Jeremy JP Fekete / Cathedrals of steam - Europes first Railway stations


London’s St Pancras station was the last major eruption of the railway mania the industrial age. As the rich Midland Railway pushed to establish its connections into the British capital, it made due at first with rented tracks at Euston station. The second World’s Exhibition in 1862 called for a new building. Land around the church of Saint Pancras was given over to the project; land was also acquired by the demolition of Saint Luke’s and the neighbouring slums. The dead in the churchyard were reinterred elsewhere and the station was built. Engineer William Henry Barlow created the 210 metre long concourse with a single 74 metre wide arch made of cast iron and glass, a true architectural masterpiece. Leading church architect George Gilbert Scott won the competition for design of the street front consisting of the station administration building and the Midland Hotel.

From its Midlands home, the railway brought the sandstone, red and grey granite, and especially brick from which the station was built. Brick was the mouldable, flexible dream material that made so many Victorian and Edwardian buildings possible. Scott used these materials to create a palace for the railway, a cathedral of the industrial age with countless turrets, spires and pinnacles, with columns, capitals, blind arches even in the interior, with stone work that both referenced the Middle Ages and poked fun at it.

St Pancras Train Station was from the very beginning something special. On 1 October 1868, the first train finally set off for Manchester from the magnificent neo-Gothic brick edifice. This trip was at that time the longest train journey in the world without intermediate stops. Today, the terminus has 14 tracks, used by 22 million passengers each year.