Sunday, July 17, 2011

"The restoration of the grand Victorian-Gothic structure "

After nearly two decades of having only bats, rats and the occasional tramp as inhabitants, the former Midland Grand Hotel beside London’s St Pancras station is at last about to open its doors to paying guests in May, re-christened the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel London . The restoration of the grand Victorian-Gothic structure cost more than £150 million, but a recent visit showed it was money well spent.

There are a few casualties, including some original romantic murals that have been papered over. But most of the detailing has been painstakingly preserved. Sir George Gilbert Scott’s wide stone cantilevered staircase – down which Sarah Miles and Dirk Bogarde swept when filming The Servant – has been sandblasted, so it looks like the inside of a snail’s shell, and its intricate balustrade polished. The arched forecourt on which taxis parked has been artfully covered to create the reception area, and the adjoining old ticket hall, with its dark- panelled walls and soaring church-like windows, is now a bar.

On every floor, rooms open up to reveal elaborate and unique detailing. In the Ladies Smoking Room – the first public room in London set aside for women to enjoy tobacco in public – ceilings have been painted with fine patterns in a faded palette; in the dining room, the iron cornicing has been so thoroughly cleaned it resembles fine white lace; and on stairwells, the Brinton carpets have been rewoven in antique-looking colours. Best of all, the room just inside the building’s triple-arched side entrance now has jewel-coloured Gothic ceilings and 22-carat gilded cornices beneath which diners will imbibe cocktails before adjourning to the 120-seat fine-dining restaurant.

The only new rooms are the 189 bedrooms in the extension to the rear, and bathrooms for the 38 Victorian suites in the original building. “When the hotel opened in 1871,” says Royden Stock , the building’s caretaker for more than 13 years, “there were only eight baths, in four rooms. Most people, if they wanted a wash, would ring for water to be brought to their rooms.”

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