north british station hotel book

Edinburgh’s landmark hotel, the North British (now called the Balmoral) was opened in 1902. I’ve just bought a copy of the souvenir book (from Cooper Hay books in Glasgow) that was published to commemorate the opening; and it is most beautifully illustrated and typeset. It contains three sections – Old and New Edinburgh; a description of the hotel; and then a gazetteer of the places covered by the NBR’s routes throughout Scotland. And a lovely big routemap tipped in at the back too. What the guests that day would think of Hallam Foe…

NB is journey’s northern end for Auden’s Night Mail. As railway hotels are a focus of intense transience, whilst remaining themselves the static empty vessel for these fleeting flickers, they do take on a weight of – well this is where it gets subjective. All I can say for myself is that they hold a fascination beyond their architectural iconography. Central Hotel in Glasgow, like the Balmoral, also has this feeling (Central’s currently being renovated). And of course the mother and father of them all has it too – the newly restored St Pancras Hotel, the model for Chhatrapati Shivaji in Mumbai. Cultural hegemony at its finest.

I once did a brochure for the Balmoral’s downstairs bar, No. 1 Princes Street. The third picture shows the main hotel brochure used at that time, done by an agency in London I think, with vogueish soft-blur photography. I’ve appropriated A day in the life (also a reference to simple minds’ first album Life in a day, which has always stuck with me since seeing it in Bruces’ record shop on shandwick place) for the title of a piece musing on Waverley station for PsyGeoEdinburgh.

one day is a lifetime under the canopy of ghosts
From the arrival of the 19:00 Kings Cross to Waverley; to the departure of the 23:36 Waverley to Euston 24hrs later – our flickers are ghosted into the grain of sleepers across years, decades, eternities. So and so appears; an unknown number vanish never to return. We sit; we stand; our belongings jumble around us; fellow pilgrims delight and infuriate; our time is mostly spent engrossed in ephemera. Spun out on a zoetrope of tree and telegraph post, the train and that symbol of the industrial revolution, the precision railway clock, plots linear life-shaped trajectory, perhaps to the music of Steve Reich; or Coward’s Brief Encounter; The Archer’s Red Shoes.