Sunday, January 6, 2019

King's Cross St.Pancras

The tube station serves both King's Cross and St Pancras rail stations  as well as six different tube lines. It is the most used station on the network with 11 entrances and four ticket halls. KCSP was opened in 1863 as King's Cross station and after a number of extensions and links to other railway lines it was formally renamed in 1933.

On 18th November 1987, a passenger reported a small fire on the up escalator. It was reported as a minor incident and the fire brigade were on site within 10 mins. However, a few minutes later a fireball erupted from the Northern/Piccadilly escalators and set the ticket hall on fire. It took 6 hours to bring the fire under control. It killed 31 people. The, then, unknown phenomenon of the 'trench effect' made the fire  develop upwards and caused it to explode in the ticket hall.  Following the fire extensive work was carried out at the station to improve passenger flow and reduce congestion. Work began in 2000 and incorporated the expansion of St Pancras station which was to become the new terminal for Eurostar services to France and Belgium.

I walked up the stairs to the King's Cross National Rail concourse which opened in March 2012 in time for the London Olympics. Trains from this station take you to the North of England and Scotland.  It is the only  station in the UK to have a Platform 0.

And as Harry Potter fans know there is also a platform 9 3/4 where Harry and fellow school mates caught the train to Hogworts. There is always a long queue waiting to have their photograph taken pushing the trolley.

I left King's Cross station via a walkway which took me through to St Pancras station.
St Pancras station was built in 1866 as the London terminus of the Midland Railway. When it was built the train shed was the largest single structure ever built.

Beneath the clock in St Pancras International station, London, you will find this 20 tonne bronze statue called 'The Meeting'.

Created by Paul Day it stands over 30 ft high and tries to reflect the romantic side of travelling. Modelled on himself and his half-French wife, the sculptor wanted to show the meeting between an Englishman and his French lover. (St Pancras is home to the Eurostar train, London's gateway to Europe.) The statue has had many critics who felt it was too large and detracted from the beautiful railway station's architecture.

Below the statue is a frieze depicting different journeys on a railway theme.

John Betjeman, the poet, was instrumental in the saving of the station when it was threatened with demolition in the 1960s.

On the lower level of the station there are numerous shops, bars and restaurants. There is also a piano. Pianos are becoming a feature in a number of rail stations. Anyone can play it if they wish. Fortunately, I have only heard accomplished players taking advantage of the instruments and not those whose repertoire just consists of 'chopsticks'!

Across the front of the station is this red brick gothic facade of the St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel, previously called The Midland Grand Hotel. It was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and was the last and most extravagant of the great railway hotels.

Leaving St Pancras station I turned left to walk across the large expanse of King's Cross Square to get a better view of the frontage of King's Cross station.

One half of the Square is dominated by a Henry Moore sculpture.  I walked through the Square to Gray's Inn Road.

On the corner of Pentonville and Gray's Inn Road is a building known as 'The Lighthouse'. Its origins are not known although there have been a number of explanations over the years. The most popular theory was that the lighthouse was advertising the building's original purpose as an oyster house. Legend has it that when fresh oysters were delivered the beacon would light up. The building was erected in 1875 but was left to deteriorate for many years. However with the regeneration of the area the building has been brought back to life and will be used as office accommodation.

 Walked a little further on to the Scala building. The King's Cross Cinema (Scala) was almost completed when the first World War began.  So it never opened as a cinema as planned but was first used to manufacture parts for planes. Once the war ended in 1918 it became a local labour exchange for demobilised soldiers returning from the war. It was finally completed in 1920 and opened as the King's Cross Cinema. The cinema offered a three hour programme accompanied by a 20 piece orchestra and could seat 1000 people. It went through a number of different guises over the next few decades including closures but finally reopened on a more permanent basis as a venue of note in 1999 following a radical transformation.

Next door is a Travelodge hotel  which used to be the home of the Willing Family who had made their money from billboard advertising.

On top of the building is a statue of Hermes, the messenger of the gods, an appropriate statue for a family  involved in advertising.

I turned off the very busy and noisy Gray's Inn Road and walked round the back to the quiet Georgian Argyle  square.
A number of the houses are small hotels or B and Bs. In the late 18th century the square was a Victorian dust heap. This is where bins of ashes and cinders from the coal fires and other detritus from wealthy families were deposited. These dust heaps became big business. People were employed to sieve through the muck to see what they could find which they might be able to sell. But the most lucrative substance was the ashes which was an essential ingredient in the making of bricks.

