Dr Jonathan Foyle studies St Pancras, a masterpiece of Victorian design. He investigates the techniques used to construct both the train terminal and the Midland Hotel.
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This is St Pancras, undoubtedly London's most spectacular
and romantic railway station. It's a Gothic masterpiece
and a temple to the pioneering age of steam.
'This is Climbing Great Buildings. Throughout this series,
'I'll be scaling our most iconic and best-loved structures, from the Normans to the present day.'
-'I'll be revealing the buildings' secrets
'and telling the story of how British architecture and construction developed
'over 1,000 years.'
The middle years of the 19th century
was the pioneering age of the railways.
Great networks spread from London to all parts of Britain,
each owned by a company which wanted to show off its credentials with a grand terminus in the capital.
In 1866, the Midland Railway Company built its station and hotel.
This is St Pancras, the grandest station of its date in the world.
'St Pancras International is Britain's most recognisable railway station.
'It consists of two different parts, both on an epic scale.
'At the front of St Pancras is the majestic Neo-Gothic Midland Grand Hotel.
'And behind it stands the station, with its huge train shed,
'a 19th-century engineering marvel.
'In order to reveal the architectural and technological advances made in constructing St Pancras,
'I've been given unprecedented access to get a perspective of the building never seen before.'
What a view! Look at that!
'I'll be scaling the stunning Midland Grand Hotel to get a unique view of this Neo-Gothic masterpiece.'
-Lay back and look at that.
-Lay back and think of medieval England!
'I'll come face to face with the most famous railway clock in Britain.
'And I'll get up close to the incredible train shed
'to reveal the secrets behind its construction.'
The next departure will be Jonathan,
arriving at platform one in about 12 seconds.
'But I won't be going it alone. One of Britain's top climbers, Lucy Creamer,
'a team of riggers and intrepid cameraman Ian Burton
'will be joining me on my Victorian voyage.
'The man with overall responsibility for St Pancras was famous architect Sir George Gilbert Scott.
'First, he constructed the train shed.
'In 1868, he set about building the most spectacular and modern hotel to front it.
'This was to be a grand advertisement to claim that the Midland Railway
'was one of the finest in the world.
'My journey begins on the 100-foot south face of this glorious hotel.
'The perfect place to explore the Victorians' love for all things Gothic.'
-It's a fine building, isn't it?
-A few decades ago, it was slated for demolition.
-Can you believe that?
-No. That's scandalous. They obviously saw sense.
And now it's cleaned, we can go up and have a look at the sculpture
and see the marvel of craftsmanship that it is, because it is!
-Let's get up there and have a look!
'I want to see up close how Gilbert Scott
'used the Victorians' infatuation with all things romantic and medieval
'to build a contemporary work of genius.'
It's covered in stuff. Stuff that hopefully you'll explain to me.
'Gothic architecture flourished in the medieval era
'but fell out of favour as Classical building became the norm.
'By the Victorian age, the Gothic style was back in fashion
'and so Gilbert Scott used pointed arches, intricate stone carvings,
'clusters of towers and pinnacles to make the St Pancras Midland Grand Hotel
'a landmark of the Gothic revival.
'While the building was an advert for the Midland Railway Company,
'the vast array of materials Gilbert Scott used to construct it
'was an advert for the Midlands as a whole.
'And with the company's trains servicing all parts of that region,
'it certainly wasn't a problem delivering those materials to London.'
The Midland Railway Company took advantage of a great opportunity
because the lines they owned that ran through the heart of England yielded the materials that built this hotel.
They included the red clays of Nottinghamshire that gave such a nice, warm brick,
the red sandstone from Mansfield in the same county,
slates for the roof from Leicestershire and the golden limestone from Lincolnshire.
All that could be loaded onto the company's trains,
brought down their lines, right to the building site.
'Gilbert Scott was a follower of the writer John Ruskin,
'who proposed study of Gothic buildings not just in England but in Flanders and Italy.
'What he ended up with was colourful Gothic arches and simple stone tracery
'combined with a very un-medieval riot of wrought-iron balconies.
