Brick Buildings We Love: St Pancras

October 20th 2020

Brick Buildings We Love: St. Pancras Station

It should come as no surprise that here at Brickhunter, we love bricks.

They're an effective and affordable building material and bring creativity and colour to the architectural landscape of our towns and cities.

Because of this, we've decided to look at some of our favourite brick buildings.

Some of the UK's most beloved architecture is built with brick and it's still widely used today in houses, modern offices and commercial buildings. This is mainly because of the aesthetic properties they provide.

From famous landmarks to local oddities, there's plenty of buildings to look at so we'll dedicate a post to each one.

We'll look at the history of the building, what bricks were used to make it and why it's such a success.

To kick us off, we thought we'd go with one of the most iconic buildings in London, if not the UK - St. Pancras Station.

Technically, it's the old Midland Grand Hotel façade that we'll be focusing on but frankly that's what everyone thinks of when you say St. Pancras, isn't it.

A Red Brick Icon

St. Pancras International train station is known for a number of things. For some it's the single sprung arch roof of the train shed itself or the fact that you can hop on a train to France.

For others, it's the pianos dotted around the concourse of the shopping area. It's certainly become a popular tourist destination in recent years.

But arguably the most recognisable and impressive feature of the station is the brick building at the front which faces Euston Road.

This Italian Gothic masterpiece which now holds the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel is defined by its red bricks and gothic spires.

One Guardian article described the front as 'Phantasmagorical'! Yes, us neither - apparently it means something from a dream and comes from a form of classic horror theatre... It certainly is dreamlike.

Although it's known primarily as a red brick building, it is actually polychromatic and uses a number of different building materials throughout, including creamy limestone and granite.

We talk a bit more about the specific types of bricks used and why it works, below.

First though, a bit of history.

A Brief History Of St. Pancras Station

St. Pancras Station was first built when The Midland Railway company secured plans for a new London terminus, to be built next to King's Cross Station, run by the Great Northern Railway.

The station itself was completed and opened to the public in 1868.

It was designed by William Henry Barlow and to simplify design and reduce costs it was decided that a single span roof would be built and sprung directly from station level. At the time the train shed was the largest enclosed space in the world.

In 1873 the Midland Grand Hotel opened. This is the building we see at the front, looking largely the same as it would have then.

Designed by George Gilbert Scott (who now has a restaurant named after him in the building) this flamboyant neo-gothic building was always an audacious vision.

The Midland Railway were convinced by the fact that it would stand head and shoulders above any other terminus in London and with building materials coming from the Midlands, it was meant to be.

It's likeness to cathedrals isn't by accident as Scott was known for church architecture. The hotel building actually bears a striking resemblance to another of his buildings, Kelham Hall in Nottinghamshire which has a similar red brick construction in this gothic style.

Closure And Threat Of Extinction

The building and station have had a roller coaster ride since it opened.

The original hotel was closed in 1935 and converted into offices. It was damaged by German bombing in 1940 but continued to be used. By 1966 there were talks of its closure and subsequent demolition, as the station was deemed surplus to requirements.

Understandably this was met with fierce opposition and a campaign succeeded in halting these plans. The station and hotel became a Grade I listed building and so it still stands today.

In 2005 consent was given to once again turn it into a hotel and apartments and in 2007 St. Pancras was reopened as St. Pancras International following an £800 million restoration. This was mainly to incorporate the new Eurostar HS1 train to the continent, via the Channel Tunnel.

In 2011 the Midland Grand was reborn as the newly refurbished St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel. There are also apartments available to rent on Airbnb.

What Bricks Were Used To Build St. Pancras?

As part of the hotel's big refurbishment, Scott's architectural vision was preserved.

So, what was used to create this eye-catching exterior and iconic building?

The red bricks used were Grippe's Patent Nottingham bricks although when demand outstripped supply they then sourced additional bricks from Tucker & Sons of Loughborough.

The façade also includes dressings in Ancaster limestone as well as shafts of red and grey Peterhead granite. The train shed wall also uses ceramic tiles.

It's not all fancy stuff. The undercroft which makes up the bulk of the foundations was far more functional and utilitarian. This was built from dark stock bricks that were likely made and fired on-site.

The ultimate achievement of the iconic brickwork was how the rich red bricks and cream stone contrasted with the typical yellows and browns of other London brickwork.

Even then the architecture marked a definite departure from the industrialisation of the day and championed classical, more refined styles.

It certainly left an impression back then and it still does now. Even today, its grandeur isn't lost on the passer-by.

An Impressive Legacy And Brickwork Inspiration

The station and frontage have become known as the 'cathedral of railways' for its grand religious appearance.

It's often ranked among the best stations in Britain for both appearance and passenger experience. It's clearly not just superficial.

Indeed, the grand appearance on the exterior is matched by the enjoyable amenities, artwork and sights inside. As the international train station of the UK it succeeds in showing off some of the best of British culture.

And that includes brickwork!

Many of the gothic attributes of the St. Pancras exterior can be achieved at home with a range of special bricks and features. If you're looking for something really impressive why not take inspiration from the best.

If this has inspired you to crack on with your dream building project, have a browse of our brick library to look for red bricks, special bricks and more.