This weekend was London ‘Open House’ weekend. I had managed to get tickets for two things I’ve wanted to do for a while after seeing them online in various forms, 1) Visit a crossrail station (I’ve been lucky enough to have visited the tunnels, and that was incredible) 2) do a tour of St Pancras station. This weekend I managed to accomplish both!
The Crossrail station visit with my friend was on the Saturday at Canary Wharf station, the one which is apparently most complete so far, so no hard hats required (Although I did spot that all the staff members had them on..). The tour itself was somewhat self guided, you check in and head down the extremely yellow escalators pictured above. I’m not so keen on the Yellow. I am hoping that perhaps each crossrail station will have its own distinct ‘colour’ and Canary Wharf is this for a reason. If all the crossrail stations are like this, I’ll be disappointed I think. From a purely aesthetics point of view anyway. My friend made a good point that they should be crossrail purple, with canary yellow birds on them. That would have looked wonderful!
One thing I do love about ‘Crossrail Place’ as it is known, is the aesthetics in general. The roof garden is absolutely stunning and a lovely little quiet spot over the weekend to come to and sit. Mid-week I expect it is chock full of the local office workers trying to grab lunch not sat at their desks (and who’d blame them?). But on weekends its usually awfully quiet. I also really like the bridge that connects you to the rest of the Canary Wharf area, it is futuristic and almost Tron-like in its appearance. There is also an Ole & Steen there too, which is always a bonus. If you haven’t come across them yet, they’re a chain of Danish coffee shops. Expect Danish prices, but high quality.
On Sunday however, Pussycat and I had a tour of St Pancras station. It wasn’t entirely what I was expecting from the ‘Open House’ series, which is generally going somewhere you can’t or touring an area offlimits to your average visitor. Instead this was an hour long tour of the publicly accessible places in the station. Our tour guide, Mike, did an excellent job in herding the 25 or so of us on the tour around the building and giving away some of the secrets of the past.
St Pancras was opened in 1868 and was run by the Midland Railway company. Its interesting to think that these days people generally see London as being the big draw in the country, and any national infrastructure project *cough* HS2 *cough* is seen as being emanating from London and going northwards. But most of the London terminals were built when the powerful North of England, with its mighty victorian industries, wanted a slice of the capital, and they all raced to get their lines to meet the thames (or as close as they could be, approximately Euston Road – but no further!).
Mike took us through some of the engineering marvels that William Henry Barlow created by engineering the station. One of which was the pillars which make up the lower section of the station. These were deliberately at around 14 to 15ft in distance apart, which at the time was the exact size of a beer barrel. The entire ground space (as the station is elevated to get over a canal) was used for beer storage by the Bass Brewery of Burton on Trent. Handily, it shared some directors with the Midland Railway company! I especially liked finding out that there is an expansion gap at the top of the roof of just over 1ft in length. Now that is a staggering feat of engineering, in-line with that of Concorde’s hot/cold expansion capabilities! Infact, allegedly Barlow said of the gap something along the lines that he ‘loved the idea of St Pancras being like a giant breathing animal’.
Some other bits of interest were the Minton tiles which adorn the walls (pictured at the very top of this post), and the fact that over 60million face bricks were used in the construction of the station! Each brick with just a 1/4″ mortar work too, so precise was the order that teams of foremen went around measuring the work. Mike our guide also told us an incredible tale about the clock, which I thought was an original piece but it isn’t. The tale is told here on the website of Sally Kindberg, who tells it much better than my 2nd hand retelling ever would!
One thing that was made a point of in the tour was that the 10th birthday of Eurostar services coming to St Pancras is nearing, and I personally can’t believe how time has flown! I don’t even remember how the station used to look, despite using it more than 10 years ago to get to London from my home the North on several occasions.