'Gilbert Scott mixed red brick contrasted with lighter shades of stone
'to create this striking facade. This technique is called structural polychromy.
'As the design was influenced by both Gothic town halls and cathedrals,
'it's adorned with intricate sculpture.'
-Look at those. Amazing attention to detail, isn't it?
-It doesn't seem to last the test of time, does it?
-She's unfortunately suffered a couple of losses.
-She has, bless her.
-Where would you place that character?
-In terms of centuries?
-Yeah, the dress.
-Look at you, you're on fire, woman! Yes!
And the one in the foreground with the smooth and modest lines?
-I don't know. Middle Ages?
-Two out of two.
-Don't ask me any more.
And look what the Grecian-looking lady's doing. She's got a victory wreath
-and she's giving victory to the Middle Ages.
Look at the style of this building. It's so fabulously medieval.
-For Gilbert Scott, the architect, his philosophy was to follow the Gothic style.
And to bring back to Britain the spirit that was the Middle Ages.
-Oh. Good for him.
-Lay back and look at that.
-Lay back and think of medieval England.
Yeah, that's a good climb, that one.
-This would be your front door, wouldn't it? You'd jump out every morning.
-Be like, "Whey!"
-"See you later, dude!"
-Yeah. "Oi, gargoyle girl!" they'd shout.
-That's a bit harsh!
-Are you calling me a gargoyle?
-No, I mean like one of those attractive middle-aged...
No, not Middle Ages! No! That's not what I meant!
-When in a hole, you've got to stop digging, haven't you?
'Now I've removed my foot from my mouth,
'I want to look at the interior of this magnificent building.
'St Pancras is currently undergoing a massive restoration and refurbishment programme,
'but when the hotel opened in 1873,
'its facilities were at the forefront of innovation and design.
'The hotel harnessed the technology of the railways to make it a world leader in comfort.
'Steam was used to power many of the hotel's features,
'including the ultra-modern central heating system,
'the vast laundry, the appliances in what was Britain's most expensive kitchen
'and even the electric bells in the rooms to call for room service.
'The Midland Grand also had the first room in Europe where ladies where allowed to smoke in public.
'However, despite its cutting-edge technology, the hotel had one major flaw.
'By the turn of the 20th century, guests had come to expect certain standards regarding cleanliness.
'But the Midland had only eight communal bathrooms to service over 400 guests
'and that was never going to wash with this demanding clientele.
'The bedrooms couldn't be converted to be en suite
'because the fireproof floors were built so solidly.
'So, ironically, the hotel's design proved to be its downfall.'
The building ceased being a hotel in 1935
and it was then turned over to offices for the London Midland Scottish Railway
and then British Rail in turn.
The glorious Victorian wall paintings were covered over in emulsion
and there was even talk of demolition.
But in 1967, English Heritage put a Grade I listing on it, which meant that it was protected,
but renovation costs money and the cash wouldn't be found for another 30 years.
'The renovation of the hotel has been a mammoth project
'which has taken over a decade to realise.
'The aim is to restore the hotel to its former glory,
'including the hotel's most splendid original feature, the grand staircase.
'The stairs were a showcase for Gilbert Scott's Gothic revivalist ideas.
'It's currently in the process of being restored and is in a fragile state.
'I'm climbing on ropes to see exactly how his ideas were put into practice inside the building.'
In the early pioneering days of the great railway hotel,
a big staircase was an essential feature.
It had to be grand enough to give you a hint of the opulent rooms beyond,
show you the height of the building
and also be broad enough to allow ladies with bustles to pass each other comfortably.
But it wouldn't be long before the elevator was invented,
and that took the impetus off building a staircase.
You still get grand hotel staircases into the 1930s, the Art Deco era,
but today, when we walk into a new hotel, we hardly expect to see one. More like a bank of elevators.
Seems a shame, really, to miss out on exercise for the body and the eye.
'Climbing the staircase on ropes enables me to closely observe
'the structural honesty of this Victorian Gothic architecture.'
Those Gothic revivalists, they argued that truth to materials is what they're about
-and so, remember, on the outside, they show the colour of the stone.
And inside they show the raw construction.
