The brothers Charles and William Waring were already working on an eight-mile stretch of track for the Midland near Elstree when they were awarded the contract to build the last three-quarters of a mile to Euston Road, which included the walls of the train shed and the foundations and lower walls of the station building. The Waring brother’s contract was signed on 12 February 1866 but it did not include the ironwork of Barlow’s great roof. The Butterley Company tendered just under £117,000 to manufacture and erect the roof, but the contract was not awarded until 18 July 1866. This firm was founded in 1791 at Butterley, near Ripley in Derbyshire, and developed into vast industrial complex, with its own company town of Ironville, complete with church and schools and the village of Golden Valley. As a major ironworks, Butterley was an important customer of the Midland, but it also built locomotives for it as well as providing the ironwork for its bridges.
Warings’ first task was to demolish the existing buildings on the site. In the middle of this, on Euston Road, was St Luke’s Church, which had only been consecrated in 1861. It was carefully dismantled and sold to the Congregationalists who re-erected it at Wanstead in Essex. A new St Luke’s was built on railway land at Kentish Town, only about a mile and a half from its old site. Scott’s plans for St Pancras were accepted by the Midland Board in April 1866. He also provided a detailed estimate of the work but a financial crisis was looming; railway shares were falling and contractors were finding it difficult to secure the necessary loans to carry out their work. Then on 11 May 1866, ‘Black Friday’, panic seized the money markets following the collapse of the bankers Overend and Gurney and even the great Sir Samuel Morton Peto was a victim of the ensuing crisis. Within a fortnight of accepting Scott’s plans, the Midland Board decided to reduce the size of their building by omitting two floors of offices and one from the hotel, thus abandoning the scheme to transfer the company’s headquarters from Derby to London and lowering Scott’s main facade from five to four stories.
Although nothing was to happen to Scott’s proposals for six months Warings were continuing with their contract. By the end of June 1866 the whole of the area required for the extension southwards from the Goods Station to Euston Road had been cleared. The contract stipulated that the main line would be carried on a girder bridge over the disused burial ground of St Pancras, but the branch to the Metropolitan would have to be burrowed beneath the burial ground in order to obtain the correct gradient for its connection with the underground railway. This turned out to be a particularly gruesome operation and, although the Company had made provision for dignified reburials to take place at its own expense, at the start of operations, Warings’ men were not particularly careful. A public scandal erupted, involving a question in Parliament, the Bishop of London and the Home Secretary. The Architect to the Bishop, Arthur Blomfield, sent an assistant to supervise this grisly work. This was the young Thomas Hardy and it is not surprising that stress and ill-health led Hardy to leave Blomfield the following summer and to return to his native Dorset.
In July 1866 Warings started to excavate for the station foundations but by the autumn the work seems to have slowed down and in November the Southern Extension Committee requested Scott to prepare ‘alternative plans for the St Pancras Station buildings’. On 5 December he was summoned to a meeting of the Board with his revised plans which, he said, would result in a saving of £20,000 in the cost of his building. The Extension Committee met 19 December 1866 to pursue further economies but Scott was able to make a case for using expensive hard red bricks made by Edward Gripper of Nottingham. He also appointed John Saville as his Clerk of Works, who took up his duties on 1 January 1867, supervising Warings’ work on the parts of the station below platform level. But it was only by the following spring that the foundations were sufficiently advanced for the Butterley Company to commence the erection of the iron columns that were to support the station floor.
In May 1867, the Extension Committee met Scott and requested him to limit the work to the basement, ground and first floors east of the carriageway entrance, and to the ‘great gateway’ itself. In other words, the curved front and the hotel would be omitted at this stage and he was to ‘reduce the cost of decoration and especially to dispense with the use of granite columns wherever he could do so without sacrificing the essential nature of the building’. The decision was taken that tenders were to be invited from twelve builders to carry out this programme, which would include a temporary roof, as well as another set of tenders for the building as a whole. Then the Committee drew back from sending out invitations. The crisis that started with the ‘Black Friday’ of May 1866, instead of clearing up, continued to deepen, with the railway companies particularly vulnerable. The London Chatham and Dover Company had failed in 1866 and in the following year the Great Eastern also collapsed. The Midland Board was nervous. It could be a long time before St Pancras would be capable of producing any revenue but the directors were confident of the eventual success of their new station and resolved to weather the financial storm by slowing down the work.
