Renaissance Hotel - London St. Pancras
Updated: Sep 27, 2021
It wasn’t until the video for the nineties girl band, ‘Spice Girls’ debut single ‘Wannabe’ that I first became familiar with this building. A magnificent piece of Gothic architectural genius commissioned in 1865 and designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott who at the time was also famed for his breathtaking gothic revival design of the Albert memorial which sits majestically in Kensington gardens directly opposite the Royal Albert Hall. The construction opened as the Midland Grand Hotel in 1873.
The Midland Railway Company, (MRC) during the construction of the St Pancras railway station, were looking to build a hotel as part of the station itself and opened a competition to find the right architect for the immense job. Although Sir Gilbert Scott’s entry was rather ambitious and somewhat more extravagant and costly than the other entries, the MRC were very excited by it all hence Sir Gilbert Scott was chosen for the mammoth task.
The Midland Grand on completion boasted 150 rooms on four floors and sported a Grand staircase fit for a Queen’s decent to dinner. The original plans for the exterior were to resemble an Italian Gothic bell tower with showpiece clock inspired by the Houses of Parliament and to include a fifth floor with an installation of 300 rooms in total, however, the additional 150 rooms and fifth floor never materialised because of escalating costs, while the tower never actually held bells hence the clock to this day has never rung.
As with the times, many residential properties including hotels and guest houses didn’t have as standard, indoor bathroom and toilet facilities, so as you can imagine, it was no mean feat for the huge number of staff at the hotel to constantly manage and service rooms with wash bowls, bath tubs and chamber pots for paying guests. And this wasn’t even medieval times, this was the 19th century and it was the norm!! The Midland featured a lavishly decorated interior with a labyrinth of colourful corridors and never ending staircases. The amazing coffee room in today’s version of the original hotel was once the booking office and actually overlooks one of the platforms of St Pancras railway station. In fact, platform 9 & 3/4’s would be the given name of this very famous platform as it is here that the fictional character of Harry Potter and his school friends boarded the Hogwarts Express train to take them to their school of wizardry. Unfortunately, the Midland Grand would eventually succumb to the lack of funds to keep it afloat and its doors as a hotel finally closed in 1935 and stayed that way for many years. It was however, used as a storage facility and offices for its new owners, London Midland and Scottish Railways who had previously taken over ownership in 1922. In the early sixties, the entire structure was under threat of demolition, but thanks to the valiant efforts of ‘The Victorian Society’, an organisation set up to preserve key buildings of the Victorian era, and its staunch campaigners, poet laureate, Sir John Betjeman and WWII code breaker, Mrs. Jane Hughes Fawcett MBE, the building was spared, and in 1967 gained a preservation order and a grade 1 listing status.
In 2007, which incidentally is the same year in which the actual station was reopened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as an international terminal for the Eurostar train, the building, with its new owners, Manhattan Loft Corporation, underwent a colossal redevelopment program costing a mind blowing 200 million pounds, and managed by the Marriott Group, reopened in 2011 as the magnificent St Pancras Renaissance Hotel and apartments with one such apartment costing a cool £11,500 million pounds. Another of the apartments is in the actual clock tower itself. The hotel now has an increased room capacity of 243 rooms and with keeping with our current times, each room now has the much needed bathroom facilities omitted from the original spec and can fetch a handsome £300 per night for a stay. The historic wing of the hotel also featured the aptly named Sir Gilbert Scott restaurant until its closure in April 2021.
From the now five star hotel room windows which overlook the Grand Terrace of the station, a five star view can be had of the very impressive ’Meeting Place’ statue which stands 9 metres high (30ft) and is made of 20 tonnes of solid bronze, commissioned by London and Continental Railways. They wanted the sculptor to invoke the beautiful romance of travel whilst also producing something as memorable as New York’s ‘Statue of Liberty’ and at the same time, be the focal point for passengers to meet one another as it stood beneath the imposing station clock at the southern end of the terminus platform. “What better place to meet in a busy international railway station”!!
World renowned British sculptor/artist, Paul Day, also known for his fabulous depiction of ‘The Battle of Britain’ memorial on Victoria Embankment, was awarded the enviable task, and he didn’t disappoint with a striking depiction of a chic French woman locked in an amorous embrace as she is reunited with her English beau which, as it happens, truly symbolises the meeting of two cultures, of two countries coming together, as it is intended! It is even said that the man and woman are actually modelled on himself and his wife, Catherine.
In 2008, a beautifully constructed high relief frieze was added to the base of this towering sculpture. Here, Paul Day cleverly captures scenes from the history of tube and train travel along with an ensemble of different meetings, an amazing work of art in itself!
Today, ‘The #renaissancehotel’ and St Pancras railway station go hand in hand. Both constructed in the Gothic Victorian era, both endured the possibility of death by demolition, and both given a permanent stay of execution and restored to a splendour that is unrivalled. London Kings Cross, St Pancras has the status today of being the most romantic place to meet in the UK, and the hotel, well, despite the nightly price tag, I’d stay there for a night or two if only because of the history and that lush Grand Staircase.