St Pancras Station By Simon Bradley.Profile Books, 2007.174pp. £14.99
Profile's 'Wonders of the World' series offers a welcome change from conventional guides to great buildings. With the Parthenon there was a rich mythological jungle to attack (AJ 17.04.03); with the Thiepval Arch an unexpectedly powerful and poignant case to argue (AJ 05.10.06). For others, like the volume on the Alhambra (2004) and this one on St Pancras, it's perhaps more difficult to be original in a virtually unillustrated format, with no space for careful pictorial study, and a Sunday magazine tone which can grate.
Nevertheless, this is a fascinating and detailed tale of Bradley's varied railway enthusiasms centred on St Pancras, on Barlow's engineering and Scott's Revivalism, and perhaps particularly on how Scott's extraordinary hotel was inhabited and serviced. There is little more information one could ask of this wondrous place, but there is also little insight or critique offered on it. Bradley doesn't dwell on Scott's own suggestion that 'it is possibly too good for its purpose' as 'bagmen's bedrooms'. He doesn't consider why Scott was so self-critical or speculate on why, with all his writings, he did not tackle St Pancras.
St Pancras, concludes Bradley, is architecturally perhaps the finest place to start and finish a railway journey anywhere in the world. As someone long ago said about it:'C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la gare.'
John McKean is a professor at the University of Brighton