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The Knowledge

A former security guard parlays a childhood obsession into an unlikely career

Author Chris Wright

ILLUSTRATION BY PETER OUMANSKI

LONDON—Royden Stock is a substantial man. With his black suit and stubble of gray hair, he looks like someone who can handle himself—and he has spent most of his professional life trading on the fact that he can. Yet here he is, standing below a frescoed ceiling, musing over Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene.

As resident historian at London’s St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Stock makes it his job to know about such things. Situated in George Gilbert Scott’s massive Gothic Revival masterpiece, the Renaissance is as much a museum as it is a hotel, an array of columns and cornices, mosaics and murals, all restored to within a dab of their 19th-century origins.

When asked if there’s anyone who knows more about the place than he does, Stock frowns. “No. I’d be happy to argue that one with anybody,” he says. “I could talk about this building for five hours, just from what’s in my head.” That’s a good thing, as he spends about five hours a day leading tours around here.

Stock first came across the old St. Pancras Station as a boy, in the 1960s. By then it was derelict, “filthy and unloved.” He would watch the windows, waiting for ghouls to appear. Later in life, he worked as a minder for the ska band Bad Manners, and then in security jobs—one of which took him back to the wreck that had spooked him as a kid, but this time he got a chance to see the interior. “I took one look and fell in love with it,” he says.

That year, 1996, Stock’s firm was hired to do security for the site. In his role as supervisor, Stock was able to connect with—then work for—the developer overhauling the property to create the Renaissance. And within a month of the hotel’s opening in 2011, Stock came on as historian. “I’ve been very lucky,” he says. “Never in a million years did I dream.”

Later, Stock begins his first tour of the day. “There are 2,300 fleurs-de-lis painted on these walls,” he tells the group, beginning a monologue that barely lets up for 90 minutes. All the information Stock has at his disposal is self-taught, the result of an obsessive interest. “I could continue my research until the day I die,” he says, “and I still wouldn’t know it all.”

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