Today is the feast day of Saint Pancras whose life I will focus on briefly. Chiefly, though, I want to talk about the area of London, St Pancras, that is informally named for him, in part because I stayed there a couple of months ago and found it somewhat appealing (and rather new to me), especially because of the grand old Victorian train station.
St Pancras was a Roman citizen who converted to Christianity, and was beheaded for his faith at the age of 14 around the year 304. Traditionally, St Pancras is the second of the Ice Saints. The Ice Saints’ days span May 11th to 13th which, in many northern European countries, are superstitiously considered to be a time when the spring experiences a cold snap (the opposite of Indian Summer in autumn).
Because he was said to have been martyred at the age of 14 during the persecution under Diocletian, Pancras would have been born around 289, at a place designated as “near Synnada,” a city of Phrygia Salutaris, to parents of Roman citizenship. His mother Cyriada died during childbirth, while his father Cleonius died when Pancras was 8 years old. Pancras was entrusted to his uncle Dionysius’ care. They both moved to Rome to live in a villa on the Caelian Hill. They converted to Christianity, and Pancras became a zealous adherent of the religion.
During the persecution of Christians by Emperor Diocletian, around 303 he was brought before the authorities and asked to perform a sacrifice to the Roman gods. Diocletian, impressed with the boy’s determination to resist, promised him wealth and power, but Pancras refused, and finally the emperor ordered him to be beheaded on the Via Aurelia, on 12 May 303. This traditional year of his martyrdom cannot be squared with the saint’s defiance of Diocletian in Rome, which the emperor had not visited since 286. A Roman matron named Ottavilla reputedly recovered Pancras’ body, covered it with balsam, wrapped it in precious linens, and buried it in a newly built sepulchre dug in the Catacombs of Rome. Pancras’ head was placed in the reliquary that supposedly still exists today in the Basilica of Saint Pancras.
Devotion to Pancras definitely existed from the 5th century onwards, because the basilica of Saint Pancras was built by Pope Symmachus (498-514), on the place where the body of the young martyr was supposed to have been buried. Pope Gregory the Great (540 – 604) gave impetus to the cult of Pancras, sending Augustine to England carrying relics of that saint and including his legend in Liber in gloria martyrum (for this reason, many English churches are dedicated to Pancras.
St Pancras Old Church in London is one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in England. Information panels outside the church today state that it “stands on one of Europe’s most ancient sites of Christian worship, possibly dating back to the early 4th century” and has been a “site of prayer and meditation since 314 AD.” The case for these claims seems first to have been argued by local historian Charles Lee in 1955, who wrote:
There can be little doubt that a Roman encampment was situated opposite the site of St Pancras Church about this period, and that the church is on the site of a Roman Compitum, which served as a centre of public worship and public meeting… It seems probable that the Roman Compitum at St Pancras was adapted to Christian worship shortly after the restoration of religious freedom in 313 (taking its name from the recently-martyred Pancras).
Lee’s “Roman encampment” was “Caesar’s Camp at Pancras called the Brill”, identified by the antiquary William Stukeley in the 1750s. However, even Stukeley’s contemporaries could see no trace of this camp, and considered that Stukeley had let his imagination run away with him. Gillian Tindall has suggested that the lumps and bumps in the fields to the west of the church that Stukeley interpreted as a Roman camp were actually traces of the original medieval village of St. Pancras, before the center of the settlement moved north to the area now known as Kentish Town.
Originally, the parish of St Pancras stretched from close to Oxford Street almost to Highgate. In the early Middle Ages there was a center of population in the vicinity of what is now known as the old church. However, in the 14th century the population abandoned the site and moved to what is now Kentish Town. The reasons for this were probably the vulnerability of the plain around the church to flooding (the River Fleet, which is now underground, runs through it) and the availability of better wells at Kentish Town, where there is less clay in the soil. The church subsequently fell into disrepair. Towards the end of the 18th century, services were only held in the church on one Sunday each month; on other weeks, the same congregation would use a chapel in Kentish Town. It lost its status as the parish church when the New Church on what was to become the Euston Road was consecrated in 1822, and became a chapel of ease.
St Pancras railway station is a Victorian gem which in the 1960s (when most people, myself included, considered it a gaudy monstrosity) was scheduled to be demolished. Instead, it was smartened up and renovated. Now I find it quite attractive (still a bit gaudy), and glad it was preserved to represent Victorian London – the kind of railway station Sherlock Holmes would have used (Baker Street is not far away). The station was commissioned by the Midland Railway in the 1860s. Before then the company had a network of routes in the Midlands, and in south and west Yorkshire and Lancashire but no route of its own to the capital. Up to 1857 the company had no line into London, and used the lines of the London and North Western Railway for trains into the capital. After 1857 the company’s Leicester and Hitchin Railway gave access to London via the Great Northern Railway.
