Tag Archives: Open House

Thames River Police Museum And Hermitage Moorings

Finally, somewhat later than planned, here is the last post on my Open House 2017 visits. I had started in the Isle of Dogs and my final two locations were the Thames River Police Museum in Wapping and the Hermitage Moorings,  a short distance further along the river towards St. Katherine Docks.

Thames River Police Museum

The Thames River Police Museum is usually only open by appointment so Open House provided the opportunity to just turn up and see this fascinating museum in one of the old workshops in what is still a working Police Station.

This is the front of the building on Wapping High Street. The museum is reached through the entrance on the left, through a small courtyard and up to the museum on the first floor of the part of the building facing the river.

Thames River Police Museum

The Marine Policing Unit as it is now named, is one of, if not the earliest uniformed police force in the world.

The Port of London was growing rapidly around Wapping in the last decades of the 18th century. There would be hundreds of different ships moored on the river, along the wharfs and warehouses facing the river and in the docks. The cargo stored in these shops and warehouses provided a ready source of income for those willing to steal or pilfer from these cargoes.

The problem was getting so bad that in the 1790s a uniformed police force was organised, approved by the government and funded by the various merchant companies that operated along the river.

The river police force was based at the location that remains their headquarters to this day. The first patrol of the river set out from this location in 1798.

Thames River Police Museum

In my father’s collection of photos, there are some of 1950’s era police river launches moored by Waterloo Bridge so I plan to write more about the history of the river police when I cover these photos in the coming months, so in the photos below is a brief view of what is a fascinating museum.

The museum is housed in a long, single room, at the end of which is a door facing onto the river.

The museum is a bit overwhelming at first sight as there is so much to look at. A couple of long display cases run part of the length of the room full with models, books, record books, old equipment used by the river police and much more. The walls are covered in drawings, paintings, photographs, maps and flags that tell the story of some of the significant events over the past two hundred years, and how the river police have evolved.

Thames River Police Museum

Thames River Police Museum

Display cabinets show some of the craft used by the river police. The original river patrols were made using rowing galleys, often with a crew of four comprising a Surveyor or Inspector and up to three Constables.

Thames River Police Museum

View of one narrow walkway showing how much there is to see in the museum.

Thames River Police Museum

Flags used on the patrol boats:

Thames River Police Museum

At the end of the museum is a door facing onto the river which provides some unique views.

Being an operational police station, there is a walkway leading down to a pier where some of the police boats are moored.

Thames River Police Museum

There is also a good view here across to Rotherhithe and down to the Isle of Dogs.

Thames River Police Museum

Half way along the walkway there is a traditional Police blue light:

Thames River Police Museum

The museum provides a fascinating view of the history of the Thames River Police, there is much to view and read. What makes this museum very special is that it is on the site where the original river police force was established and is within a building providing the same function to this day.

Back outside in the courtyard between the museum and the street there is a reminder that this is still a working river police station.

Thames River Police Museum

A short distance along Wapping High Street was my final Open House visit to:

Hermitage Moorings

In comparison with the other sites I visited during Open House, the Hermitage Moorings are very recent. The submission for planning permission was in 2004 and the Hermitage Moorings were constructed a few years later.

Despite being very recent, they are one of those many places around London that have a name that maintains a link with the location as it was many years ago.

The Hermitage Moorings can be found at the western end of Wapping High Street, just before the junction with St. Katherine’s Way.

The Hermitage Riverside Memorial Gardens run between Wapping High Street and the river, and at the eastern end of the gardens is the entrance to Hermitage Moorings.

Thames River Police Museum

Before taking a walk around the moorings, some history of the area and the name. In the extract from the 1896 Ordnance Survey map below, in the centre of the river’s edge is the Hermitage Steam Wharf. Just to the right of this wharf are Hermitage Stairs running down to a causeway into the river. It is here that the entrance to the Hermitage Moorings is located.

Thames River Police Museum

As can be seen from the map, the name Hermitage is used for a number of features – the stairs, the wharf and the basin.