It was not until December 1867 that the Committee felt bold enough to implement its earlier decision to invite tenders from twelve London firms of builders, which included William Cubitt and Company, Trollop and Sons and Jackson and Shaw. Tenders were submitted a fortnight later but the Board was anxious about the shareholders’ reaction to such expenditure and decided to postpone the work for at least one year and the tenders were left unopened in Scott’s office. Only the train shed, and the branch to the Metropolitan under it, were allowed to proceed as the quickest way of producing some income from the project.
The General Manager wrote to the Metropolitan Railway Company to say that the Midland’s work on the branch would be completed on 1 January 1868. But the Metropolitan was not ready to make the connection with its line and it was another seven months before the first passenger train passed through the tunnel. Meanwhile, in March 1868, Butterley had installed a second great scaffold to speed the work on the roof of the shed and, perhaps encouraged by this progress, the Board decided not to wait any longer, collected the tenders from Scott’s office and awarded the contract for the first stage of his building to Jackson and Shaw of Earl Street, Westminster.
Charles Wakefield Jackson was probably a clerk in Myers’ office before entering into partnership with George Shaw. Their first work for Scott was alterations to Bayliff’s Hospice in Dean’s Yard, Westminster in about 1856. They became one of Scott’s favourite contractors and by 1868 they were building the new chapel at St John’s College, Cambridge, for him. Their tender figure for the first stage of St. Pancras was £37,580, which was £500 less than Scott’s estimate, and the contract was signed on 31 March 1868. After considerably problems, Butterley began to make real progress on the train shed. The final arch was erected in mid-September and the Board decided to open the station for passenger traffic on 1 October 1868, although there was little of Scott’s building above platform level. Early in the morning of 1 October 1868, the Midland booking clerks left the uncongenial environment of King’s Cross and transferred their stores and equipment to temporary accommodation at St Pancras. The first passenger train left the new station at ten o’clock, for Manchester. Two days later The Builder reported that the ‘station is already roofed, or nearly so, but the frontage is not yet raised much above the hoarding’.
Progress continued to be very slow on the hotel and station buildings, partly, as Saville reported, because of the acute shortage of Gripper’s bricks. However the booking office was completed early in January 1869 and Skidmore, through Scott, was commissioned to provide the gas lighting for the station. The directors, it seems, were now anxious to proceed with the rest of the work, but so nervous about the total cost that they decided to proceed only with the authority of a series of special meetings of shareholders at various stages of the work. At one of these meetings, held at Derby on 31 August 1869, they discussed a proposal which been made by Scott on 15 June, that Jackson and Shaw should carry out the next stage of the work, which he estimated would cost over £59,000, using the scale of prices contained in their original tender. The shareholders agreed to Scott’s proposal and work began on the next stage almost at once. But progress was still slow and by September 1871, three and a half years after work had begun, Jackson and Shaw had only just started the tower over the departure gateway while the western part of the hotel was not even started. Scott must have wondered, particularly after a heart attack in 1870, if he would ever live to see his great palace completed, when in August 1872, the Midland Board was forced to change its policy.
For some time the Board had been considering the appointment of a manager for the Midland Grand Hotel, as the hotel was to be called. After interviewing several candidates, the Board decided to send for Robert Etzensberger who was the manager of the Grand Hotel Victoria on the Lido at Venice, which provided ‘service on the Swiss system’. Etzensberger would give the hotel the European status that the Board desired but he made it clear that he would not accept the post unless the hotel was completed to its original design. Consequently, the chairman, William Hutchinson, at the half-yearly meeting of the Company in August 1872, told shareholders that although it had not been the practice of the Company ‘to lavish much of its money on works of art’, there were many arguments in favour of completing the building in accordance with its original design and render it ‘worthy of the great artist whose work it is, and of the great company whose name it bears’. About £122,000 had already been expended and a further outlay of £90,000 to £110,000 was necessary to conform to Etzensberger’s ultimatum to finish the building. The shareholders agreed to leave the rest of the work in the hands of the Board, which would push on with it as quickly as possible. Etzensberger was duly appointed and on 1 October 1872 was asked to prepare for opening the first part of the hotel in five months time. In the event, the first guests arrived on 5 May 1873 but it was to be another four years before they could be accommodated in a fully completed hotel.
