Thursday, 5 August 2010


Blogging as I was a month or two back about Paddington reminded me that I've been meaning to blog about a long-overdue visit I made to another London railway terminus: the restored and renovated St Pancras International.

Often referred to as the 'Cathedral of the Railways', it combines William Henry Barlow's train shed, completed in 1868 (with an iron and glass roof that was, at the time, the largest single-span structure of its kind) and George Gilbert Scott's neo-Gothic masterpiece, the Midland Grand Hotel.

When, in the 1960s it looked as if St Pancras was doomed to be demolished, one of those who came to its defence was the Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman who told the bureaucrats planning to bring in the wrecking-ball that it would be a criminal folly to destroy a building whose name conjured up wondrous images of architecture and light in the mind of every Londoner.

"What he sees in his mind's eye," wrote Betjeman, "is that cluster of towers and pinnacles seen from Pentonville Hill and outlined against a foggy sunset, and the great arc of Barlow's train shed gaping to devour incoming engines, and the sudden burst of exuberant Gothic of the hotel seen from gloomy Judd Street."

Appropriate then that when the station was reopened following its multi-million pound restoration and redevelopment, that a statue of Sir John should take pride of place on the upper level of the station concourse.

Sir John at St Pancras (2)
Created by sculptor, Martin Jennings, it shows a larger-than-life Betjeman clutching his hat, his overcoat billowing out behind him as he looks up at that great, wide span of Barlow's roof.

Sir John at St Pancras (4)

Sir John & Clock

Martin Jennings' work is a truly engaging tribute to a poet who could, by turn, be profound or trivial but who was always in touch with the vibrancy of history, people and places and who enthusiastically and unceasingly shared his passions for the poetry in everyday life.

Sir John at St Pancras (1)

You can read more about Betjeman and the saving and restoration of St Pancras in this 2007 article in The Independent.

Images © Brian Sibley, 2010 uploaded from my flickr Photostream.


SharonM said...

What a terrific statue!

Boll Weavil said...

SJB was always great for seeing the poetry in buildings, objects and occasions so when he says something is important, I'm apt to take his word for it ! Curiously enough, I saw another poetic knight Andrew Motion the other week. I didn't dare tell him |I'd read very little by him but his observations on things that were around him - often just everyday things we would take for granted, were quite unique. I'm glad then that SJB has been featured LOOKING at something so intently. That's a great pose.Wish I could come up with something profound now and then :-(