From the square I returned to the Euston Road to have a look at the British Library which is next to St Pancras station.

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and is one of the largest libraries in the world. This purpose built building opened in 1973. Prior to that the library was part of the British Museum. Its collections include more than 150 million items in over 400 languages. The library receives a copy of every publication produced in the UK and Ireland.  This requires over 625 km of shelving which grows by 12 km a year. The collections are  spread over 14 floors, 9 above ground and 5 below. The Library has many treasures including the Magna Carta, Lindisfarne Gospels, Leonardo da Vinci's notebook and the Times first edition from 18th March  1788.

Many of the historical collections are the result of donations. The 'Old Royal Library' containing 2000 manuscripts  collected by the sovereigns of England was given to the library by George II in 1757. George III donated the King's library after the death of his son George IV.  It consists of  85,000 volumes including a first printing of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and a first folio edition of Shakespeare's plays. They are housed in a six storey bronze and glass tower at the heart of the library.

Outside the library is a statue entitled 'Newton' after William Blake by Eduardo Paolozzi.

I left the library and walked down Midland Road. On the left opposite the side entrance into St Pancras station is the Francis Crick Institute, a new biomedical discovery institute dedicated to understanding the fundamental biology underlying health and illness. The Institute is named after Francis Crick who shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for physiology/medicine for the discovery of the structure of DNA. He died in 2004 but his discovery has led to scientists around the world exploring how DNA can provide the answer to a variety of diseases. The building is not just a research institute but also houses free public exhibitions.

I continued along Midland Road to these gates. They lead up to Old St Pancras Church.
The church stands on one of Europe's most ancient sites of Christian worship probably dating back to early 4th century. The present building has been here since the 11th or 12th century. During the civil war the church was used as a barracks and stable for Cromwell's troops. Before the troops arrived the church's treasures were buried to prevent them being stolen . They were rediscovered during restoration work in the 19th century. Being close to St Pancras railway station, thousands of graves were disturbed by the encroachment of Victorian railway lines .

Today the church is a thriving parish church at the centre of the local community. Inside the church are a number of remarkable monuments.

This drinking fountain was gifted to the church in 1877 by William Thornton,a senior church warden. In 1968 the Beatles were photographed here spitting water at the camera lenses.

Before becoming an author and poet Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) studied architecture under the supervision of a Mr Blomfield. During the 1860s the Midland railway was going to be built over part of St Pancras Churchyard. This meant that the bodies buried there had to be exhumed and moved. The Bishop of London employed Mr Blomfield to carry out the task, who then gave the unenviable job to Mr Hardy.
Hardy would have spent many hours in this churchyard overseeing the removal of the remains and the dismantling of the tombs. The headstones around the base of this ash tree were moved here during that time. The roots of the tree have now grown between the headstones.

Many more of the graves had to be moved were moved again in the 2000s for High Speed Rail. 

I exited the churchyard onto Canley Road and crossed over the new Somers Town bridge to the other side of  the Regent's Canal.

This area is part of the King's Cross development and this was the first time I had seen this area without all the hoardings. There are more than 20 historic buildings and structures being refurbished and reused. A lot of the work has now finished and is accessible to the public.

Three gasholders, built in 1860 were part of the King's Cross landscape for 150 years. They were used for the storage of town gas for Pancras Gasworks, the largest gasworks in London.  Gas was manufactured here using coal from the Gas, Light and Coke Company until the late 20th century when the gasworks were decommissioned.
In 2011 the gasholders were dismantled and removed to a  specialist engineering company in Yorkshire.  In 2013 they were returned to King's Cross and re-erected on a site overlooking Regent's Canal and St Pancras Basin. Two out of the three linked  frameworks sit around apartment buildings..

I thought this was a very clever way of  reusing the iconic trio of gasholders. 

The third one has been transformed into a small green area with seating and views over the Canal.

 The mirrors have been placed in such a way that they give the illusion of much more space than actually exists. 
Next to the gasholders is Coal Drops Yard. The yard was originally built to receive the trains carrying coal mined in the northeast of England. By canal the journey to London took weeks but  the railways reduced this to a few hours.

