James Evison pulls-in to a listed building in King's Cross station.
It's not often you visit a pub in a Grade I listed building. It's even less often you visit a pub with this much history that wasn't even a pub until six years ago. And yet this is the story of the Parcel Yard in Kings Cross.
Owned by Network Rail and run by Sinead Murphy, the pub is a sprawling station boozer with a difference. It was formerly the Great Northern Railway parcel sorting office – and stood empty for years. Indeed, when JK Rowling was busy in the 1990s inventing Platform 9¾ next to it, she would have found a couple of pigeons rather than a cheeky pint.
Fuller's took on the site with Network Rail as its landlord when the station was regenerated in 2012, turning an abandoned building into a railway-themed pub. But, as Sinead explains, the Grade I listing created a number of challenges.
She says: "Network Rail owns the building and for the whole refurbishment we had to work with them on the various design issues.
"As you would expect, you have to adhere to a lot of things – like the paint we use. Also, we can't put holes in the wall willy-nilly. Network Rail keep an eye on what we are doing, and everything has to go through them."
"Our main issue is that we are so high-volume, but the quality of the renovation is all — and this helps with the upkeep."
The refurbishment of a listed building delivered real oddities. She gives an example: "The wiring was 24cm out from where it should have been, so this was moved. But when it was inspected, they said 'no, that will have to go back the way it was'."
The floorboards across the pub were retrieved from the station floor during the overall regeneration. Grimy from the soles of decades of commuter shoes, you would think they would be unusable. Not so.
"We have a high footfall obviously as a station pub," Sinead continues, "so we have had to replace some of the boards. It was important to keep as much of the history as possible, and Network Rail seem to have a supply of them, so we have been able to replace like for like."
Inevitably there were some issues which were very specific to the 21st century.
"The ceiling of the atrium area had to be bomb-proof. And we have a full set of fire doors throughout the pub. But where possible we have kept to the original fabric of the building."
Sinead says the utilities and beer lines aren't too much of a problem for such an old building. The pub has two cellars fitted, serving the main bar areas, which are spread over two floors.
But the actual cellaring is less of an issue than the cask and keg delivery in the morning, which one would expect from such a large, complex station site.
The drayman deliver two floors below the pub – and it takes two lifts to even access the loading bay.
Sinead explains: "We have a delivery bay policed by Network Rail staff at all times. Then you have an allocated slot, so we have our telephones manned all the time, and we are then called to get the delivery.
"This is the same for all food and other deliveries – you can't just have things come through the front door. The station is observant, as it has to be."
I'm interviewing Sinead during the mid-afternoon lull, and the site is busy even then. Surely it is an incredible feat to run a pub – let alone one with such huge volume – in a Grade I building?
Sinead smiles: "Everything is quite straightforward really. But, yes, in terms of the upkeep of the building, everyone that comes into the building to do repairs has to be prepared and signed off. They must do a risk assessment two weeks in advance of carrying out the work."
She has worked in pubs across the City of London – some of which are also listed – and you get the impression that she knows how to keep things running well.
"It's just keeping on top of things, I've been at some pubs where if you let it slide, you have problems."
And do they get a lot of Great Northern Rail enthusiasts visiting?
"We really do!" she says. "We get people coming in that are train fans — and those who have just heard about what we have done to the building."
"It's great to see people go 'wow' at the renovation."
Pub: The Parcel Yard
Location: King's Cross station, London
Landlord: Network Rail
Pub company: Fuller's
On the menu:
London Porter smoked salmon, golden pride
sourdough, caper butter