If you're going to criticise Classical builders for hiding everything under stucco,
why don't you reveal all of your structure? If this is a railway hotel, why not use cast iron?
This is actually quite pioneering.
-It's the first time that exposed iron construction was shown in a polite interior like this.
'To complete Gilbert Scott's design, the staircase is topped off with a cathedral-like vaulted ceiling.
'St Pancras is not a cathedral to worship God,
'but rather to praise the Victorian age of industry and commerce.'
-Look at that ceiling up there.
-Incredible, isn't it?
When you look straight up at that blue with the gold stars in the ceiling,
it looks like the Victorian appreciation for medieval cathedrals and churches.
They so often painted them blue to make the vaults look like heaven with the stars twinkling down on them.
-There's this whole medieval universe up there.
-And those windows, they look very church-like.
Right, Jonathan, we can't go up any more, unfortunately.
-We've got to...
-Too fragile, is it?
-Shall we head on down?
# I wish I could fly... #
Ooh. Watch your camera.
'The refurbishment of St Pancras Midland Grand Hotel
'is costing over £200 million
'and more than 6,000 people have worked on the project so far.
'Wherever possible, the building's original opulence is being restored, returning it to its former glory.'
This is going to be the lounge bar for the new hotel. So the public
will come into this space from the Euston Road,
straight into this interior and hopefully get that "wow" factor.
It's a very exotic-feeling space, isn't it, because of the gold?
I love the way that the materials, the marble, is actually complemented by the paint
and you get a sense of Victorian interiors.
The painting and gilding to the ceiling is completely new.
It's based on the paint research, the understanding and analysis of the building
as well as taking tracings of the original
so what we have is an accurate representation of the 1892 design.
-And that's real gold leaf you've got.
-Yeah, this is 23 and a half carat gold leaf
This is a very traditional technique,
the same as they used in the 19th century.
It makes this entrance space feel very special and quite exotic.
It's wonderful to see it back in place. I'm going to stay and admire it a bit longer.
'The room arrangements in Victorian hotels were the inverse of what we see today.
'The very best suites were on the lower floors
'and the further up the building you went, the lower the standard of accommodation.
'In the days before lifts, the lower down the social scale you were thought to be,
'the more stairs you had to climb.'
Well, times change, and the upper floors have now been turned into swanky apartments
and one of the best of them can be found on this, the fifth floor.
'I'm on my way to see the penthouse apartment within St Pancras' iconic Neo-Gothic clock tower
'which has helped to keep travellers on time for over a century.'
-Welcome to the clock tower.
-Thanks for letting me have a look. So...
-Come on up.
Here we are in the clock tower room itself,
which is a huge space, ten metres high.
It's a fantastic space. I mean, you can see the Victorian bare brick and the timber.
It soars above you. But how different is it to the way it was?
This was just a storeroom. There was virtually no light in this room
because they had wooden louvres to make it look like a bell tower.
The bell tower never held any bells, it wasn't a belfry.
No, indeed, it was just a false idea that George Gilbert Scott had
to make it look more like an Italian Florentine bell tower
as he built his Gothic idea for the whole station hotel.
This is the way the clock winder would come up to do his winding
-and to maintain the clock.
-I do like these treads. They're like little railway lines. Very simple.
Yes, good quality cast-iron engineering. Yes, indeed, I like these stairs.
And here is where the clock faces are.
Four huge clock faces.
So on a misty winter evening, it's still these clocks
illuminated from this room which guide travellers to the station.
The clock's not only a bright beacon, it's a very good timekeeper, as well,
which is essential for a station, and that's what the railway company wanted
when they put the hotel and clock tower up.
'The top of the clock tower is 240 feet high
'and is the tallest point at St Pancras.
'I'm going to climb from Peter's apartment up the famous steeple
'in order to get a unique view of the hotel and station
'and see how the differing architectural styles of the two buildings actually work in unison.
'This time, I'm not climbing with ropes. I'm going to use a good old-fashioned ladder.'
I tell you what, this is not what I was expecting. It's quite spooky.
-Isn't it? Yeah. Feels more ancient than something Victorian.