You can also see on the left of the map the Red Lion Brewery, however according to “A Dictionary of London” published in 1918:

“Hermitage Brewhouse – A Brewhouse ‘so called of an hermite sometime being there,’ at the southern end of Nightingale lane, E. Smithfield” and “This hermitage seems to have given its name, not only to the Brewhouse, but to the Stairs and the Dock, etc.”

Nightingale Lane is the street running down from the top of the map to the left of Hermitage Basin down to the junction with Wapping High Street, so Hermitage Brewhouse may have been the earlier name of the brewery prior to Red Lion and it may have been named after a hermit.

Very tenuous but good to imagine that the new moorings are named after a hermit that lived close by.

The photo below from the Britain from Above website shows the area in 1946.

Thames River Police Museum

At the bottom right of the photo you can see some stairs and a causeway leading down into the river – this is the Union Stairs. Move along the water front to the left, pass the cranes and you will come to another causeway leading down into the river – this is the Hermitage Stairs.

The area between the Hermitage Stairs, the road behind and the river entrance to the basin is now the Hermitage Riverside Memorial Gardens.

The view across the gardens from the edge of the basin entrance looking across to where the entrance to the Hermitage Moorings is located in shown in the photo below.

Thames River Police Museum

The gardens are a memorial to the East London civilians who lost their lives, or were injured during the Second World War.

Time for a look at the moorings which were fully open during Open House weekend.

Hermitage Moorings were built, and are now owned and operated by Hermitage Community Moorings and they provide up to 23 berths for historic vessels with the owners living aboard. The moorings therefore form a community on the river rather than a place for distant owners to moor their boats.

When planning permission was applied for, there was general support for establishing a community on the river, however there were also a number of objections which appear to have come from the occupiers of the new apartments that had recently been built along the river.

Objections included that the moorings would be  ‘blots on the landscape’ and ‘floating gypsy camps’ and that ‘rusting wrecks’ will be moored alongside the flats and the park.

The historic boats are very far from being rusting wrecks. The view looking downstream from the entrance to the moorings.

Thames River Police Museum

The view upstream towards Tower Bridge and the City.

Thames River Police Museum

There are two main pontoons extending either side from the centre of the moorings. All lined with a range of very well maintained historic boats. The majority with owners currently living aboard.

Thames River Police Museum

Some of the boats have potted gardens running along the edge of the pontoon.

Thames River Police Museum

Talking to some of the owners, there was a real pride in their boats, a very obvious community of people living on the river, and great pleasure in being able to live in such a way and location.

Thames River Police Museum

The boats are all extremely well maintained. many are Dutch, all have seen a working life of many decades and now rest at this wonderful location.

Thames River Police Museum

One of the differences between being on the river and walking the streets of the city is that from the river the wide sweep of the sky is visible and there is a connection between the river and weather which played such an important part in the lives of those who worked on the river for so many hundreds of years.

Thames River Police Museum

Names and numbers:

Thames River Police Museum

Despite the boats and owners living here at Hermitage Moorings, the boats are still in working order and able to make their way along the river. To have a mooring, the owner also needs a Day Skipper qualification as a minimum so the moorings are not simply providing a living place with a superb view – they are for those with the time and money to invest in maintaining a historic boat in working order and with the skill and qualifications to pilot those boats on the river.

Looking across towards Rotherhithe.

Thames River Police Museum

For Open House, there were also a couple of historic visitors to the Hermitage Moorings, including the Massey Shaw fireboat on the left.

Thames River Police Museum

There is a good view of the Hermitage Moorings from the riverside park and walkway along the river, however Open House provided the opportunity to walk among the boats and talk to the owners.

It was a fascinating day that demonstrated the sheer variety of sites open during Open House. From the pumping station on the Isle of Dogs, the Church and Town Hall at Limehouse, a museum in a working police station on the same location as where the river police force was formed, and river moorings from the last decade.

Hopefully, with some planning, I will get the whole weekend free for Open House 2018.


Limehouse Town Hall And St Anne’s Church

My next Open House location was reached after a short walk along the Thames Path, up Three Colt Street and left along Commercial Road to just before where the Commercial Road crosses the Limehouse Cut to find Limehouse Town Hall:

Limehouse Town Hall

Limehouse Town Hall from across the Commercial Road:Limehouse Town Hall

On the 12th June 1875, a small advert appeared on page 4 of the East London Advertiser:

“The Churchwardens and Overseers of the Parish of St. Anne, Limehouse, being desirous of erecting a new Town Hall and Parochial Offices, require a suitable site for the same in the Parish. Proposals for the Sale of Properties for this purpose may be addressed to the Churchwardens and Overseers at the temporary offices, 713 Commercial-road.”