Scott was again able to nominate some of his trusted sub-contractors, such as Skidmore to provide the gas fittings for the hotel, and Farmer and Brindley to carry out the carving. But the Extension Committee told him that when it came to inviting tenders for the grates and mantlepieces, it would like ‘to have an opportunity of stating the names of some firms who are good customers to the Midland Railway’. Scott suggested to the Committee that Clayton and Bell should design the decorations to the west wing but was told that the Company would appoint its own decorators. Scott was badly upset with this rebuff but perhaps the Committee was becoming cautious of Scott’s nominees. Indeed, there were complaints over Skidmore’s slowness which led, in January 1874, to him being hauled before the Committee, when it expressed its ‘dissatisfaction at the slow manner in which his contract was being proceeded with’.
Frederick Sang, an architect known for his interior designs, carried out the decorations but Scott himself, according to The Building News, designed ‘the coloured ceiling decorations to some of the best bedrooms’ and four easy chairs for the coffee room. In 1873 the Board was again getting nervous about costs and ordered Scott to cease his work on the internal decorations and it turned to the well-known firm of furniture makers and interior designers, Gillow and Company of Lancaster. In April 1874, a large party of members of The Architectural Association were shown around ‘the monster hotel’ by Saville and, although they generally liked what they saw, The Building News reported that they found Sang’s decorations in the coffee room and elsewhere too ‘loud’, and ‘exception was taken to the rather “overdone” toilet services of the best bed-rooms, said to have cost 30 guineas per set’. In 1877, perhaps conscious of the criticism of Sang’s work, Gillows employed Scott’s friend Edward William Godwin to carry out the decorations over the main staircase.
In May 1874, The Building News hoped, presumably in view of the reservations it had expressed earlier, that ‘the directors will see the propriety of keeping the decorations under the control of the architect as much as possible, to preserve unity’. The sub-contractors, who relieved Scott of much of the specialist hotel work, included Haden and Sons of Trowbridge, who installed the heating apparatus, Jeakes and Company of Great Russell Street, who designed and fitted out the kitchens and extensive laundries, and Sir W. G. Armstrong and Company, who provided two mechanical lifts.
The building was finished by July 1876, apart from the staircase decorations, and Scott’s final accounts were settled in the September. The total cost of the hotel was £436,000, which when added to the cost of the station, would have cost the Midland shareholders nearly one million pounds. Apart from the reduction of one storey, which enhanced the verticality of the two towers, the external design is remarkably unaltered from that produced by Scott at Hayling Island nearly eleven years earlier. Round-arched openings replaced the pointed arches on the ground floor and the only figure to escape an embargo of external sculpture by the Committee was that of Britannia, who stands on the easternmost gable surveying puny little King’s Cross below her.
It was the ability of Scott’s design to overwhelm King’s Cross which particularly appealed to the Midland Board and probably led to his exterior remaining substantially unaltered throughout the long construction period. The greatest changes to his ideas took place in the interiors. The Grand Staircase is typical of his work, with exposed iron beams with metallic decorations, as at the Foreign Office and Glasgow University. However, a magnificent perspective that Jackson produced of the curved Coffee Room shows it with a completely different interior to that shown in a photograph taken soon after the hotel was opened. This shows that Scott’s favourite geometric patterning on the ceiling has been replaced by plain surfaces and the beams seem to have had their metallic decorations replaced by moulded plasterwork. Nevertheless, it must have given Scott considerable satisfaction to be able to see St Pancras completed, and in use, after so many delays. Inevitably there were critics and Scott, as usual, took criticism badly.
