Another brief enjoyable visit to Paris at the weekend provided the opportunity to check out St Pancras International, which opened on 14th November (and I’ve only just got there). My first Eurostar trip I came not knowing what to expect and was impressed by Waterloo. The Guardian has been quite gushing and I came to St Pancras with high expectations, but with trepidation too. The truth is, I liked it the way it was, and the way it is now just doesn’t do it for me.
It is impressive. It’s a building that can’t fail to be. The departures occupy most of the undercroft where beer barrels were once stored, and part of the concourse has been cut away to feed light, and escalators, into a sunken mall. Meanwhile, the high glass and chrome barriers (dividing England from the “international” side) and the ridiculously long champagne bar add to the feeling of fussiness. The main entrance has been moved down a level creating dead space where you used to come in and the old booking office, the terrific, oak paneled booking office, is full of scaffolding and building work.
Like I say, I liked it the way it was, the old St Pancras which felt like a huge empty cathedral (there were rarely any trains or passengers there, it seemed). It dwarfed the HST units, sitting silently at the platforms. What normally appeared to be a clouds of diesel fumes disappeared as tiny wisps long before they reached the high vaulted ceiling.
St Pancras played the role of Victoria station in one of my favorite films, Richard III. It also plays a dual role: as itself, and the halls of Valhalla, in Douglas Adam’s superb The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul:
“The cold moonlight draped itself through the long ranges of glass panels that extended the length of St Pancras station roof. It fell on empty rails and illuminated them. It fell on the train departures board, it fell on the sign which explained that today was a Blue Saver Day, and illuminated them both… There was no doubt, he felt, that a space this size would make a good feasting hall for gods and dead heroes, and that the empty Midland Grand Hotel would be almost worth moving the whole shebang from Norway for.”