A new high-speed link between London and mainland Europe opened today, with its terminus at St Pancras International. The area around the station is a treasure trove for visiting scientists.
St Pancras International is, by any standards, an impressive destination. The Victorian terminus reopened today after lengthy restoration work, and a complete refit to accommodate high-speed trains from the continent. The station is worth a visit in its own right, fronted by Sir George Gilbert Scott’s Gothic revival hotel and enclosed beneath a formidable single-span roof. It also sports the world’s longest champagne bar and a high-end shopping arcade.
On leaving the station, the first-time visitor might be disappointed that the surrounding area does not live up to this grand introduction to the capital. Euston Road, on which the station sits, is one of the city’s busiest roads, and the neighbouring architecture can only be described as egregious. As is so often the case in London, however, unpromising neighbourhoods can hold real jewels if you know where to look. And it just so happens that this particular neighbourhood holds some of the the most impressive scientific resources in the capital.
Use the map below to navigate to these institutions. 1 Indicates St Pancras itself. An interactive version is available through Google Maps.
The British Library 2 contains some 150 million items, and is housed in the largest public building constructed in the UK in the 20th Century. Among its treasures are Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne Gospels and a notebook of Leonardo Da Vinci. Researchers can enjoy one of the foremost reference collections of scientific journals, books and patent resources. The library and its conference centre also host regular events of interest to scientists.
Note also the prominent imagery of science in the forecourt, which contains Eduardo Paolozzi’s statue of Isaac Newton and a sculpture known as ‘The Planets’ by Antony Gormley.
It only opened in July, but the Wellcome Collection 3 has already established itself as one of London’s premier venues for the public understanding of science. Two permanent galleries showcase medical curios from Sir Henry Wellcome’s vast collection, plus art and artifacts to represent the state of modern medicine. A gallery on the ground floor houses temporary themed exhibitions, such as ‘The Heart’ and the upcoming ‘Sleeping and dreaming’.
The centre also puts on an innovative range of events. To coincide with The Heart exhibition, the Wellcome Collection allowed an audience to watch the first ever broadcast of a live heart transplant. The patient later came to Euston Road to view her excised organ, which was displayed as part of the exhibition.
Medical researchers should make use of the art deco Wellcome Library, which contains books, manuscripts, archives, films and pictures relating to the history of medicine. Then unwind in the superb Peyton and Byrne cafetaria and associated Blackwell’s book shop. A Member’s Room upstairs encourages networking amongst the movers and shakers of the medical world.
UCL and its museums
The main campus of University College London is a 10 minute walk from St Pancras. Two of the capital’s smaller museums lurk among the warren of lecture halls and laboratories.
Fans of pickled animals may care to visit the the Grant Museum of Zoology 4. The collection of over 55,000 specimens was founded by Robert Grant in 1827 as a teaching resource. Recent investment has improved the museum’s profile, with regular events drawing in the crowds.
The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology 5 contains one of the world’s largest collections of Egyptian artifacts, yet gets little publicity. Highlights include the earliest examples of glazing and metalwork from the Nile Valley, and ancient papyrus wills. Like the Grant, it was created as a teaching resource, in 1892. The collection swelled thanks to heroic feats of excavation from William Flinders Petrie, who contributed many exhibits and his name to the museum.
Several other notable features are worth seeking out at UCL. The main entrance sports a matching pair of observatories, decommissioned long ago thanks to the effects of Bloomsbury’s light pollution. Display cabinets containing early scientific instruments are peppered throughout the buildings. And then, there’s the famous ‘auto icon’ of Jeremy Bentham—the dressed up skeleton of the Georgian social reformer and philosopher. Meanwhile, nearby blue plaques commemorate the first use of anaesthetic in England and a former home of Charles Darwin. The latter plaque lies close to the site of one of the world’s first railway tracks. Richard Trevithick’s Catch me who can amused visitors in 1808 by conveying them round a short, circular track, pulled by an early steam locomotive.
Trevithick’s ‘Catch me who can’ on the site of UCL’s Chadwick Building.
Camley Street Natural Park
Tucked behind the railway lands of St Pancras is a hidden oasis of calm. The Camley Street reserve 6 contains two acres of managed meadow and marshland. It provides a haven for birds, amphibians and small mammals in an area surrounded by building sites, depots and rail infrastructure. In the summer, you can also spot the occasional lunching Nature employee, on a short break from our offices on Crinan Street 7.
Top image of St Pancras International is from Darquati’s Flickr Photostream. Reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic license.