St Pancras hotel to reopen in glory

Andrew Tuck on the revival of Gilbert Scott's Gothic pile on the Euston Road
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The Independent Online
THE last guests packed their suitcases, closed their bedroom doors and left the majestic Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station in 1935. Later, the hotel, an extraordinary pile of Gothic revival architecture, would be crudely converted into offices for railway staff before being abandoned to the elements and the pigeons.

But now the building is being brought back to life. Once again, it will be a smart hotel with the top floors converted into fashionable flats. The hotel's refurbishment is not just important as the revival of an historic landmark: together with the neighbouring new British Library and restoration of King's Cross, it is vital to the renaissance of one of London's most shabby areas.

The three-mile-square site was long associated with drink, drugs and violent crime. Thanks not only to the larger new buildings in the neighbourhood, numerous small-scale projects, such as the introduction of CCTV, and the launch of a community police station, new health centres and job-training schemes are helping restore it.

The St Pancras development will be able to capitalise on the opening of the Heathrow rail link in 2001 and the Eurostar terminal in 2003. These schemes will make this the busiest transport hub in north-west Europe.

Designed by the great Victorian architect George Gilbert Scott, the St Pancras hotel was commissioned by the Midland Railway Company in 1866 - although it didn't open until 1873 - to make their terminus the most dramatic and triumphal in the capital. The desire to be showy set the company back pounds 438,000 (today, the conversion alone will cost pounds 40m). But, despite initial success, the hotel was doomed.

Built like a ship, with the "first-class" suites overlooking the Euston Road and small bedrooms in the equivalent of steerage next to the station platforms, there were almost no bathrooms, so guests had to take hip baths in their rooms. Loos were also at a premium, so chamber pots were under every bed and slopping out was part of guests' morning routine. Over the coming years, wealthier travellers would refuse to stay at an establishment without en suite bathrooms and the Midland fell out of favour. Its demise was accelerated as poverty and crime increased around St Pancras and King's Cross.

The refurbished hotel will be similarly grand, with Whitbread Marriott, part of the Chamber Group consortium selected to restore it, repairing and reviving some of Scott's wonderful interiors. Other areas are to be more modern in feel. Details will be the subject of complex negotiations with local planning officials from Camden Council, English Heritage and the Victorian Society.

The Chamber Group, which also includes the Manhattan Loft Corporation and BAA Lynton, was selected from among 20 schemes submitted to London & Continental Railways, the site's leaseholders, and a panel of experts. The group sees the project as bringing people with money to spend into the area, and also providing jobs. The 300-room hotel should provide hundreds of jobs for local people when it opens in around 2003.

Richard Arthur, the leader of Camden Council, is happy. "In the past King's Cross has been bleak, but now we are excited about the prospects and it's great to have developers with such flair and imagination involved." A cafe latte and a loft in King's Cross it is then.

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