London, England. St. Pancras Area
Born in Phrygia in 289, he was an orphan and his Uncle Dionysius took him to Rome, where they both became converted to Christianity. But the Emperor Diocletian decided to persecute the Christians and poor Pancras was beheaded at only 14.
As he was a Martyr, he soon became a Saint. His Feast Day is May 12th. It seems that St Augustine was very fond of him, because apparently he sang his praises to King Ethelbert when he paid a visit to England in 598.
If you are spending a day in London, The St Pancras area is worth exploring. I was surprised to discover how much there is to see.
Exiting the station, I turned left and walked to the end of the road.
You can’t fail to be impressed by the huge building on the left-hand corner. This is the recently-refurbished 5-star St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. Designed by architect George Gilbert Scott, who won a competition to build it, it was built in 1865 on top of a Roman settlement.
It closed in the 60s and remained unused until recently. Only the resident ghosts remained there, including a couple who apparently drowned in a huge water-tank at the top of the building that was often used as a swimming-pool.
Luckily the hotel now has a supervised spa and pool in the basement.
Do go and admire the original Victorian décor, even if you just have a coffee or a drink there. It’s well-worth the price of the coffee to see it!
Regular historical tours take place throughout the day. Call for details, or check online.
Coming out of the hotel, I turned right and walked along Euston Road. On the right is the British Library. You cross a large piazza where you can sit and read, or have a drink and something to eat. Then in front is the library. It’s not so much hideous as, well, boring!
Started in 1753, the British Library outgrew its original site and the new Library was built in a derelict goods yard and formally opened by the Queen in 1998.
Inside, the huge open-plan foyer is much more impressive than the outside. There are always exhibitions being held in different areas. King George III’s complete library is stored in massive book-cases with a line of people beavering away on their lap-tops below it.
Okay, I admit it. It’s well-designed. There are lots of seating areas, so people are encouraged to linger and spend as much time as they like to visit the different rooms.
The library houses over 14 million books, 920,000 journals and newspapers, and over 3 million sound recordings, all at a controlled temperature.
I went to see the old books and manuscripts. The light is subdued, and so is the conversation. Everyone spoke in whispers!
There were books of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Chaucer, Wordsworth – and The Beatles!
My main interest was the Magna Carta. It has its own room. I didn’t realise that there were lots of Magna Cartas, not just one. Originally drawn up to prevent King John from using English taxpayers’ money to fight his wars abroad (no political comment!) it was written in 1215, and re-issued in 1216, 1217 and 1225.
There are four remaining copies; two in the Library, one in Lincolnshire and one in Salisbury.
Outside the Library, I turned left again and walked past the Hotel. I turned left before King’s Cross Station, with St Pancras on my left.
Across the road I spotted The German Gymnasium. Built in 1865 for the German Gymnastics Society, it held some of the first classes for women -and in front of men too! They swung on ropes, wearing their long dresses.
Now the building is the King’s Cross Marketing suite. There is an impressive model of the future plans for 67 acres of derelict buildings and land. It’s going to take a lot of time and money!
I asked if they had a little old lady living in a cottage, saying, ‘I’m not moving, and that’s final!’ But no, the whole site is empty.
Wishing them luck, I went out and turned right.
I crossed the road to St Pancras Station again, and walked underneath it, past unloading bays.
Out the other side, I turned right and walked along Pancras Road for about five minutes.
On my right, I found the Old St Pancras Church. (The new one is on Camden High Street.)
Dating back to 314AD, it’s one of the oldest Christian churches in the UK.
The altar stone dates from the 6th Century AD. It was buried with the church silver during the Civil War where the clock tower is now, and not found until the Victorian renovations. The silver is with St Paul’s and the altar stone is in the church.
As you enter the church, you are greeted with a photo of – The Beatles!
On the 28th July, 1968 they had The Beatles’ Mad Day Out, when they
had their photos taken in the church grounds.
The Hardy Tree has a fence round it.
During the building of the Midland Railway, many graves were removed. The young Thomas Hardy was involved in moving several of the graves. They are all piled up around the tree.
