Revival and Discovery
Having fallen into disrepair, interest in St Pancras Old Church was revived in the Victorian era and substantial restoration was undertaken.
Treasures of more than one sort where found as a result of the works and missing parts of the history of the church once again were re-connected
The turn of the tide
By the mid nineteenth century, a hundred years of the Industrial Revolution had scattered many a country population and turned villages into ghost towns. The Old Church of St Pancras had always been somewhat isolated, and now the City had drawn the parish’s centre of gravity further and further towards itself. In 1822 all parochial rights were transferred to the new parish church in Euston Road, half a mile away to the South. The Old church became a Chapel of Ease and gradually fell into disuse. By 1847 it was derelict and virtually in ruins.
Ebb was followed by flow. The City had emptied the ancient parish; now it moved to engulf it. A tide of industry, and with it a swell of population, marched Northwards. By the 1840s St Pancras and Somers Town were teeming with life and there was talk of doing something about the old parish church. Restoration of the ruined building, Victorian style, was carried out in 1847-48.
Until 1847, a feature of the church had been the 13th century West tower, with its charming cover and weather vane. Tragically, in the course of restoration, the whole of this tower was taken down.
However, excavating in the old foundations, the workmen stumbled across the solution to a two centuries old mystery: the whereabouts of the treasures hidden from Cromwell’s troops. Six feet down under the floor of the tower, they found an exquisite Elizabethan silver chalice and an Elizabethan/Jacobean flagon, both part of the missing collection of church plate. Most gratifyingly of all, they unearthed the VI century altar stone – intact, but unfortunately without any trace of the holy relics associated with it.
Subsequent studies of the stone have led to some interesting hypotheses. It was found to be marked with five consecration crosses of curious shape. These are of a form said to be found in only one other place: on the tomb of Ethne, the mother of St Columba, who died in 597. If this is so, it would seem to date the stone in the late 6th or early 7th century, and to confirm still further the antiquity of the church itself. It also points to a connection with the Celtic Christians via the Kingdom of Northumbria, which extended much further south than is usually realised.
The fact that the stone is of Kentish Rag has led to a good deal of conjecture; but there is no evidence as yet to support the attractive hypothesis that it served as an altar for St Augustine. The first mention of it is found in an inventory of church goods made in 1251 and now kept in the library of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. The stone itself was restored to its rightful place inlaid in the top surface of the High Altar,where it remains to this day.