-OK, we're off.
Now, this is rickety.
There's lots of missing rungs and it's very dusty,
so I can't imagine that people came up here very often.
But when they did, they'd have needed at least some light
and not a little nerve.
What a view, look at that!
It's fantastic to see the top of the train shed. Really majestic vision.
'I'm very excited to be at the top of Britain's most inspiring railway station.
'From here, I can appreciate the sheer scale of that gigantic train shed.'
When St Pancras was built, the train shed looked enormous,
but it wasn't the widest train shed in London. There were two which were broader.
Kings Cross just next door and Euston a little way along the Euston Road.
But both of those had pillars dividing up the individual glazed vaults.
Whereas this one was an entire span, and for 25 years it was the broadest single span in the world.
'But, in order to have a closer look at how it was built,
'I need to abseil down.'
Good. Well done.
-He's doing it, he's doing it.
-Let's do it.
Let's go. Watch those slates.
-The slate crawl.
-I'm making it up but it seems to be working.
'In the Victorian age, time in Britain wasn't standardised
'and railway stations in the big cities held independent time.'
It's curious to think that in those early pioneering days of the Victorian railways,
every city used to keep their own railway time according to when the sun went down,
so Bristol might be 20 minutes later than London.
But when the railways all joined up, you had to know what time your train was going to depart and arrive
on a standardised system, so in November 1840,
the Great Western Railway created standardisation
and clocks had to be synchronised across Britain.
Tell me when to use feet. SHE LAUGHS
Whoa. Watch that window.
That went badly.
-That wasn't a good move.
-Yep. Let's go.
Now this, St Pancras train shed, was the work of William Barlow.
He's an under-sung hero of British architecture.
But it's still a world-beating building in my view.
A spectacular piece of railway architecture.
'I now need to get across to the train shed so I can have a look at this engineering marvel.
'But between it and me is a gap of 30 feet.'
'So my next challenge is to walk across something called a Burma bridge
'with nothing below me but a 100-foot sheer drop.
'This is not a time for nerves.'
So step on the...rungs themselves.
Not on the wires. Step straight in the centre.
-Your hands in front of the straps.
-And just pull your hands over the top, over the side, and then hold the ropes in front of you.
How are you balanced today?
'Well, I'm glad that's over, but now at least I'm able to finally see St Pancras Station up close.
'I'm going inside to see how Barlow's ingenious engineering made it the envy of the world.
'140 years after the station first opened
'and following an £800 million redevelopment,
'the station is now called St Pancras International and is Britain's hub for the Eurostar.
'The train shed roof, which had been bombed during World War II, was completely reglazed
'but the original structure remains intact.'
This building deserves some statistics. It's 105 feet tall,
over 245 feet wide and it's that free span which makes it so majestic
and which gives it an awe-inspiring power to this day.
The train shed structure may look simple enough from above
but the giant single-span roof needed to be supported
and Barlow's solution was both innovative and ingenious in its design.
Barlow figured that if he built this broad span with a pointed arch,
it would be all the better for bracing the effect of the wind against its sides.
Now, a card model is always going to wobble around a little bit,
but what you see is that where it comes down to meet the walls, it doesn't really move a great deal.
But there is always a big danger of large structures which might spread.
The more you press down, the more it settles,
then the likelier it is to push out at the base.
And so what he decided to do was put in a whole series of iron tie rods
which span underneath the train platforms
and tie the bottom of this great arch together.
Now, this little model's just got three of them, represented by string,
but if you cut through the string...
..it falls straight to the floor.
Now, obviously, this structure is slightly different
in that it's a frame rather than a single sheet,
but nonetheless, the same basic principles apply.
This lattice-work structure is so strong
that modern engineers have figured that even the tie beams may not have been necessary.
Typical of a Victorian belts and braces approach to building.
'Building the roof was a mammoth task.
'At the height of construction, there were over 1,000 men, 100 horses and 22 steam engines on site.
'I'm going to climb 100 feet up the massive roof
'to see up close exactly how Barlow constructed it.
'But it's not going to be easy.'
This, I think, is 105 to the apex.