In 1862, traffic for the second International Exhibition suffered extensive delays over the stretch of line into London over the Great Northern Railway’s track; the route into London via the London and North Western was also at capacity, with coal trains causing the network at Rugby and elsewhere to reach effective gridlock. This was the stimulus for the Midland to build its own line to London from Bedford.
The station was designed by William Henry Barlow. The approaching line to the station crossed the Regent’s Canal resulting in the level of the line at St Pancras being 12 to 17 ft (3.7 to 5.2 m) above ground level. Initial plans were for a two or three span roof with the void between station and ground level filled with spoil from tunneling to join the Midland Main Line to the St. Pancras branch. Instead, due to the value of the land in such a location the lower area was used for freight, in particular beer from Burton. As a result the undercroft was built with columns and girders, maximizing space, set out to the same plans as those used for beer warehouses, and with a basic unit of length that of a beer barrel.
I’ve called on Mrs Beeton for a suitable Victorian recipe, and come up with gravy soup. In some ways this soup reminds me of the potential for English cooking to be questionable, and for railway cafeterias to perpetuate that idea. But . . . it has interesting (and redeeming) features. The quantities alone suggest to me that Beeton copied this recipe from an older cookbook used for giant households. But she gives a note on endive, as it is used in the recipe, noting that it was a very common ingredient in and around London at the time. She also uses two sauces in the recipe: Harvey’s and Leamington. Harvey’s sauce was a proprietary brand made by fermenting anchovies, and for Leamington sauce she specifically notes that this is her own recipe. I’d suggest giving it a go, but cutting down on the 11 pounds of meat. Below her recipe for Leamington sauce I give a 19th century recipe for Harvey’s sauce.
- INGREDIENTS.—6 lbs. of shin of beef, a knuckle of veal weighing 5 lbs., a few pieces or trimmings, 2 slices of nicely-flavoured lean, ham; 1/4 lb. of butter, 2 onions, 2 carrots, 1 turnip, nearly a head of celery, 1 blade of mace, 6 cloves, a hunch of savoury herb with endive, seasoning of salt and pepper to taste, 3 lumps of sugar, 5 quarts of boiling soft water. It can be flavoured with ketchup, Leamington sauce (see SAUCES), Harvey’s sauce, and a little soy.
Mode.—Slightly brown the meat and ham in the butter, but do not let them burn. When this is done, pour to it the water, and as the scum rises, take it off; when no more appears, add all the other ingredients, and let the soup simmer slowly by the fire for 6 hours without stirring it any more from the bottom; take it off, and let it settle; skim off all the fat you can, and pass it through a tammy. When perfectly cold, you can remove all the fat, and leave the sediment untouched, which serves very nicely for thick gravies, hashes, &c.
Time.—7 hours. Average cost, 1s. per quart.
Seasonable all the year.
Sufficient for 14 persons.
ENDIVE.—This plant belongs to the acetarious tribe of vegetables, and is supposed to have originally come from China and Japan. It was known to the ancients; but was not introduced to England till about the middle of the 16th century. It is consumed in large quantities by the French, and in London,—in the neighbourhood of which it is grown in abundance;—it is greatly used as a winter salad, as well as in soups and stews.
LEAMINGTON SAUCE (an Excellent Sauce for Flavouring Gravies, Hashes,
- INGREDIENTS.—Walnuts. To each quart of walnut-juice allow 3 quarts of vinegar, 1 pint of Indian soy, 1 oz. of cayenne, 2 oz. of shalots, 3/4 oz. of garlic, 1/2 pint of port wine.
Mode.—Be very particular in choosing the walnuts as soon as they appear in the market; for they are more easily bruised before they become hard and shelled. Pound them in a mortar to a pulp, strew some salt over them, and let them remain thus for two or three days, occasionally stirring and moving them about. Press out the juice, and to each quart of walnut-liquor allow the above proportion of vinegar, soy, cayenne, shalots, garlic, and port wine. Pound each ingredient separately in a mortar, then mix them well together, and store away for use in small bottles. The corks should be well sealed.
Seasonable.—This sauce should be made as soon as walnuts are obtainable, from the beginning to the middle of July.
Original Recipe from Miss Leslie’s Directions for Cooker‘ (Philadelphia, 1851)
Dissolve six anchovies in a pint of strong vinegar, and then add to them three table-spoonfuls of India soy, and three table-spoonfuls of mushroom catchup, two heads of garlic bruised small, and a quarter of an ounce of cayenne. Add sufficient cochineal powder to colour the mixture red. Let all these ingredients infuse in the vinegar for a fortnight, shaking it every day, and then strain and bottle it for use. Let the bottles be small, and cover the corks with leather.