King's Cross Station and St Pancras Station are next door to one another, and allow opportunity to compare two very different approaches to railway architecture. King's Cross station provides a design giving equal weight to the architecture and to the engineering. Its design is an expression of its function, with the shape of the facade reflecting the train sheds behind. This contrasts with St Pancras, where the glorious hotel, one of the most excellent Victorian structures in existence, rises up and leaves the railway end as a distinct structure behind.
King's Cross Station was designed as the Great Northern Railway's London terminus by the architect Lewis Cubitt, and put up in 1851-2. It was erected on the site of a former smallpox and fever hospital. The train shed is faced with a yellowish brick screen which fronts onto Euston Road, and features a central 120ft high clock tower in Italianate style, with 9ft diameter clock dials. On either side there are large arched windows over the fronts of the two big arched train sheds (71 ft high, 800ft long). When built, the station included a six storey granary taking 60,000 sacks of corn, with a hydraulic system for hauling up the grain. 150,000 gallon water tanks were on the top storey. Under the goods platform, stabling for 300 horses, and the coal stores had a capacity of 15,200 tonnes. The hotel for the station, also by Cubitt, was built in 1854 as a separate curved building to the left of the station and facing St Pancras.
St Pancras Station and Hotel is the most magnificent in London, and one of the great examples of Victorian Gothic architecture. It was built for the Midland Railway. The train shed came first, in 1863-5, and at 689 ft long and with a 100 ft high, 243 ft span was the largest in the world at the time. This impressive roof was designed by R. M. Ordish and W. H. Barlow, the latter the engineer who had helped Paxton with his design for the Great Exhibition building. Oddly enough, the date on one of the girders is slightly later than expected - 1867.
The hotel was added to the front by Gilbert Scott in 1868-74. The Gothic structure is in brick, with granite pillars and a clock tower somewhat in the style of Big Ben. The total cost of hotel and engine shed together was around £1 million.
The main entrance to the station is worth some examination. It is medieval cloister style - with a central arched passage and two side passages. The tops of the short columns are decorated, especially on the outside of the main entrance (i.e. facing into side passages). Note the series of dragons - eagle clawed, crocodile tailed, beaked, in pairs, with each pair different. Also small hanging-down bat-like gargoyles.
There is much other decoration to be seen, but rather scattered around the station. The window to the right of the booking office is a good example of one motif - moulded dragons biting themselves Celtic fashion. Note also the brick and blue tile pattern high up. In the ticket hall, on the wall with the clock, the tops of the four centremost pillars have small sculptures of railwaymen - bearded, with hats and contemporary dress - one holds a model train.
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