The proposal for a new town hall was not universally popular in Limehouse. the letters page of the East London Observer reflect the views of some of the more vocal of the opponents including a Mr. Richardson who “did not like the expense of the Town Hall, or that it would be let for entertainments.”

A plot of land was purchased directly on the Commercial Road and next to St. Anne’s church however the letters of complaint kept coming. In June 1878, “T.M.” wrote to the editor of the East London Observer that, “having seen on the plot of ground, formerly Mr. Walter’s house, a board placed with the inscription ‘Site for Limehouse Town Hall’, it occurred that if you would kindly allow me through the medium of your paper to draw the attention of the authorities and inhabitants to the advantage of allowing the site to remain open, and in due course taking down the ugly coffee-shop adjoining, thereby prominently showing up one of Sir Christopher Wren’s noblest churches, and at the same time giving the authorities the means of widening the thoroughfare and facilitating public traffic in that busy part, it would be a great boon.”

Interesting that T.M. refers to the church as by Wren. It was designed by Wren’s assistant Nicholas Hawksmoor,

Despite these protests, Limehouse Town Hall was built with construction starting in 1879 and the hall being completed in 1881 at a cost of £10,000 plus £2,920 for the land.

A foundation stone on the front of the building records the name of the builder and the architect.

Limehouse Town Hall

The East London Observer on Saturday 2nd April 1881 reported on the opening of the new Limehouse Town Hall:

“LIMEHOUSE AND ITS NEW TOWN HALL – The parish of Limehouse has entered into possession of its new town hall, and the opening of the building has been the occasion of a considerable amount of celebration. The parish officials evidently felt that the event was one akin in importance to the transformation which takes place when the chrysalis is resolved into a beautiful winged butterfly, and they may accordingly be pardoned for displaying more or less ecstasy on the occasion. Hope of having a proper parochial habitation has with them been so deferred, that we have jocularly referred to the anticipated building for some years past as ‘the millennial town hall’. First of all there was the financial difficulty, and when this was conquered or arranged, there were tedious and trying legal delays which seemed to perpetually bar the way to the achievement of the object upon which the Vestry of Limehouse had set its mind. Delays, anticipations and doubts are now all dismissed, and the long-looked-for day of possession has arrived and has been jubilantly greeted.

The event of opening the new building was accompanied by much eclait, for the church wardens had the support and presence of both the members for Tower Hamlets, of Mr Samuda, the late representative of the borough – who, by the way, met with quite as warm a reception as either Mr. Bryee or Mr. Ritchie – of several of the county magistrates, and other gentlemen of local position and influence.

Naturally the entree into a building such as that erected at Limehouse is not an ordinary occurrence, and it will be admitted by those who witnessed the proceedings that all that could be done to vest the affair with extraordinary significance was done. This, of course, is quite a matter of taste, which it is not our intention to dispute.  Still, as cool critics of facts, we must not overlook the circumstance that the possession of a town hall does not confer any addition of practical power. Limehouse for administrative purposes remains, as it was, part of the Limehouse District for sanitary purposes, and a part of the Stepney Union for poor-law purposes.”

The article then goes on to ask whether the new town hall may be part of a plan for Limehouse to gain more self-governing powers, but the article also challenges the expense of the new town hall if it was only to be used for “the self-glorification of the members of the Vestry and the exclusively for parochial purpose”, then there would be a challenge to the costs incurred.

They were confident that the Vestry would allow the free use of the new town hall by the rate payers of Limehouse, and that opportunities should be explored for letting the hall for public meetings, concerts etc. along with a reading room, free library and classes offering instruction in technical or higher education to help the people of Limehouse “might be cultivated morally and socially, and become better prepared to exercise their due influence upon the world of which they form part”.

The new Limehouse Town Hall did not therefore have an easy start and high expectations were set for how the building would be used.

