Looking at the jaw-dropping Gothic splendour of St Pancras (1868), it's hard to believe that the Midland Grand Hotel languished empty for decades and even faced demolition in the 1960s. Now home to a five-star hotel, 67 luxury apartments and the Eurostar terminal, the entire complex has regained its former glory. Tours (£24; 10.30am, noon, 2pm and 3.30pm Saturday and Sunday) take you on a fascinating journey through the building's history, from its inception as the southern terminus for the Midland Railway line.
Designed by George Gilbert Scott (who also built the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Whitehall), the Midland Grand Hotel was the most luxurious hotel in London when it first opened in 1873. All of the materials (including the stone, iron and 60 million red bricks) were brought down from the Midlands as a showcase for the kind of products the railway link could provide. The whole thing cost an astonishing £438,000 – approximately £49 million in today's money.
You can get an idea of the original over-the-top decor in George's Bar, which was originally the hotel's reception. The adjoining dining room (now the fine-dining Gilbert Scott Restaurant run by acclaimed chef Marcus Wareing) showcases the more restrained style of a 1901 refurbishment. The building was incredibly modern for its time, with England's first hydraulic lift, London's first revolving door and a thick layer of concrete between the floors to act as a firebreak. Ironically this contributed to its undoing, as it made it extremely difficult to adapt the rooms to include such 'mod-cons' as en suite bathrooms and electricity.
The hotel closed in 1935 and was used for railway offices before being abandoned in 1985. It was only when plans to use St Pancras as the Eurostar terminal came up in the 1990s that local authorities decided to renovate the building and open a hotel. The Eurostar first arrived at St Pancras International in 2007 and the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel London opened its doors four years later.
Tours take you up the hotel's glorious grand staircase (the real star of the Spice Girls' 1995 Wannabe video) and along the exquisitely decorated corridors. They then head into the station proper, where sky-blue iron girders arc over what was, at the time, the largest unsupported space ever built. A modern addition to the concourse is Meeting Place, a giant statue of two lovers embracing, by sculptor Paul Day – be sure to examine the wonderful railway-themed frieze winding around its base. Also worth a look is the bronze statue of poet laureate John Betjeman (1906–1984), an early supporter of Victorian architecture who was instrumental in saving the station. The fabulously ornate Booking Office Bar & Restaurant nearby is housed in the station's original ticket office.