The coal drops were built in the 1850s and 60s to transfer coal from rail wagons to road carts. The brick and cast iron structure originally carried four high level railway tracks, from which wagons dropped coal into storage hoppers. From here the coal was loaded onto horse drawn carts at ground level. For most of the 20th century the coal drops were used to store goods. By the 1990s they were used as workshops, studios and nightclubs. They have now been restored and recently opened as a retail centre. It is a traffic free area full of independent boutiques, restaurants and galleries.

The coal office is part of a curved block of buildings which follow the Regent's canal where the Great Northern Railway's coal trade was administered. Built in 1851, the offices originally housed clerks who monitored the flow of. coal through the yards. The buildings were gutted by fire in 1983 and remained empty for many years but have now been renovated. The Coal Office is now the Headquarters of British designer Tom Dixon and houses a showroom,  shop and cafe.

An elevated park, Bagley Walk, runs along the front of the building connecting Gasholders Park to Granary Square. 

The granary building in the goods yard complex was completed in 1852. It was mainly used to store Lincolnshire wheat for London's bakers. Off loading from the rail carriages was made easier by cranes and turntables powered by horses. Horses were vital to the smooth running of the yard  and were well looked after. 

New stabling was created in the arches beneath the raised roadway. By 1900 the number of horses used were in the region of 1500. Fittings associated with the stables can be seen in some of the new retail units.

The granary building is now home to the arts college, Central St Martins.

I walked back across the canal towards Kings Cross station.

This is the King's Boulevard, a newly created shopping street linking the station to Granary Square.
Behind King's Boulevard is the new headquarters of Google. Facebook will also have their headquarters within the new King's Cross development.

Between the two stationsof King's Cross and St Pancras, at the end of the King's Boulevard, is the German gymnasium. It was opened in 1865 as the first purpose built gymnasium in England. The building cost £6000 and was funded solely by the German community in London. The National Olympian Association held the indoor events of the first Olympic games here in 1866. These games continued annually until the White City games in 1908. The German gymnastic Society was forward thinking with their programme with women's exercise classes taking place here from 1866. It was closed for a few years but has recently opened as a smart restaurant.

This is a new and impressive entrance to the King's Cross St Pancras underground station off the King's Boulevard.



  1. Wow that is a lot of history surrounding Kings Cross & St Pancras, never realised that was where platform 9 3/4 was. Good to see they kept the gas holer frames though I cannot see them doing that at Didcot.

  2. As usual a very informative post with great photos.

  3. Both stations are beautiful now and familiar to us. What a tragedy the fire was and I am not sure about the trench effect not being known. Years of neglect had rather a lot to do with the fire. Hopefully lessons learnt.

    It was all hoardings and blocked roads the last time we were there so it will be good to see it all clear now.

    I've always known gasholders as gasometers, but it is a moot point as I don't think any here have been saved, and certainly not like the ones you feature.

  4. Another wonderful tour. It's good to see so many old structures repurposed instead of just torn down.

  5. Another great post with so much info and great photos!

  6. An interesting walk in London.

  7. Fun to see the photos of an two stations i am quite familiar with. The area around the canal looks quite interesting and newly redone. I believe it was all construction when i was last there. What they have done is quite wonderful. I’ll be looking forward to your 20 stations this year!

  8. This is great, full of history. If I visit London in future your blog will help me for sure.

  9. What a beautiful station! And how amazing to see those tombstones among the roots of the tree.

  10. I so enjoyed reading this with my morning cup of coffee. Every time I saw something of was quickly replaced by something even more interesting. You do so much research on these posts! If you are not going to publish these for could certainly start a tour company!

  11. Wow! What a marvelous tour. I enjoyed every minute and fell head over heals for the salute of John Betjeman :)
    Thanks for allowing us to tag along.
    Connie :)

  12. Looks like an interesting place to look around.

  13. Wow what an interesting walk. So much history and so many different buildings. It is so good to see old buildings being brought back to life. The stations are magnificent too.

  14. If only I’d read your posts before we visited ....I remember the station and have a picture of myself in front of 9 3/4 ...(of course it was to impress my grandchildren, right( ?). ;)). But we missed most of what is the *real* history and beauty above the station.

  15. Sadly, we all remember King's Cross for that terrible fire. It's good to see many other facets of the station and its surroundings. That last photo is brill.

    Am I the only person who has not read Harry Potter and has no desire to do so?


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