The building has not functioned as a town hall for many years and has served many different uses over the years, including as the National Museum of Labour History which was opened in 1975 by Harold Wilson and lasted until the mid-1980s when financial troubles resulted in the closure of the museum with the collections being rescued by Manchester City council which formed the basis for the People’s History Museum.

Time to see the interior of the building.

On entering through the front doors, there is a short hall way to the bottom of the grand staircase which runs up to the first floor.

Limehouse Town Hall

View from the staircase up to the first and second floors. The ornate balusters on the staircase and the second floor walkway are original, produced in Glasgow by the MacFarlane foundry.

Limehouse Town Hall

Detail of the balusters – very ornate but they were not created specially for Limehouse Town Hall, they were a catalogue item of the foundry. I doubt those who criticised the costs of the town hall would have been happy with specially designed ornamentation for the building.

Limehouse Town Hall

Looking down from the first floor landing.

Limehouse Town Hall

Detail of the original tiles which have survived remarkably well.

Limehouse Town Hall

The church of St. Anne Limehouse is just to the east of Limehouse Town Hall and there is a wonderful view of the church looking rather ethereal through the window half way up the staircase.

Limehouse Town Hall

On the landing.

Limehouse Town Hall

Limehouse Town Hall is now well over 100 years old and has been through a succession of owners over the years. The age of the building and impact on the fabric is clear at a number of locations within the building, including this view of the ceiling.

Limehouse Town Hall

On the first floor is the large assembly room. It is this room that has served both the original Vestry and the people of Limehouse over the years. The hall has hosted numerous Vestry meetings, concerts, political meetings, dances, an infant welfare centre and exhibitions.

Limehouse Town Hall

From 1881 the building was licensed for music and dancing and again in the pages of the East London Observer there is a report and a number of letters regarding the purchase of a piano for the hall, the cost of the piano and who was actually funding the purchase.

View of the other end of the assembly room. Until around 1950 there was a raised platform at this end of the hall which was used for speeches and performances.

Limehouse Town Hall

Balcony over the main door leading from the landing. The glitter ball hints at one of the uses of the room.

Limehouse Town Hall

A sign on the balcony provides a clue as to one of the previous uses of the hall.

Limehouse Town Hall

Limehouse Town Hall was built with high expectations for its contribution to the lives of those living in Limehouse. Whilst Limehouse did not achieve the level of local governance to which the founders of the hall had aspired, the range of events held within the hall meant that it must have featured in the day-to-day lives of the people of Limehouse.

My next Open House visit was adjacent to Limehouse Town Hall and a very short walk to:

St. Anne’s Limehouse

The view of St. Anne’s Limehouse along St. Anne’s Passage.

Limehouse Town Hall

St. Anne’s church was one of the twelve churches built as a result of a 1711 Act of Parliament to build churches in locations across London where populations had grown but were not well served by a local church.

A tax on coal was used to fund the building work, which resulted in a number of large and architecturally impressive churches across the city.

St. Anne’s was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and built between 1714 and 1727.

The church was badly damaged by fire in 1850 and also by bombing in 1941. It has been through a number of restorations, the latest having been completed in 2009.

I have walked past St. Anne’s many times, but have never seen inside. The last time I walked past was when I was exploring the sites at risk as identified by the Architects Journal in 1972 when the church was one of the sites of concern, although it was Grade I listed in 1950.

Walking into the church reveals a large and impressive interior.

Limehouse Town Hall

With a very ornate roof.

Limehouse Town Hall

Looking back towards the main entrance to the church. The organ was built by John Gray and Frederick Davison who had a factory in Euston Road.

Limehouse Town Hall

The church was permitted by Queen Anne to fly the White Ensign and the location of the church, so close to the River Thames, together with the height of the church tower meant that St. Anne’s was a prominent landmark for those navigating the river and the church was marked by trinity House on navigation charts.

Many prints of the river around Limehouse show the church in the background. For example, the following print from 1827 shows the church as a very visible landmark just to the left of the ship on the right.

Limehouse Town Hall

The White Ensign was originally the flag of the second most senior Admiral in the Navy. In 1864 the White Ensign became the ensign of the Royal Navy.

