The remarkable rise, fall and rebirth of St Pancras Chambers is an extraordinary story to tell... It begins in the 1850s, when the thriving Midland Railway, which connected the industrial heartlands of the East Midlands and Yorkshire with London, took the decision to construct its own line into the capital, rather than share tracks with other companies. For the station building, which would be erected around William Barlow's spectacular single-span trainshed structure, the Midland Railway selected the designs of George Gilbert Scott, the prominent ecclesiastical architect who had recently picked up the commission to create the memorial in Hyde Park to Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband. Gilbert Scott promised his client a station that would eclipse every other terminus in the city. It would also stand as a monumental advertisement for the enterprise and industry of the Midlands region itself. The designs included the inventive use of brickwork using red brick manufactured in the Midlands which was creating a new source of wealth in the region. It was too much for the Midland Railway to resist. The railwaymen took a deep breath, dug deep into their pockets and gave Scott's vision the 'clear' signal.
Construction of the Midland Grand Hotel started in 1868 and for the next eight years builders, stonemasons, artists, craftsmen and tradesmen laboured to bring Scott's vision to life. They created an interior world so lavish it must have seemed liked a fantasy land to the first guests, in May 1873. The grandest rooms, on the lower floors, included spectacular, 21-ft high decorated ceilings, neo-classical murals, vast south-facing windows to maximise natural daylight into deep floorplans, ornate Gothic fanlights over every door, Axminster rugs, massive fireplaces with carved marble surrounds and walnut furniture with gold inlay.
In the Dining and Coffee Room (now The Gilbert Scott restaurant), pillars of polished limestone lined the walls, their guilded capitals carved with conkers, pea pods and bursting pomegranates. The Ladies Smoking Room, the first public room in Europe in which women were permitted to smoke - boasted a breathtaking painted ceiling as well as granite pillars, carved stonework and a magnificent terrace overlooking the hustle and bustle of Euston Road. When it was finished at the end of 1876, Scott himself remarked that the hotel was "almost too good for its purpose".
The Midland Grand Hotel quickly became the talk of the town. In its heyday, guests paid between three-and-a-half shillings and several pounds to spend a night there; only The Langham on Portland Place was more expensive. The final bill for the hotel's construction had come in at a staggering £438,000 - around £600 million today - but now the Midland Railway was reaping the benefits of a new, lucrative revenue stream as well as the considerable prestige the hotel attracted. That prestige accumulated as word spread further afield. As well as home-grown celebrities such as the music hall favourite, Marie Lloyd, and the boss of Boot's The Chemist, Jesse Boot, the hotel could count among its guests eminent visitors from abroad such as railroad and shipping entrepreneur, Cornelius 'Commodore' Vanderbilt - one of the world's richest Americans - and George Pullman, creator of the luxurious Pullman sleeping car.