And we're over trains and railway lines and...
-It's a big space, this.
-Yeah. I'm really excited about this.
It's quite dusty up here, though. Bring some dusters up with you.
What's your grip like on dusty metal?
It's a bit, er, slippy.
Slippery. That's my favourite climber's word.
Good to go.
This is awesome! I'm loving it!
I'm standing in the roof of St Pancras. It's just so cool!
'Seeing the scale of the station roof from this height is staggering,
'but amazingly it had to be extended for its modern-day use.'
Now, Barlow's task was to design a building 105 feet high
so that all of the smoke of the railway could be absorbed into its rafters,
but also to allow the arch sufficient height against its width to stand properly.
The length of this building is 680 feet, that's longer than Canterbury Cathedral in entirety.
But even so, it's not long enough for Eurostar trains today.
So the far end of the station is a brand new shed to take their length
and you'll just see one leaving now.
-I felt a bit of a rumble then.
-Yeah, I did.
-It sort of felt like everything was shifting a bit.
It was bizarre. Must have been a train.
I guess something that has to be taken into consideration when you build iron structures like this
is that metal inevitably expands when it's hot and contracts when it's cold,
it moves in the wind, so you have to build in a certain flexibility,
and Barlow had to figure that into his equations.
This is like a living thing that has to breath
-like a great ribcage.
-And you can feel it.
-Yeah, you can.
-Yeah, a ribcage.
-Gives it life, doesn't it?
It's from perspectives like this you get a sense of the sheer numbers involved
in the construction of this amazing thing. For every one of these 25 trusses,
there are countless big rivets just bolting every little component in place.
Of course, all this had to be worked out on drawings before they were ordered and brought to site.
But the energy invested in melting and hitting rivets countless thousands of times,
all of that human endeavour and effort, it's all embodied in this amazing structure.
We've reached Stew, which means we can't go any further, which is a shame.
-Otherwise we're over the electric cables of the trains.
-And that means 25,000 volts.
Yeah. We'll be turned into bacon.
I just cannot get over the scale of it. It just must have been phenomenal to see at the time.
-Even now it's phenomenal, isn't it?
-It's the confidence, isn't it?
Right, the next departure will be Jonathan, arriving at platform one
in about 12 seconds.
'It seems hard to believe that this magnificent Victorian icon
'was almost demolished. Thankfully, one man campaigned tirelessly to ensure
'this testament to Victorian architectural brilliance remained standing.'
-Don't smash your camera.
At the bottom of the abseil is this character, Sir John Betjeman.
When I was a teenager, I read Betjeman,
and he's one of the people who got me really enthused about architecture.
He was a lover of the steam age and all things Victorian
when many others simply couldn't see their beauty,
and it was his campaigning that made St Pancras listed Grade I in 1967.
And that put it on a par with the greatest country houses and even cathedrals.
So it's thanks to Sir John that this place not only survives
but was reborn into a new railway age.
'Next time, how the florid imagination of one visionary artist
'created a building which inspired a century of modern architecture.'
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Dr Jonathan Foyle, architectural historian and novice climber, scales Britain's most iconic structures dating from the Normans to the present day, to reveal the buildings' secrets and tell the story of how our architecture and construction has developed over 1,000 years.
The next step Jonathan's journey takes him to King's Cross St Pancras, a masterpiece of Victorian design, widely regarded as London's most stunning and romantic station.
With unprecedented access to St Pancras, aided by champion climber Lucy Creamer, Jonathan scales all over the buildings to investigate the innovations and techniques used to construct both the train terminal and the elegant Midland Hotel. On the Midland Hotel, Jonathan climbs over 240 feet up the immense clock tower to explain how Britain had different time zones until the advent of stations like St Pancras. He discovers water-powered elevators, why penthouses used to be on the ground floor, and how the hotel was almost doomed to failure by only providing nine bathrooms for 400 bedrooms.
And in the station he scales the incredible glass span roof that crosses the main terminal - the largest of its kind in the world - to reveal the brilliance of its construction, how St Pancras was built on beer and why it took a poet to save one of London's greatest landmarks from being torn down.