The St Pancras Aftermath
Scott was particularly upset when he was charged with bowing to the pressure of commercialism at St Pancras. The Quarterly Review of April 1872 published the first of three anonymous articles, which also appeared in 1874 and 1894, vigorously attacking the Gothic Revival in general and the architectural profession and Scott and Street in particular. These were the work of a retired architect and critic, John T. Emmett, and his attack on St Pancras was particularly savage:
The Midland front is inconsistent in its style, and meretricious in detail, a piece of common art manufacture that makes the Great Northern front appear by contrast positively charming. There is no relief or quiet in any part of the work; the eye is constantly troubled and tormented, and the mechanical patterns follow one another with such rapidity and perseverance, that the mind becomes irritated where it ought to be gratified, and goaded to criticism where it should be led calmly to approve. There is here a complete travesty of noble associations, and not the slightest care to save these from a sordid contact; an elaboration that might be suitable for a Chapter-house, or a Cathedral choir, is used as an “advertising medium” for bagmen’s bedrooms and the costly discomforts of a terminus hotel; and the architect is thus a mere expensive rival of the company’s head cook, in catering for the low enjoyments of the travelling crowd.
Scott read this onslaught but he had no idea who was the author and, three months later in his Recollections, says that St. Pancras: ‘has been spoken of by one of the revilers of my profession with abject contempt but I have set off against this the too excessive praise I receive of it from other quarters it being often spoken of to me as the finest building in London.’ Although referring to the author of The Quarterly Review article as ‘one of the revilers’ of his profession, it does seem strange that, according to Jackson, Scott then decided that he was the author. Even Scott could hardly have thought that an architect such as Jackson would write such a withering attack on his own profession, while his magnificent perspective of the Coffee Room proves that Jackson was a faithful interpreter of Scott’s personal style.
Architectural fashions change rapidly; the style of St Pancras was already outdated when it was started in 1868 and it was positively old-fashioned when it was completed eight years later. But what is surprising is the praise that it received from the architectural press. There was considerable affection and respect for Scott, so perhaps it was the tone of Emmett’s article which united architectural journalists behind him. The Architect called the anonymous author ‘an able wordmonger’, and suggested that he might try his hand at designing a building himself to find out what difficulties the operation involved. The Building News, in May 1874, published an enthusiastic description of the Midland Grand Hotel, which it said was ‘a highly successful work architecturally, and bears favourable comparison with other large structures of the class, as that of Charing-cross’.
No doubt the Midland Board would have been particularly pleased with the acclaim that the building also received from the general press. It had chosen Scott because of his wide popularity and now that choice was amply justified. Even The Times observed that, ‘the architect of a railway station does not generally aim very high, but Sir Gilbert Scott certainly produced in the Midland station at St Pancras the most beautiful terminus in London, remarkable alike for its convenience and its inspiring effect’. Edward Walford, a journalist, exclaimed in 1897 that St Pancras ‘stands without rival . . . for palatial beauty, comfort and convenience’, while John O’ Connor’s famous painting of 1884 of ‘St. Pancras Hotel and Station from the Pentonville Road’, captures the magical quality of the skyline of the building which completely overshadows the little shed of Kings Cross.
George Gilbert Scott junior died at the hotel on 6 May 1897, without properly fulfilling his early promise. He was declared insane, deprived of his property, estranged from his family and had taken to excessive drinking. It is singularly poignant that Scott’s eldest son should die in such pathetic circumstances in the building which today seems to represent the complete fulfilment of his father’s architectural ideals and was the last big building to be built in his personal style, particularly as Scott had immersed himself in the activity of producing the mighty design to cope with family grief.
