How very satisfying to see the former Midland Grand Hotel finally restored and fully operational as the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, which opened in May 2011.
And what a pleasure to be shown round by the Hotel Historian, Royden Stock. Royden has been associated with the building throughout its recent restoration, and has an unrivalled archaeological knowledge of the building.
I learnt from him, for instance, that English Heritage insistence that the grand staircase should be restored to its 1901 decoration, red with gold fleur-de-lis, obscures the much lighter original scheme, cream with a dado rail and scroll decoration to echo Skidmore’s ironwork.
He also reports that what were thought to be iron spandrels underneath the stair-treads are in fact fibrous plaster, which makes me wonder whether George Gilbert Scott would ever sanction such deceit, or whether they too date from 1901.
There is, oddly, no photograph of the staircase dating before 1901.
The original stair carpet was, unsurprisingly, unusable and a sample length woven to the original colours proved wildly garish because it was designed for the original cream colour-scheme, so the fitted carpet that stretches three floors up and down the staircase and reappears elsewhere in the building is newly woven to the faded colours of the original.
There’s an inevitable tension in taking a historic tour of a working hotel. Royden Stock is adept at circumnavigating ongoing events to show visitors on any particular day as much of the building as possible. He can’t, of course, provide access to the private apartments on the Euston Road wing of the building. The smart advice, from a man who ought to know, is that tours booked at the weekend are likely to be more comprehensive than those in the middle of the week.
The refreshments at the end of the tour were worth waiting for, though the service was several stars short of the Renaissance aspiration, perhaps because the hotel was extremely busy on the day I visited. Some members of my group were put out by this, but I considered Royden’s guiding alone was worth £20, and to me the pot of tea and an empty croissant was incidental – welcome, but not serious hospitality.
I hope Royden writes a book about St Pancras. His knowledge will add greatly to the existing literature on the station and the hotel.
Tours of St Pancras can be booked at www.stpancrasrenaissance.co.uk.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture on St Pancras Station and the Midland Grand Hotel please click here.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals: past views of English architecture, please click here.