Display boxes in the church display naval flags including the flag of HMS Ark Royal and the White Ensign flown on the church:

Limehouse Town Hall

The font which dates from the restoration carried out between 1851 and 1857 by John Morris and Philip Hardwick after the fire in 1850.

Limehouse Town Hall

This fire appears to have almost destroyed the church. There was a report on the fire in the London Evening Standard on the 30th March 1850, titled “Total Destruction Of Limehouse Church By Fire”:

“We had the lamentable task yesterday of announcing the total destruction by fire of the beautiful parish church of St. Anne, Limehouse. We now append some further particulars:-

It appears that at seven o’clock yesterday morning a man named Wm. Rumbold, who lights the stove fires, and attending to the heating of the church, entered the edifice and proceeded with his duties. He ignited both the furnaces, and at a quarter past eight o’clock was about to satisfy himself of the degree of temperature in the interior of the church, when he perceived a strong smell of burning wood, and shortly afterwards saw a quantity of smoke issue from the roof. Impressed with a fear that something serious had happened, Rumbold ran off to the residence of Mr. George Coningham, the beadle and engine keeper of the parish, who resides about 150 yards distant from the church.

Coningham instantly returned with Rumbold to the church, on reaching which, Coningham ascended through the belfry and immediately opened a door over the organ loft leading to a vast chamber extending over the whole body of the church. As soon as the door was opened, Coningham and Rumbold were both driven back and nearly suffocated by a rush of smoke and rarefied air which issued out of this chamber, and clearly indicated where the seat of the mischief really was. 

Coningham and Rumbold, with a view to rousing the neighbourhood, rang the two bells. An immense congregation of the inhabitants very speedily assembled. The fire had by this time begun to make its way through the roof. As yet there was no engine on the spot, and but a very scanty supply of water flowed from the street plugs.

The Rev. George Roberts, curate of the parish, who had by this time arrived. headed a large party of gentlemen, and by their exertions all the registers and other valuable parochial documents have been fortunately saved. 

The progress of the flames was so rapid that not a little risk was incurred in this good work.

Several engines had arrived before the roof fell, and a very good supply of water was at length obtained, but from the great difficulty of getting at the spot where the fire raged, all the efforts of the firemen were comparatively fruitless, and Mr Braidwood, the leader of the force, at once pronounced that any hope of saving the interior of the church was quite out of the question. 

The church was one of the most perfect interiors of the period in which it was built – Queen Anne’s time. It possessed a magnificent organ, built by Richard Bridge, in 1741, and a superb altar window of painted glass.”

It must have been devastating to the people of Limehouse to see their church in ruins.

Displayed in one of the side rooms is one of the hands from what may have been the original clock on the church. If I read the writing along the clock hand correctly it reads “This —– was taken from the face of the clock by R. Linton 1826”. The naval association of the church is shown in the clock hand by the anchor shape on the right of the hand.

Limehouse Town Hall

There is also a memorial to those who I assume were parishioners who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars.

Limehouse Town Hall

It is always depressing to read these lists of names of those who had been killed during the wars, even more so when you find surnames repeated as you can imagine the impact it must have had on the families concerned.

One surname stood out on the St. Anne’s memorial – Peterken. There was an H.C. Peterken killed in the First World War and an A. Peterken killed in the Second World War.

I was able to find some background on H.C. Peterken.

Horace Peterken was a Private in the London regiment of the 2nd (City of London) Battalion (Royal Fusiliers). He was killed in action on the 26th October 1917. This was the first day of the Second Battle of Passchendale which ran until the 10th November 1917, so I assume he was killed on the first day of this battle.

In the 1911 Census he was living at 63 Three Colt Street in Limehouse (a street I walked up from the river to Commercial Street) along with his parents and six brothers and sisters.

His father, Henry George Peterken was 47 at the time of the census and is recorded as being born in Poplar. His father was a Letterpress Printer and Stationer. His mother, Sarah Ann Peterken was 46 and was born in Ratcliffe.

Sarah is recorded as having had 9 children, with 8 living and 1 died. Given that 7 children were living at the house in 1911 I assume the eighth may have been the oldest and had left home.

