Two eyebrow-raising assertions: the railways were a Georgian invention, all the ingredients being in place before 1830; and the 21st century is witnessing a golden age of rail travel. The first is indisputable fact, if surprising to contemplate; the second is likely to provoke an unprintable retort from many a daily commuter.
However, few would quibble with a statement that the greatest achievements of railway architecture and engineering are Victorian. But seeing and appreciating magnificent stations such as those studied today is to a large extent possible because of enlightened intervention in the last 20 years. The adaptation and upgrading of ageing infrastructure to meet modern requirements has been a major achievement, but so has the restoration and cleaning of historic fabric. And the sensitive addition of new structures of the highest quality of design has been a triumph.
Largely the creation of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Paddington is well preserved and in some ways the most appealing of London’s termini. King’s Cross has always been admired for the majesty of its unadorned functionality, but recent removal of 20th-century clutter enables it to be better appreciated than for a century. And in 2012 the station acquired a magnificent new lattice steel foyer.
The 240 ft span of the St Pancras train shed far surpassed any previous structure anywhere in the world, and its conversion for use as the Eurostar terminus, completed 2007, created one of the most exciting sets of public spaces in Europe. The contiguous Midland Grand Hotel by Sir George Gilbert Scott is one of the best-known of all Victorian buildings.
Dr Steven Brindle
Read History at Oxford and worked for English Heritage for 27 years. He was also involved in the post-fire restoration of Windsor Castle, 1993–7. Publications include Brunel, the Man who built the World. His history of Windsor Castle for the Royal Collection is due to be published next year. Twitter: @StevenPBrindle
9.30am at Paddington Station.
c. 4.45pm at St Pancras Station.
£195. This includes morning and afternoon refreshments, lunch, one journey by underground and special arrangements.
Maximum 12 participants.
We will return the full amount if you notify us 22 or more days before the event. We will retain 50% if cancellation is made within three weeks and 100% if within three days. Please put your cancellation in writing to firstname.lastname@example.org. We advise taking out insurance in case of cancellation and recommend that overseas clients are also covered for possible medical and repatriation costs.
‘Lucid and fascinating exposition of the railway termini and their surroundings. A real eye opener for me; I found myself taken back in time so that it felt as if I were really there.’
'Special access to restricted areas makes all the difference.'
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