Sunday, August 22, 2004

A walk back in time to the Victorian era

Clerestory windows at the head of the stairs, with me as the obligatory ghost, Midland Grand St. Pancras Hotel, London. July 2004

In July Rich and I spent some time in London. One of the things we did, which we had attempted to do a few times but never quite managed it, was a tour of the old Midland Grand Hotel at St. Pancras Station. It's a huge Victorian pile, being renovated by the Marriott corporation to be used again as a hotel. It has been empty for many years, and tours are offered only on weekends to small groups, where they show you through what is obviously a work in progress. Some stunning pieces of its past remain, though. The grand staircase has been cleaned and repaired, and the painting on its arched ceiling is nothing less than spectacular.

The hotel was built as the showpiece lodging of the Midland Railway company, who also built St. Pancras station, which is attached to it. It was the Four Seasons of its time. It opened to great fanfare and media coverage in 1873. (See the link above for a really good site telling the history and with added photos.) The hotel's pre-eminence did not last long, though, one of the main reasons being that it was built just before the time of en-suite bathrooms, so it had only 9 bathrooms for its 300+ rooms! Once people got used to the convenience of bathrooms attached to their rooms, the Midland Grand just seemed outdated. It was converted for use as offices ( called St. Pancras Chambers) in the 1930's, and was rendered derelict in the 1980's.

But the dereliction of it is what makes it so cool to see now. Faded grandeur, ghostly ruins, glimpsed visions of better days. Dark corners and arched gothic hallways extend in every direction, you can hear furtive scratchings and scuttlings of whatever creatures still exist in the vast old shell. Some rooms have plaster and wallpaper peeling off the walls, falling onto incredibly ornate marble fireplaces and hand carved window surrounds. The floors are reduced to rotted wood beams, glowing in the colors reflected from the stained glass windows that still remain above them. The place smells of plaster and mold and dust and an extra something deeper, I guess I can only call it time.

The spooky yet lush visual appeal of the old pile is not wasted, however. It is a very popular place for movie, video, and fashion shoots. Some of my favorite movies have been filmed, at least in part, there. (One of which is The Secret Garden. The spooky old house in which the main characters live, the interior was filmed in the Midland Grand.) Also a Spice Girls' video was filmed there, woohoo?

The Marriott corporation is renovating it for use as a hotel once again, but they will have some major work ahead of the hell will they install 200 bathrooms?

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