St Pancras Station turns 150
An Elton John gig, retro dance classes and free piano lessons are just some of the recent events that St Pancras International’s 50 million annual visitors have experienced, so if you thought the station was just for catching trains, then think again. The Grade I-listed building opened on 1 October 1868, so this month it is celebrating its 150th anniversary with a host of special events – making the station a destination to visit in itself. Whether you have travel plans, five minutes to kill or an evening to fill, you can pass through this majestic station to shop, eat or catch an impromptu performance – or even to see for yourself where scenes from 2013’s hit film I Give It a Year or Bollywood’s 2012 Jab Tak Hai Jaan were filmed.
Even in a mad rush for your train, you can still stop for a moment to take in some spectacular art. Look out for Martin Jennings’ 2.6m-high (8.5ft) statue of Sir John Betjeman on the Upper Concourse; the late Poet Laureate is credited for saving the station from demolition in the 1960s. You can also see the 9m-tall (30ft) bronze statue The Meeting Place by sculptor Paul Day. Nicknamed The Lovers, you’ll find it on the Grand Terrace near the Eurostar arrivals hall.
Look up and you’ll spot Tracey Emin’s 2018 piece, I Want My Time with You, above the Grand Terrace in front of the Dent clock. It is suspended on wires from the station’s arched iron-and-glass roof, where the Olympic rings once hung. The artist unveiled the 20m-long (66ft), pink neon script in April 2018, and it will remain on display until the end of the year. Emin says: ‘I cannot think of anything more romantic than being met by someone I love at a train station and as they put their arms around me, I hear them say, “I want my time with you”. It is also a statement that reaches out to everybody from Europe arriving in to London.’ The piece is a commission for Terrace Wires, a programme of new artwork by international artists.
The Grand Terrace is home to three life-size silhouettes of World War I soldiers, or ‘Tommies’ (to Nov). Designed by Martin Barraud, the transparent Perspex figures are part of There but Not There, a country-wide centenary campaign to remember fallen war heroes in the towns they came from. Need a 10-second breather? Then sit on the remains of 2012’s Olympic rings, which have been turned into benches. You’ll find them by the ticket gates for East Midlands and Southeastern trains.
If you have a quarter of an hour to kill and you’re musically inclined, seek out the free-to-play jukebox near the Southeastern platforms, which has 57,000 songs to choose from. If you can’t find your favourite, you can request it through the website.
You’ll also find pianos in the Arcade and on the main concourse. Since they were introduced in 2012, the likes of Elton John, Ed Sheeran and Jools Holland have tinkled the ivories, as have some talented members of the public, playing everything from Chopin to Chopsticks. Fancy a go?
With a little more time to spare you can shop for pretty prints at Cath Kidston, toys from Hamleys or souvenirs from Things British, which only sells gifts that are handmade in Britain, such as ceramics, furniture, jewellery and glass – we love the corgi-print socks.
You can also buy souvenirs online to honour the station’s 150th anniversary. Highlights include a handkerchief featuring a vintage sketch of the station’s concourse, a cushion with a monochrome print of the station’s architecture, and 1930s prints depicting a Nestlé chocolate dispenser, period advertising on a clock and the Gothic train shed.
If you’d rather have a relaxing half hour, then pop in to Eyecandy Beauty Bar for a manicure or massage, or an express treatment. You can opt for a wax, eyebrow threading or tinting, hair extensions or 15-minute plaiting.
Alternatively, Chop Chop St Pancras, near the Eurostar departures lounge, offers 24 styles for all types of hair for men, women and children. Each style takes 20 minutes and costs £20.
An hour to kill
If you have an hour to spare, then treat yourself to a drink made to a Victorian recipe at Booking Office. It’s a cavernous space with a 29m-long bar, within Gothic gem St Pancras Renaissance Hotel London. The venue hosts live music on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.
You can also enjoy a glass of bubbly at St Pancras Brasserie and Champagne Bar by Searcys. This is Europe’s longest Champagne bar, running alongside three train carriages and perched above the station terminal, so from your bar stool you’ll have the perfect opportunity to people-watch.
Two hours or more
If you agree with the 19th-century philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson that it’s not the destination that matters but the journey, then make the most of yours by building in time for afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason. Nibble on sandwiches, pastries and scones with cream and strawberry jam, accompanied by Fortnum’s tea or bubbly. Alternatively, take a 90-minute tour with City Highlights. Whether you’re on your own or in a small group, meet your guide outside the National Rail ticket office on the ground floor of the concourse on the first weekend of each month, on either Saturday or Sunday (6 Oct, 11am). You’ll learn all about the station’s history – just don’t miss your train... www.stpancras.com
Happy birthday! To honour the station’s landmark 150th anniversary, events are taking place each month. On 1 October, a choir sings Happy Birthday beside the Betjeman statue as a cake made by Le Cordon Bleu cookery school is unveiled. On the same day, the station will host a Beer Festival because the station basement used to be a wine cellar. You can sample beer including the new St Pancras 150, and meet the team from JD Wetherspoon, which recently opened near Marks & Spencer. Meanwhile, the winner of the 12th annual Betjeman Poetry Prize, which is open to 10 to 13 year olds, will be announced on National Poetry Day (4 October). This year’s theme is ‘place.’ The best entrants win cash, Eurostar tickets and a stay at a poetry camp, while the winner will become the station’s next Poet Laureate.