This way, magnificent Valhalla lies

by Suw on February 24, 2004

If you can just slip behind a molecule… There it is. Just as Douglas Adams described it. St Pancras. The huge locomotive shed, fronted by The Midland Grand Hotel, empty now for years, sadly deserted and abandoned.

The first time I ever went to St Pancras I thought it was spelt St Pancreas and couldn't understand why a London railway station should be named after an organ. I also knew it before I stepped foot inside it, because Adams had written such a wonderfully accurate description of it in, I think, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul that it was already in my bones.
What Adams failed to prepare me for, however, was the majesty and wonderousness of The Midland Grand Hotel, all red brick, gargoyles and gothic flamboyance. He never warned me, the rotter, of how this oft-ignored building would seduce me and make me fall in love with it.

The Midland Grand is a building easy to pass by, tucked away in Kings Cross as it is, now hemmed in by the British Library on one side and soon to be overshadowed by what I fear will be a monstrous monument to a total lack of architectural sympathy – the new Channel Tunnel Rail Link that's being shoehorned in between St Pancras and Kings Cross.

I know nothing about architecture, but I know what I like. The proud columns, the red brick, terracotta and buff yellow stone. The iron lace. The gargoyles. Turrets and garrets and spandrels. Look at it! Fall in love with it.

Each window is a work of art in and of itself. Each one screams out, begging for an artist or a writer or passionate young lovers to look out from it upon a starbright London. A dreamer's London.

The sweeping curve of the frontage is enough to make your head spin, to make you dizzy. It envelops you, it takes up every corner of your world, it demands your attention. How can you possibly deny it?

I remember reading once a while a go that if you happen to be in the right place at the right time, if you can just twist reality that fraction of a degree, you can get a tour around the Midland Grand. (Actually, you just need to phone up, but it will feel as if you've twisted reality.) You can taste its majesty from the inside, you can feel the history and beauty of it seep through your feet as they tread the corridors. I have never had that chance.
Now it's being done up.
I hope this turns out to be a good thing. I hope they do a better job of restoring such a wonderful piece of Victorian ebullience than they have of maintaining the station itself, which is dirty, swathed in pigeon netting and ruined by rank idiocy.
Much of the stonework in the station thoroughfares has suffered, not just from knocks but from the bitter acids of pollution eating away at it, cruelly defacing the dragons. I don't know if they plan to restore the worst damage, but I hope they do. It deserves it. It's such a grand, beautiful, eloquent building, it deserves to be loved, nurtured, restored to its former glory.

I had hoped that maybe this restoration would result in The Midland Grand opening once again, but according to an old Guardian piece, it looks like at least some of it will be inaccessible to mere mortals such as I:

Swish flats for the very rich will gleam securely under the hotel's roofs. Below, the decorated hotel rooms will be restored to their full glory, while a four-storey hotel annexe by RHWL Architects will be added on a podium to the west of Barlow's train shed.

Still, maybe the rich and famous will own The Midland Grand, but they'll never stop me roaming its corridors. I don't need their permission. I just need to twist reality a little.

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