Horace was 15 at the time and his brothers and sisters living in Three Colt Street were; Ada, aged 23, Edith, aged 19, Winifred aged 17, Leonard aged 11, Mabel aged 9 and Cyril aged 4.

Ada was a Stationers Assistant so presumably worked for her father, Edith was a Dressmaker.

Henry George Peterken was a councillor and his printing shop was in Poplar High Street. The family may have been of Irish descent as on the 29th May 1909, the East London Observer  reports that his daughter Winnie (Winifred) led the Irish detachment in a Pageant to celebrate Empire Day.

Horace was born in the last quarter of 1895, so was around 22 when he died at Passchendale.

In one corner of the church there are steps leading down to the crypt:

Limehouse Town Hall

Walking down the stairs brings you to a smaller room before the main crypt which I suspect has the original flagstones across the floor.

Limehouse Town Hall

The large crypt has been through a major restoration with some superb brickwork across the walls and roof.

Limehouse Town Hall

Limehouse Town Hall and St. Anne’s Limehouse – two more fascinating buildings and each played their part in the rich history of East London.

Two more locations to visit which I will cover in my final post on Open House 2017 in the next couple of days.


Open House 2016 – Chrisp Street Market And St. Pancras Chambers

Last weekend was the brilliant Open House weekend when what seemed like hundreds of buildings around London opened their doors.

I had very limited time over the weekend, just a few hours on Sunday so only time to visit two locations, but ones I have wanted to see for a long time, so for this week’s post a quick visit to the Chrisp Street Market Clock Tower and St. Pancras Chambers.

Chrisp Street Market

Chrisp Street Market was part of the Lansbury Estate development in Poplar and featured in the Festival of Britain Exhibition of Architecture. I covered this in a post back in July when I went for a walk around the estate with a copy of the original Exhibition Guide.

The Clock Tower at the corner of the market was built as part of the Lansbury development to serve a number of purposes. It would provide a feature for the market area, a viewing gallery over the new estate, and provide a landmark at the far end of Grundy Street with the new church at the opposite end.

The viewing platform on the Clock Tower was closed many years ago and now there is only occasional access, one of which was during this years Open House event.


Access to the viewing platform is via one side of a pair of interlocking reinforced concrete staircases. This design was to ensure that walking up was via one staircase and down was via the other so walking up you would not meet people coming down on the same staircase.

At the top of the Clock Tower, showing the two entrances to the staircases – only one was in use today.


At the top of the tower there is a fading wooden plaque. This is probably not as old as it looks. I believe this is from about 2014, although it looks much older and based on the text it is probably from the Chrisp Street on Air Project.


The text on the left of the plaque reads:

Neighbourhood 9

The nine locations of the field recordings series observing the Lansbury Estate and the people that live and work around Chrisp Street Market. Each broadcast centred on a single location uncovering the daily workings of each site and posing questions for its possible future.  

No. 1 Lansbury Amateur Boxing Club

No. 2 Queen Victoria Seamen’s Rest

No.3 The Market Square

No. 4 Jp’s Cafe

No. 5 The Spotlight

No. 6 The Festival Bar

No. 7 New Festival Quarter

No. 8 Gladstone Tower

No. 9 The Clocktower

Neighbourhood 9 refers to the Lansbury Estate being the ninth development neighbourhood in Poplar after the last war. The nine locations are individual locations around the Lansbury Estate that each had their own recording made during the Chrisp Street on Air project and tell a story of the place in question with local people talking about their experiences and history of the area.

These recordings are really worth a listen and can be found as podcasts on iTunes at this link or via Audioboom here.

View along the viewing gallery. All Saints DLR station in the distance.openhouse-2016-4

The Clock Tower was designed by Fredrick Gibberd and would have originally towered above the market, however later building between the market and the East India Dock Road has tended to overshadow the Clock Tower. It does though provide good views in a number of directions including this view looking towards the City. The Shard is in the centre of the view.


View from the top of the Clock Tower towards Erno Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower:


When built, this is the view that the visitor would have seen of the Lansbury Estate. The Chrisp Street market with the recent covered market area is in the lower half of the photo. The original buildings surround the market (again, see my post on the Lansbury Exhibition of Architecture for details of these buildings).  To the left, Grundy Street can be seen running up to the church. Standing in the centre of Grundy Street gives an idea of the intention of the architects – the church and Clock Tower appear to anchor each end of the street. Religion at one end, shops, market traders and pubs at the other.


