[Image: Simon Bradley and St Pancras].
The book is fantastically interesting, even for an American reader, like myself, who doesn’t have regular contact with the structure; the building, it turns out, is full of built-in eccentricities, and its existence as part of a much larger Victorian rail network is significant of remarkable social – and even dietary – changes elsewhere.
The internal spacing of the train shed, for instance, is based around a rather unique structural module: the dimensions of a barrel of Bass Ale. Bradley explains that William Henry Barlow, the 19th-century consulting engineer for Midland Railway,
dispensed with the normal mid-Victorian structural system of brick piers and arches in favour of even ranks of some eight hundred uniform cast-iron columns. These supported a grid of two thousand wrought-iron girders, which in turn underlay the iron plates on which the tracks and platforms rested. The spacing of the columns at centres just over 14 feet apart was calculated to match the plans of the beer warehouses of Burton-upon-Trent, where the same figure derived from a multiple of the standard local cask. And so, in Barlow’s words, ‘the length of a beer barrel became the unit of measure upon which all the arrangements of this floor were based’.
This, in turn, has structural implications at other points within St. Pancras, ramifying these Burtonian measurements throughout the station’s archways.
There are loads of other points to bring up here but I’ll have to resist, as 1) I’m working on a larger article about St. Pancras in which these other points will be explored, and 2) I’ll be speaking to Bradley tomorrow live at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in South Kensington, in a joint interview with Mary Beard, editor of the Wonders of the World series, at 10am.