Inevitably admiration for the great building faded and reached its lowest ebb between the First and Second World Wars. The hotel closed in 1935, when the idea of merging the station’s traffic with that of Euston was being discussed, but the war intervened and nothing became of that merger proposal. In 1966 there was another proposal to merge St. Pancras and Kings Cross, with only the train shed and fragments of Scott’s building retained. This was condemned by Pevsner, but it was not until 1977 that British Rail accepted the idea that St. Pancras could not be demolished. In 1884 the Midland’s Hotel, Refreshment Room and Restaurant Car Department had moved from Derby into the building, and after the hotel closed it stayed on, eventually to become the headquarters of British Transport Hotels with the beer cellars being put to good use. In 1983 this usage also ceased. Between 1991 and 1995 the exterior was cleaned and repaired, and more recently it has been restored and brought back to life as a terminus for Cross-channel rail services and as a hotel and restaurant.
Scott’s Recollections, III 96, 231-3, 234, 235. Scott’s ‘excellent friend’ was clearly Joshia Lewis of Edge Hill, Derby, who died 11 June 1869 (Derby Mercury 16 June 1869, p. 5, col. 2). In his Recollections, Scott refers to ‘Joseph Lewis’. There was no director of this name on the Midland board at that time. High Victorian secular Gothic was a style Scott had already used for Preston Town Hall, Kelham and Beckett’s Bank.
Fawcett, J. (ed.), Seven Victorian Architects (Thames and Hudson, London, 1976), p. 151.
The often quoted phrase that St Pancras is ‘possibly too good for its purpose’, was an elaboration by George Gilbert junior in the published Recollections – Scott, G. G., Scott, G. (ed.), Personal and Professional Recollections (Sampson Low, Murston, Searle & Rivington, London, 1879), p. 271.
Simmons, J., St. Pancras Station (Allen and Unwin, London, 1968) pp. 21, 30-4, 35-6, 38-42, 45-8, n.9, 52-7, 59-61, 93, 95, 101, 103.
Chadwick, G. F., The Works of Sir Joseph Paxton 1803-1865 (Architectural Press, London, 1961), pp. 188, 192, 240.
Building News, XIII, 12 January 1866, p. 30.
Pevsner, N., London except the Cities of London and Westminster, Buildings of England (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1952), p. 368.
Directory of British Architects 1834-1914, 2 volumes (Continium, London, 2001), pp. 233, 449.
Biddle, G., and Nock, O. S., The Railway Heritage of Britain (Sheldrake Press, 1983), pp. 62, 74.
http://sarahjyoung.com/site/2011/05/25/crystal-palace-guidebooks-and-descriptions/ and see the Illustrated Exhibitor.
Grinling, C. H., The History of the Great Northern Railway (Allen and Unwin, 1966), pp. 9, 17, 20, 90, 124.
Dixon, R., and Muthesius, S., Victorian Architecture (Thames and Hudson, London, 1978), p. 256
Pevsner, N., and Cherry, B., London 4: North (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1998), pp. 97, 253, 362-4.
Barnes, E. G., The Rise of the Midland Railway, 1844-1874 (Allen and Unwin, 1966), pp. 30-1, 141, 144, 164, 171, 185, 193-4, 202, 205, 233, 255-6, 258, 265.
Denford, S. L. J., Agar Town, The Life and Death of a Victorian ‘Slum’ (Camden History Society, London, 1995), pp. 14, 16, 23-24.
Hunter, M., and Thonne, R., (eds), Change at King’s Cross: From 1800 to the Present (Historical Publications, London, 1990), pp. 60, 66, 82-3.
Ridley, J., Lord Palmerston (Constable, London, 1970), pp. 779, 782.
Muthesius, S., The High Victorian Movement in Architecture, 1850-70 (Routledge & Kegan Paul Books, London and Boston, 1972), p. 179.
Building News, 12 February 1869, LXVI, p. 141.
Summerson, J., Victorian Architecture, Four Studies in Evaluation (Columbia University, New York and London, 1970), p. 42.
Physick, J., and Darby, M., ‘Marble Halls’, Drawings and Models for Victorian Secular Buildings (Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1973), p. 182.
The Builder, XXIII, 16 February 1865, p. 896.
The Builder, XXIV, 13 January 1866, pp. 33, 68.
The Builder, XXIV, 10 February 1866, p. 105.
Darley, G., Villages of Vison (Granada, 1978), p. 280.