Continuing the theme of my recent posts on views from above London, it was interesting to see that St. Paul’s Cathedral is just visible to the left of the Cheesegrater building from the top of the Clock Tower.


View towards Stratford with part of the ArcelorMittal Orbit just visible in the centre of the horizon.


The Chrisp Street Market Clock Tower is starting to show its age. The height is very modest so it does not have the same views as other London viewing galleries, however as a symbol of the intentions of those behind the Lansbury Estate to create an integrated estate with housing and facilities for those who lived in the East End, it is perfect.

St. Pancras Chambers

St. Pancras Chambers was the name of the Open House tour inside parts of the original St. Pancras hotel and station buildings. The tour provided a quick look at the Grand Staircase, the corridors and staircases along the length of the building and the rooms at the top of the clock tower. The majority of the main building is now a hotel and the rooms in the Clock Tower are private apartments.

The building was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and built between 1868 -76 and opened as the Midland Grand Hotel. Both the exterior and interior of the hotel was built to impress, to demonstrate the strength and magnificence of the Midland Railway Company in the new age of the railway. Built in the Victorian Gothic Revival style, using materials sourced mainly from across the midlands, the style of the building is very similar to Scott’s earlier work with the Albert Memorial.

Despite the apparent extravagance, costs were tight and some features were not included in the final build. Look to either side of the top of the entrance archway in the photo below. There is a space on either side of the top of the arch for a statue. There are a number of these empty positions across the buildings. Although planned, they were not included due to cost.


View of the Clock Tower, the rooms we would climb to are just below the clock.


The first stop on the tour was at the base of the Grand Staircase. This has been fully renovated as part of the renovation of the whole building and now provides a view of what it must have looked like when the building opened.


Floor tiles at the base of the staircase:


Looking up the staircase. The restoration of the Gothic Revival style of the staircase comes together through the floor tiles, carpets, wallpaper, lighting and the architecture of the windows and staircase.


Entrance to the staircase:


Corridors running from the Grand Staircase.


As well as the Grand Staircase there are a number of other staircases along the length of the building with different architectural styles:


Rooms at the end of one corridor were apparently used as Board Rooms for the Midland Railway Company. The decoration along this corridor is rather more ornate than the rest of the hotel corridors.


Walking up the stairs provides intriguing views of the station, including the following view at the rear of the station clock.


Along some of the corridors are these small doors above the larger doors for the hotel rooms. Apparently the smaller doors provided access to sleeping areas for the hotel staff.


In the clock tower.


Some interesting views from the clock tower. This one looking along Euston Road towards Pentonville Road with part of Kings Cross station on the left.


Looking south from the clock tower with the Shard in the distance.


Looking down one of the main stairwells:


As the majority of the building is now either the hotel or private apartments, the tour was limited, however it did cover the main features of the building and provided a welcome insight into this wonderful building from the time when rail was the future of transport.

Despite the very ornate architecture, the facilities in the original hotel were rather basic with a limited number of shared bathroom facilities, no lifts etc. The hotel did start to decline in the early years of the 20th century and closed in 1935, then being used as offices for the LM&S railway company.

Wartime damage, changes in transport from rail to road and a general decline put the station at risk in the 1960s but a campaign by people including Niklaus Pevsner and poet John Betjeman saved the hotel and station buildings and the arrival of the high-speed trains to Europe via the Channel Tunnel along with growing national rail use led to the redevelopment and restoration of the station and hotel which both now look spectacular.

After the tour I walked to the station area. Here is the front of the clock that was visible from behind in the above photos.


The station roof.


The hotel and station buildings are impressive on both the large and small-scale.

Viewing from a distance you can see the whole sweep of the hotel, or the length of the roof however there are so many small architectural features across the building including these ornate carvings at the top of pillars in one of the entrances.


It was an all too brief visit to these two very different locations. Open House is a fantastic weekend of events which seems to be growing in scope every year. Hopefully I will have more time next year to visit more of the diverse range of locations available.