Day 133 of 366: A Sense of Wonder

Standing on the main concourse of London’s St. Pancras International station is a larger-than-lifesize bronze statue of poet John Betjeman. John Betjeman was the driving force behind efforts to save the site from demolition in the 1960s, and the statue was designed to celebrate this extraordinary man as a saviour of 19th-century architecture and as one of the nation’s favourite poets.

When John Betjeman learned about the plan to demolish St. Pancras he built up an incredible campaign to save the building. The railway loving poet argued it would be criminal to destroy a building whose name conjured up wondrous images of architecture and light in the mind of every Londoner.

He wrote: “What the Londoner sees in his mind’s eye is that cluster of towers and pinnacles seen from Pentonville Hill and outlined against a foggy sunset, and the great arc of Barlow’s train shed gaping to devour incoming engines, and the sudden burst of exuberant Gothic of the hotel seen from gloomy Judd Street.”

St Pancras was given Grade 1 listed status in 1967 – the same level of protection afforded to Canterbury Cathedral and Windsor Castle.

The statue depicts him walking into the new station for the first time. He is looking up at the magnificent arc of the train shed – which he always did because it took his breath away. He is leaning back and holding onto his hat, his coat tails billowing out behind him, caught by the wind from a passing train.

Martin Jennings said: “All my choices were led by the station. What Betjeman is doing in the statue is what we all do – we look up, with an intake of breath. I have shown him as if he has walked in for the first time since the station was saved.”

Martin Jennings worked closely with the poet’s daughter Candida Lycett Green, who said: “The statue is wonderful, Martin has captured his sense of wonder on first walking into a great man-made space such as a cathedral … He always looked up at the roof – and in St. Pancras more than anywhere. He would always look up and draw his breath in wonder at the ceiling. It is, after all, the greatest station roof on earth, isn’t it?”

“It goes without saying my dad would have marvelled at the new station. He would probably have said in typical fashion, ‘let’s open some bubbly'”, said Candida Lycett Green.

The statue is standing on a disc of Cumbrian slate inscribed with Betjeman’s name and dates and the words “Who saved this glorious station”. Round the rim, Martin Jennings chose words from the poem Cornish Cliffs, the lines that aptly describe the arching roof of St Pancras station:

And in the shadowless unclouded glare
Deep blue above us fades to whiteness where
A misty sea-line meets the wash of air

John Betjeman

A Sense of Wonder

And in the shadowless unclouded glare
Deep blue above us fades to whiteness where
A misty sea-line meets the wash of air

John Betjeman

Morning Rush