Friday, 9 November 2007

The ancient railway revived

A marvellous post by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian about the opening of the St Pancras Eurostar terminal, which reuses the Gothic fantasy that is the Victorian St Pancras station.

What I love about this article  isn't so much the puncturing of certain hypocrites who turned up for the opening while advocating the demolition of other, equally important monuments of the Victorian railway age. It's the well researched, grateful roll-call of those who have helped to save the station, from John Betjeman to railway managers you've never heard of.

I do feel sad though in a way that the building has been so grandly 'revived'. London used to be full of marginal spaces, half-ruins, areas where you could start up a shop in an old building for nearly nothing, where artists and actors and anarchists could live on almost nothing, where things could happen, where you could just hang out. King's Cross, Bermondsey, Whitechapel, Spitalfields.

And now? There's nowhere like that left. It's all been cleaned up, formalised, taken over by gleaming buildings.

Spitalfields market for instance was a place I used to go at weekends for organic meat, second hand clothes, old books. You could rent a stall there cheaply and many people did, selling their own photographs, or second hand musical instruments. There was cheap food, there was space, you'd get drawn into an interesting conversation.

And now the space has been taken over by bright modern shops. Bright modern shops with bright modern rents. And the life has gone out of the area. Instead of informality, experiment, spontaneity, there are expensive brands, luxury, credit card symbols on every door.

London has lost something. I don't live there any more and I'm glad; it's not a city of villages any more, it's a city of mortgages.

But with St Pancras revived, at least the city hasn't completely lost its Victorian roots.

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