The River Fleet used to flow along Pancras road, but it now runs underground through large pipes.
In the 1850s the graveyard stopped being used. Now people stroll along through the peaceful parkland or exercise their dogs there.
I went out through the back gate and turned right in Camley Street, under the railway bridge. Then my journalist’s nose began to twitch!
On the left I saw two wrought-iron gates, about 10ft tall. What was it? The remains of a stately home? In between two stations?
Doing my nosy walk (leaning slightly to the left) I made my way up the drive, across bark chippings. A bit different to gravel, I thought.
There was a row of strange buildings with loads of plants in pots outside and a wooden porch. One of the buildings had people in it, so I went in.
I’m so glad that I did! It’s called Camley Street Natural Park. Run by the London Wildlife Trust, It’s looked after by very enthusiastic volunteers.
Just over two acres in size, it was a Victorian coal depot. (There must have been loads of them around the stations!) Then it became an informal dump and wasteland. But gradually, Mother Nature returned and transformed it into a hidden habitat for wildlife.
There have been several attempts to take it over through the years. It was wanted as a coach park in the 80s, with plans to tarmac over it.
Eurostar re-wrote their plans to divert around it, so it takes their trains 2-3 minutes longer to reach the station than originally planned, plus a much larger bill, to protect London’s wildlife! Excellent.
A Volunteer showed me around. The whole site is a wonderful balance of nature. A bank of multi-coloured wild flowers grow beyond the newt pond. Other clusters of plants attract the butterfly population.
Adults with mental health problems work here in the calm, safe atmosphere, growing food.
Around 50 different types of bird visit here every month.
A heron stops off every year.
I saw the parents feeding their baby coot on the large pond. Hedgehogs, bats, and a fox family live here, as well as bees and bugs.
Children visit from local schools, and follow the nature trails where there are questions and quizzes for them, hanging from trees.
One side of the park is lined by the Regency Canal, with St Pancras Station on the other, and King’s Cross across the canal.
As I walked out through the huge gates (recycled from the renovated British Library) a train passed on the other side of the road, above me. If the passengers had looked out of the window and down, they would have seen the Gates of Paradise. But they would never have guessed what lay beyond them!
I think that everyone should add the Camley Street Natural Park to their Places to See Before I Die list. It’s lovely!
I turned left and walked along the deserted Camley Street. At the bottom, the city’s din hit me.
Taking a left, I crossed over the King’s Cross railway. The canal is on the left. Beyond it are derelict buildings, and to the left, my Secret Garden. Nobody would guess, looking at the overgrown trees, what lies beyond them.
The large glass Guardian building is in front, across the road.
If you go to the left, you cross the Regency Canal and you can walk along the old tow-path to Camden.
I went to the right and ahead. Down the road, there is a Museum sign. I was back in another quiet area, in the side streets. Following the signs, I turned left into New Wharf Road. The museum is on the left, beside the canal.
Oh dear, it closed at 4.30. I was too late!
I peered through the glass door, and spotted an elbow in the office! So I knocked on the door.
Martin Sach, the chairman, opened the door. I told him who I was and apologised for being late. But he said that he had paperwork to do, so I could take my time and look around.
The museum is worth a visit. There’s a barge on the left. Goodness knows how they got it in there!
Ahead is a huge hole in the ground. I thought it was a cellar or dry dock. But it was a Victorian ice pit.
Upstairs, I was surprised to discover that the Museum is below the level of the canal. It wass quite strange looking out of the window at all the ornate barges on the water above me!.
Leaving the Museum, I turned right, then right again. Back on the main road, I turned left, walked along, and came out opposite King’s Cross.
A herd of us stampeded across the road, and I caught a tube train to London Bridge, then my train home.
I ached from head to foot by then, but I’d had an amazing day of discovery. Everyone knows that London is a very alive city. But not many of them realise just how much life there is hidden away!
St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel
NW1 2AR UK.
King’s Cross Marketing Suite
020 7427 2590.St Pancras Old Church Parish Priest. Fr Bruce Batstone
Fr.email@example.comCamley Street Natural Park.