The Grandest Hotel in London
The St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel lives up to its name. Narrowly saved from demolition in 1967, the hotel was authentically restored to its former glory prior to its reopening in 2011. There may be other hotels in London that are equally grand and opulent, but no other can claim this incredible facade. Your first impression of this gothic wonder is pure awe!
In the building’s heyday, passengers traipsed through the arches en route to destinations in the East Midlands and Yorkshire. Nowadays, visitors pass through heading for the enchantment of ‘Great Gatsby’ style decadence. They may pause a moment to admire the impressive exterior, the details in the stonework and occasionally a Ferrari or two but the lure of unbridled luxury is hard to resist for long. Liveried doormen and the buzz of gentile conversation beneath the original railway shed awaits. This is a hotel reception like no other.
Effortlessly combining old and new, the baby-blue steel supports topped with lion heads, melt into sleek desktops for the concierge and check-in counters. This hotel oozes efficiency, with an army of staff waiting to tend to your needs. Bags are quickly whisked out of sight and guests shown to their rooms or suites.
A tour of the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel
Sadly, I’m not here to check in today but instead I’m joining a behind the scenes tour of the hotel with Jon and Ben from NoMasCoach. They’ve kindly invited me to spend the day with them and Jon is playing the role of fairy godfather to perfection. It’s as though he knew I wanted to explore the belly of this architectural marvel, delighting in daydreams of Victorian ball dresses and a handsome ‘Darcy’ trying to woo my hand.
A little history
Originally designed and completed by architect George, Gilbert Scott in 1873, this belle of North London was known as the Midland Grand, but this is no ordinary hotel. George Gilbert had ambitious plans to build a masterpiece. He wanted to create the talk of the town, a hotel to eclipse all others in the city, thus planting the spotlight firmly on the industrial heartland of the Midlands.
He set about creating this palatial wonder with frivolous abandon, spending a mammoth £438,000 (the equivalent of £500 million in today’s money).
For five years, an army of labourers toiled to bring Scott’s vision to life. Spectacular, decorated ceilings cast a starry eye over neo-classical murals, and huge south-facing windows illuminate the lavish interior. Fleur de Lys gold stencilling and flamboyant rich burgundy wallpaper oozed wealth.
During your tour, you can see the meticulous detail that allowed this colossal building to be restored to its former glory (and then some!)
Our guide, Chris, regales us with details of the woeful plumbing, the gluttonous consumption of coal in hundreds of fireplaces and diamonds carved into the woodwork of the Booking Office.
You will hear how the first hydraulic lift magically transported guests to their rooms, and how an ingenious bell system allowed guests to summon room service. It is a fascinating insight into a building I have long admired, watching it transform from a morose, derelict shell, into the belle of the ball once again.
The hotel’s demise
The hotel’s exuberance sparkled for just thirty years, and by the 1920s, its lack of bathrooms (there were just five bathrooms for 300 rooms!) meant that other, newer establishments had stolen the crown of the grandest hotel in London. Hemorrhaging money, it sadly closed in 1935 and languished for years until over-zealous town planners called for its demolition in the 1960s.
Thankfully, Sir John Betjeman, a great admirer of the building’s extravagance, deemed the plan “a criminal folly” and with the help of the Victorian society, he mobilised a campaign to save the building. In 1967, he secured Grade 1 listing rescuing the Gothic Goliath from doom.
The building muddled on, suffering something of an identify crisis as offices for British Rail, until its ultimate abandon in 1985. This magnificent pile seemed destined to a future of neglect and disarray, a mere shadow of its former lavish self.
Rising from the ashes
In 2002, a consortium driven by property Manhattan Loft Corporation (MLC) won the chance to breathe life back into the building and the rebirth commenced. Specialist craftsmen and conservation experts helped reverse years of neglect, peeling away layers of emulsion and chipboard and tearing out tatty lino to reveal original Victorian tiles and ceilings.
Each room was painstakingly renovated, new life cursing through the veins of its existence, as talented individuals strived to replicate as much of the original decor as possible. Thankfully en-suites have been added, many with romantic standalone baths and views of London’s bustle. They even come with a charming companion!
The Grand Staircase Suite
Our tour takes us to the Grand Staircase Suite, a three-story beauty, where the attention to detail has created nothing less than a work of art. Chandeliers created from woven glass, glistening Swarovski style lamps and stunning, wrought iron balustrades create a truly stunning ensemble.
I manage to steal a peak into one of the other suites too which is just as impressive. Over-sized beds, luxurious furnishings and elegant bathrooms combine to steal my heart. No detail has been overlooked, with original features retained and modernised.
Here’s a glimpse of the Chambers Junior Suite with views over the Eurostar concourse. Sound proofing means you won’t be disturbed by early departing trains but if you like train spotting, there simply is no better place to do it than from a room like this.
The Ladies Smoking Room
Of course, it is no longer possible to smoke inside but a rooftop deck allows those feeling the need, to step outside to indulge. From this viewpoint, you can admire the brilliance of the myriad bricks and sculptures elaborately entwined to create the facade of the St. Pancras Renaissance.
Inside, you can marvel at one of the hotel’s most elaborately decorated ceilings, granite pillars, carved stonework and huge, marble fireplaces. The hotel is a living museum without doubt.
The Grand Staircase
Last but not least however is the grand staircase, a spiralling monolith seemingly winding its way to the heavens. As you slowly ascend, spellbound by the steelwork, carpeting and columned hallways, you can admire the “Seven Virtues awoken from their slumber by the wisdom, justice, courage, temperance, faith, hope and charity of a truly remarkable renaissance.”
Book your tour
Tours take place every Saturday and Sunday at 10.30, 12.00, 14.00 and 15.30. To book call 0208 2416921 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tours cost £20 per head. Alternatively, splurge on a room and you will be able to enjoy the tour for free.
My heartfelt thanks
Thank you to the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel for hosting me for this tour, a truly fascinating ninety minutes which has simply made my love of this building burn more furiously.
Thanks also to Jon and Ben for organising this outing, I can’t thank you guys enough for being great hosts, charming company and true gentlemen (Jon, I will forgive you your subtitles comment!!)