guest, the former Midland Grand Hotel at London’s St Pancras station reopened its doors quietly earlier this month following a 10 year, £150 million restoration project. The Grade I-listed Victorian Gothic building, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott (he also designed the Albert Memorial), originally opened in 1873. It closed in 1935 but was saved from demolition in the 1960s after a campaign led by poet laureate Sir John Betjeman. Among the highlights of the recent project is the restoration of the Sir George Gilbert Scott suite to look like it did in the Victorian era. The hotel, rebranded the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel,  will be officially opened on 5th May, exactly 138 years after it first opened. See www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/lonpr-st-pancras-renaissance-london-hotel/.

Architect Sir Basil Spence (1907-1976) has been honored with an English Heritage blue plaque outside his former home and office in Islington. The architect, best known for his redesign of Coventry Cathedral after it was bombed by the Luftwaffe during World War II, lived and worked at 1 Canonbury Place from 1956 until the mid-1960s. He and his family then moved next door while he continued to use the property as his offices (it remained in use as architectural offices long after his death). Other commissions for which Sir Basil is known include Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall, the controversial Knightsbridge Barracks and the Swiss Cottage Library. Internationally, his works included the unusual ‘beehive’ extension to the Parliament Building in Wellington, New Zealand.

• Now On: Your chance to lift the two 1,100 tonne bascules at Tower Bridge. The City of London Corporation this week launched their annual competition to find a “guest bridge driver”. Enter by going to Tower Bridge’s website (www.towerbridge.co.uk) and answering a question about the bridge or the Square Mile. The winner will be drawn next month and as well as using the controls to lift and lower the bridge, will receive a commemorative certificate in the control cabin, a tour of the Tower Bridge Exhibition and the chance to visit the underground bascule chamber and fifth-level turrets, neither of which are normally open to the public. They’ll also be presented with a bottle of champagne.