Published: 9 June, 2011
It was considered at the time as being a bit of a scam: when the Midland Railway company ran a competition for architects to design their new set-piece flagship hotel that would proudly sit above the sooty station taking their coal-fired steam trains the length and breadth of Great Britain, they extended the deadline so a director of the company, George Gilbert Scott, could finish his designs. He won.
Work started on the Midland Grand Hotel in 1868 and was completed eight years later. With its Gothic Revival style, it was cast in brick and stone hailing from the Midlands, as if it were an advert for the materials that the railway could take you to.
Scott incorporated lifts and electric bells for room service, and until the end of the First World War, it was seen as one of London’s swankiest hotels. But the cost of heating the hotel, and its lack of bathrooms, meant what had been trendy in the 19th century was no longer de rigeur in the 20th. By the 1930s, it had become offices for British Rail, and when privatisation came it was mothballed and only used occasionally for a film set.
In the 1990s, developer Harry Handelsman joined forces with the Marriot Hotel group and set about restoring it to its former glory. This May, 138 years after it was first opened and after an £800m refit that has seen St Pancras train station restored and become an international terminal for the high speed Eurostar trains, it is open for business again.