Beatty, C. J. P., Thomas Hardy’s Career in Architecture (1856-1872) (Dorchester, 1978), p. 6.
Fisher, G., Stamp, G. and Heseltine, J., (eds), The Scott Family, Catalogue of the Drawings Collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects (Avebury Publishing, Amersham, 1981), 24 [a], 61 [a].
Spencer-Silver, P., Pugin’s Builder: The Life and Work of George Myers (University of Hull Press, Hull, 1993), pp. 14, 83.
The Builder, XXVI, 3 October 1868, p. 738.
The Builder, XXX, 31 August 1872, p. 682.
Murray’s Handbook Advertiser (May 1875), p. 61.
The Builder, XXX, 21 August 1872, p. 682.
Building News, XXVI, 17 April 1874, p. 437.
S. W. Soros (ed.), E. W. Godwin, Aesthetic Movement Architect and Designer (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1999), p. 205.
Building News, XXVI, 22 May 1874, pp. 558-9.
Houghton, W. E. (ed.), The Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals, 1824-1900 (Toronto and London), vol. I, pp. 700, 888, vol. IV, p. 628.
Emmett, J. T., Six Essays on … architecture … urban leaseholds … religious art (Unwin, London, 1891), p. 10.
Jackson, Sir T. G., Bt. R. A., Recollections, The Life and Travels of a Victorian Architect (Unicorn Press, London, 2003), p. 153.
Building News, XXXI, 22 May 1874, p. 554.
Jackson, A.A., London’s Termini (David and Charles, 1985), p. 69.
Sorby’s successes included Bromley Town Hall to the south of London, which was being built at the time of the St Pancras competition. He was a pupil of Charles Reeves, and when Reeves retired in 1867, he succeeded to Reeves’s various surveyor ships including that of the Metropolitan Police building the Police Station at Islington and a magistrates’ court at Lambeth. But in the light of a letter that he wrote to the directors of the Midland, he seems to have had a prickly nature and, presumably frustrated that his early successes had not brought him the recognition that he felt he deserved, he resigned from the Institute in 1872, and in 1883, moved to Canada. See Harper, R. H., Victorian Architectural Competitions, An Index to British and Irish Architectural Competitions in The Builder 1843-1900 (Mansell, London, 1983), p. 296; Pevsner, N., and Cherry, B., London 4: North (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1998), p. xiv; Simmons, J., St. Pancras Station (Allen and Unwin, London, 1968) p. 49; Directory of British Architects 1834-1914, 2 volumes (Continium, London, 2001), p. 861.
James Allport (1811-1892).
Wanstead Congregational Church, founded in 1864, bought St Luke’s, Euston Road and re-erected it, with a shortened nave, at Grosvenor Road, Wanstead. The church opened in 1867. See Victoria County History for Essex, VI (1973), p. 335. Also Survey of London, Parish of St Pancras, volume XXIX, part IV, (London, 1952), p. 143.
Waring and Company of Lancaster became Waring and Gillow in 1903. See Banham, J., (ed.), Encyclopaedia of Interior Design (London & Chicago, 1997, I) pp. 501-4.
John T. Emmett seems to have been the shadowy John Thomas Emmett (1828-98) who built churches in London and Glasgow, including the impressive Bath Street Chapel in Glasgow in 1849, but his best-known work was a Congregational College in London, which he won in a competition in 1849. Scott must have known of this building, if not its architect, as it was at Swiss Cottage, only a short walk north from his house in Avenue Road. The Builder, VII, p. 370 (4 August 1849), IX, p. 781 (13 December 1851); Glasgow, in Buildings of Scotland (1990) pp. 204, 295; Directory of British Architects 1834-1914, 2 volumes (Continium, London, 2001), p. 292; Harper, R. H., Victorian Architectural Competitions, An Index to British and Irish Architectural Competitions in The Builder 1843-1900 (Mansell, London, 1983), p. 217; Spencer-Silver, P., Pugin’s Builder: The Life and Work of George Myers (University of Hull Press, Hull, 1993), p. 264.