diamond geezer

 Monday, September 21, 2015

Open House: St Pancras Chambers and Clock Tower
St Pancras and Kings Cross are chalk and cheese. The former was deliberately designed to compete with its neighbour on the Euston Road, an ostentatious Gothic showpiece to lure passengers onto the Midland Railway. At the front of the station they planned a massive 400-room hotel, later downsized to 300 (by lopping off the upper two storeys) because funding ran out during construction. The height of Victorian luxury, alas it opened just before the era of en-suite plumbing, so was built with no running water to the rooms and only eight shared bathrooms. Impossible to upgrade thanks to two-foot concrete floors, the white elephant closed in 1935 and was then transformed into railway offices. When these subsequently closed the building fell into disrepair, rescued only when Eurostar turned up and major investment followed. Part became a five star hotel, the remainder apartments... you probably know the story.

When the Midland Hotel appeared on the list for Open House in 2002, I came twice. There weren't the queues in those days, before social media, so those of us in the know turned up and enjoyed the special spaces in relative comfort. Anyone could walk in off the street and climb up the amazing twin staircase, immortalised by the Spice Girls five years earlier, all the way to the blue-spangled landing. The upper corridors had seen better days, replete with peeling paint and dusty floors, but visiting the historic shell left a lasting impression. How things change. In 2015 the hotel no longer partakes in Open House, apart from reluctantly allowing tour groups to peer briefly within. Organised tours are allowed as far as the lobby at the foot of the grand staircase but no further, the ascent signed Hotel Guests Only, so I could only peer up at the glories above and remember how great they must now be. Successful private buildings only partake in Open House when under construction, it seems, or freshly completed and in need of publicity.

Halfway along the curving façade of the main building is a small ramped entrance, generally overlooked, providing an entrance to the St Pancras Apartments. The hotel gets the first floor, where it maintains suites starting at £400 a night (and rising past treble that), while everything above is now flats. Residents are provided with lifts, narrow two-person jobs (because carving space for anything bigger proved impossible), while Open Housers must take the stairs. There are 78 stairs to the second floor, these nothing terribly special, but at one point affording a view down across the Booking Office bar. The second floor corridor is rather more swish, as befits former staterooms, with squared-off lanterns above and a handful of understated front doors on each side. Occasionally the carpet narrows to make room for tall wooden cabinets containing electric cables and utilities, these threaded through the former laundry and rubbish chutes. People will put up with a lot in order to live in heritage deluxe.

Service staircases were installed to help an army of chambermaids and butlers keep the original guests well-tended. These now link the various floors of apartments, these either duplex or triplex, hence it's a long hike between floors. On the cantilevered staircase allocated to Open Housers, a particular treat is the chance to look down on the Eurostar terminal below. St Pancras's huge clock gets in the way, seeing the back of which is a bit of a treat in itself, and there might be up to six sleek trains as well. I'd never twigged the hotel lay immediately behind the clock, let alone steps I'd one day be allowed to tread. The fifth floor corridor is somewhat blander than the second, though I suspect the handful of apartments to either side are no less expensive. And at the far end is flat number 5.01, St Pancras's attic flat, and this weekend's extra special destination.

Imagine being the lucky soul who gets to live inside St Pancras Clock Tower. A flight of steps behind the front door leads up to a 10-foot-high room within the pointy turret, the ultimate garret playroom for a lover of architecture with money to spare. Art and photographs of other clocktowers adorn the walls, while a piano sits unobtrusively in one corner... though just imagine how they lugged it up here. Further steps lead up to a large bookcase above head height, from which a projection screen can also be unfurled. Meanwhile a separate chain of four laddered staircases climbs steeply into an unseen void where the clock's machinery can be tweaked. The Midland used to keep it running two minutes fast to encourage passengers to hurry, whereas these days it's far better synchronised. And the view out of the windows is pretty damned good, if a little constrained to the south, with the best panorama being of Kings Cross station nextdoor and the public square out front.

Sometimes ownership of London's best buildings hides them from public view, but the owner of the Clock Tower flat is rather more philanthropic. He's only too keen to share his home at Open House, much to the mild consternation of certain other residents who have to be reassured so that the weekend invasion can take place, and in we troop. More to the point he's actually got the flat on Airbnb, which means anyone can hire it for the night if a very special experience is required. At £150 it's also considerably cheaper than the hotel downstairs, and comes with fully functional kitchen and a decent sized dining table. A set of 30th birthday helium balloons were floating from one pillar yesterday afternoon, while a suitcase sat beneath the stairs awaiting the flat's paid-up overnight resident. Every day is Open House high above St Pancras, who'd have guessed? [10 photos]

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream