A BUILDING STEEPED IN HISTORY

The Clock Tower of St Pancras is the apartment underneath the clock at St Pancras Station. It is a part of St Pancras Chambers, the name given by British Rail to the building formerly known as the Midland Grand Hotel.

The building was originally constructed between 1868 and 1873 as the flagship hotel for the Midland Railway Company. Designed by the architect George Gilbert Scott as the accompaniment to the railway station shed by Henry Barlow, the hotel operated only until 1935 before being turned into railway offices and allowed to enter a general state of degradation. On the very top of the Tower, stands the statue of Britannia, the only statue on the building. Curiously, stone niches adorn the rest of the building, appearing to await the addition of dozens of missing statues, abandoned as part of the railway’s cost-cutting measures.

The building is remarkable for being constructed largely from materials brought by rail from the Midlands, including the sandstone, red brick and the ironwork of the station roof and staircases. Carved stone capitals and bosses show a remarkable variety of high quality work, with granite columns gracing many of the arches. Taking inspiration from such buildings as the Cloth Hall at Ypres, Scott’s work harked back to a medley of periods in gothic architecture.

In 2005 Manhattan Loft Corporation gained permission to convert the derelict old hotel into a combination of apartments and a new hotel. Part of the 2nd floor and the 3rd to 5th floors became flats while the Ground floor, 1st floor and remainder of the 2nd floor were painstakingly renovated to form part of the Renaissance St Pancras Hotel, with about 200 new bedrooms added in a new wing extension to the rear up Midland Road. The Clock Tower is surmounted by a spire at the base of which is the landmark four-face clock. Beneath that lies the flat, with its major Tower Room beneath the clock stretching 10 metres in height. This was originally a dark gloomy room, shut off from the outside world by sets of wooden louvres, mimicking the louvres used in bell towers to shed the sound of bells to the streets beneath. But the bell chamber was a folly, designed by Scott to look like the tower on top of a gothic cathedral but never put to any purpose - as the hotel clock never did have any bells.

The Clock has always been a fine time-keeper for travellers by train to the Midlands and beyond and today welcomes those taking the Eurostar to the continent. The Clock Tower windows were originally occupied by wooden louvres, as befits a bell-tower, although no bells ever operated there. Today, glass replacements give the room beneath the clock a grandeur and feeling of light never seen in its days as part of the hotel. The apartment conversion during the period 2005 - 2010 is the work of RHWL Architects, who have added mezzanine galleries to the large Victorian rooms to provide additional space.

The original mechanical winding mechanism was so large it needed its own winding room half-way up inside the Tower Room, from which a pulley system drew the weights up inside a tall box (still preserved) running the height of the room. The need for a long weights box seems the only practical excuse for the height.

Today the Tower Room has benefited from the insertion of a galleried library housing a collection of works of fiction. Otherwise, the room remains unchanged apart from the replacement of the old wooden louvres with sloping glass sheets to allow light in but provide a reminder of the former louvres. The room benefits from secondary glazing to minimise any external noise and keep the room warm in winter. As well as the Tower Room, the apartment consists of a Kitchen/Dining Room and two double bedrooms with en suite bathrooms. The bedrooms are available to rent on an individual basis through Airbnb, although most bookings need to be made at least three months in advance.

The Clock Tower makes an interesting venue for photo shoots, for receptions and anniversary celebrations and for special dinners, drinks parties and other events. A Youtube video shows a fine aerial performance which took place in the Tower Room in early 2011.