WANNABE

In 1865, when St Pancras was still under construction, its owner, the Midland Railway Company, commissioned George Gilbert Scott, the designer of several British cathedrals (and Albert Memorial) to build the station hotel, known later as Midland Grand Hotel.

Completed in 1876, the impressive Gothic Revival building (the tallest in the United Kingdom until 1911) not only embodied Victorian sumptuousness but also featured several cutting edge facilities. The guests had a choice between climbing up the famous three-storey staircase decorated with 2300 fleurs-de-lis and using two hydraulic “ascending chambers”, the first lifts in London. The 300 bedrooms, each with gold leaf walls and a fireplace, didn’t have adjoining bathrooms, but innovative 22-inch thick concrete floors made the whole construction fireproof and one could call for a tub to be brought in using a unique system of electric bells or, even better, flush one’s own toilet (which was almost unheard of in a hotel at this time). In 1899 revolving door was supplied by its very inventor, Theophilus Van Kannel, and in the same year electric lifts were introduced. Finally and most interestingly, the hotel’s smoking room came to be called The Ladies’ Smoking Room because it was the first place in Europe in which ladies could smoke publicly.

I’m trying to think of contemporary parallels of all those and my mind boggles. Something beyond the creepy, Big Brother style, iPad-operated resorts, though…

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3 Responses to “WANNABE”

  1. Pawel Stachura Says:

    Th two times I walked in London, I always got lost somewhere around that building, which I distinctly remember for that reason. I think that Victorian architecture and urban planning was meant for a more densely populated city than today’s London, and now such buildings stand out like pyramids in what is, by comparison, a half-deserted country.

    • sulthien Says:

      Not sure if it’s deserted with the new St Pancras. The hotel re-opened in 2011 with a huge extension added.

  2. Carmen Berlin Says:

    I had a little wander round the Renaissance Hotel for the first time just two weeks ago. It’s impressive – as are St Pancras & Kings X stations now. Decided I’d like to stay there some day, but until then I’d be happy to have a drink in the bar.

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