Cheers! Celebrating 150 years of St Pancras station

The Victorian locomotive used on the Burton to London line which is now on view at the National Brew

The Victorian locomotive used on the Burton to London line which is now on view at the National Brewery Centre in Burton. - Credit: Archant

London’s St Pancras is no stranger to people living in St Albans and they can follow the station’s fascinating history and its close links to beer and brewing as the Grade I-listed Gothic building celebrates its 150th anniversary.

A brewer's dray delivering Lost Rivers beer to St Pancras.

A brewer's dray delivering Lost Rivers beer to St Pancras. - Credit: Archant

The station opened in 1868 with the key aim of bringing beer from Burton-on-Trent to London. The principal role of the new railway system in the 19th century was to transport goods, not people, and it opened up Britain to brewers in Burton, which at the time was the most important brewing town in the country.

The Special beer on sale in the Betjeman Arms at St Pancras.

The Special beer on sale in the Betjeman Arms at St Pancras. - Credit: Archant

Burton brewers were at the forefront of the pale ale revolution in the Victorian period. When the first trains steamed into Burton in 1839 the brewers were able to send beer at speed to such important towns and cities as Derby and Birmingham.

When the tracks extended to London, the brewers found they could convey beer to the capital at a pace that would have seemed unimaginable when coaches and canals offered the only means of transport.

Bass, the biggest brewer in the town, rented a large warehouse in London close to St Pancras. It had a capacity of 120,000 barrels and a workforce of 150 men, where wooden hogsheads, each containing 54 gallons, were broken down into smaller casks and bottles for delivery to pubs.

A year later, Bass moved this operation to the cellars of the station itself. The large space, known as the Undercroft, was designed by engineer W H Barlow, who used iron columns and girders to maximise space.

He said that “the length of a beer barrel became the unit of measure, upon which all the arrangements of this floor were based”. The Undercroft is now the departure lounge for Eurostar passengers.

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The cost advantages of the railway were considerable. Before the arrival of the train, it cost £3 to transport one ton of ale – approximately five barrels – to London for a journey that lasted more than a week. The same amount of ale was sent to London in a few hours by train at a cost of 15 shillings.

The impact of fast transport, lower costs and higher profits was far-reaching. The total production of beer in Burton increased from some 70,000 barrels a year in 1840 to 300,000 10 years later. By 1867, Bass was brewing close to one million barrels a year, making it the biggest brewer in the world.

Thanks to St Pancras, Londoners were introduced to a new style of beer – pale ale. Due to the mineral-rich spring waters of the Trent Valley, the Burton brewers were able to make fine pale beers and they became available to Londoners who were more used to dark porter and stout.

The owners of St Pancras International, HS1, commissioned a special beer to celebrate the station’s anniversary. It comes from the Lost Rivers Brewing Company in London and is a 4.5 per cent India Pale Ale.

Lost Rivers, as its name suggests, not only produces beer but promotes the lost rivers of London. One is the Fleet that gave its name to Fleet Street, former centre of the newspaper industry, and which ran under St Pancras Station.

Lost Rivers has not yet completed its brewery and the IPA was brewed for it by Charles Wells in Bedford: Bedford also has close associations with St Pancras as the starting point of the Thameslink line.

The beer is on sale in the Betjeman Arms at St Pancras and in other outlets at the station. A bottled version is due to appear in mid February and several retailers are interested in stocking it. The first batch was delivered by horse-drawn dray from Young’s, the former Wandsworth brewery: its subsidiary, Geronimo Inns, runs the Betjeman Arms.

There will be a series of events at the station throughout the year, with a beer festival planned for October. The events will mark the history of St Pancras, how it survived two World Wars, and the role of women workers at the station.

Post World War Two, the station became rundown and was earmarked for closure, with its services due to be taken over by neighbouring King’s Cross.

But a vigorous campaign led by poet and train lover Sir John Betjeman saved the station. It has enjoyed a remarkable renaissance as the terminus for HS1 and Eurostar.

It has fine shopping malls, restaurants and a hotel – plus the pianos on the main concourse where travellers can pause to tinkle the ivories.

Go and marvel at the architecture, the rich history, the beery associations and sample a pint of IPA in the Betjeman Arms. It will be worth missing a few trains for.