The Summer holidays always provide an opportunity for the Boys & I to have a meander around the huge Kings Cross Development in order to catch up on the work that’s taken place in the last year.

Not least of the changes was the hugely successful revealing/unveiling of the frontage of Kings Cross station after getting on for 50 years cloaked in a 1970’s facade. In fact an unimparred view of the frontage has not been possible for nearly 150 years. The redevelopment of the frontage was awarded an EU Prize for Cultural Heritage in the area of conservation.

Hopefully the following images show why this remarkable, harmonious piece of architectural design has, from nowhere, rapidly become one of my favourite buildings.

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Arrival of Queen Victoria at the new King’s Cross Station, by an unknown artist (possibly Lewis Cubitt?) about 1852

The Great Northern Railway (GNR) reached London in 1850. The ‘final push’ was accelerated by the GNR Directors’ desire to take advantage of traffic to and from the Great Exhibition of 1851. In order to open in time, a temporary station was built at Maiden Lane (now York Way). It was, with commendable honesty, officially named “The London Temporary Passenger Station”.

Maiden Lane opened to passengers on 7th August 1850. The surroundings of the new station were not very auspicious, consisting of and enormous midden, ruined fields, industry brickfields, a Fever Hospital, and slum housing. The station does not appear to have been very substantial, but it did have a roof. It survived on the site of the currently in-restoration potato warehouse.

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Line engraving of the original Kings Cross arches in 1852. Note the platforms on the far left and far right only.

Shortly after the temporary station opened, on 24th October 1850, Lewis Cubitt presented his plans for a permanent station at Kings Cross. Lewis Cubitt reportedly described the temporary station as ‘unsafe’, and the Board accepted and approved his plans. By January 1852, reports requested by the Board describe the rate of construction as being satisfactory. Despite it being the most publically visible piece of GNR architecture, the Board was remarkably quiet and surprisingly unconcerned about the station’s progress and imminent opening.

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The ‘Great Station’ finally opened on 14th October 1852 and was quickly regarded as architecturally startling with a pair of yawning “train sheds”. Although this shape has survived to the present day, the original construction used laminated timber beams and not the girders familiar today. By modern standards, usage of this huge space was very inefficient. The station opened with just two platforms (against the east and west walls), and fourteen tracks. Attendant offices and passenger rooms were located on the west platform, which was used for departures. The east platform (aligned with York Way) handled arrivals only. Most of the tracks were used for storage and had no platform access. Small turntables and capstans allowed for rolling stock to be moved without the help of a locomotive.

It only took a few years for this simple track layout to prove inadequate, when in 1858 the Midland Railway started to run services from Hitchin to Kings Cross. This was accompanied by continued growth in Great Northern traffic. During the 1860s, tunnels were bored connecting the GNR to the east-west Metropolitan Railway’s Widened Lines. These included a platform on the ‘Up’ curve under York Way (closed in 1976). These tunnels now carry the Thameslink services.

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1852 Drawing of Kings Cross frontage
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Even by the 1870’s the graceful frontage was being obscured, albeit by what looks like quite an elegant glass and wrought iron awning and pavilion.
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Kings Cross emerging from the gloom, late 1870’s
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The detail of the awning can be made out in this image from 1873, as can the frantic bustle of the surrounding streets…
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The frontage in 1914.
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By the 1920’s the frontage of the terminus seems to have been rationalised a little… note the directions to the Metropolitan Line station.
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A surprisingly calm view, 1926.
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This image of the station, taken in 1927, shows more detail of the frontage, with only a small portion of the original pavilion remaining, though the awning is in clear view. A substantial row of shops now further distracts the view of the terminus. Note Kings Cross has moved on from the Great Northern to LNER ownership.
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A wonderfully atmospheric 1940s view of Kings Cross…
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By 1952 the huddle of buildings cluttering the frontage are looking down at heel…
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and so, in the 1960’s, many of the buildings were demolished to create a temporary carpark!
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The forecourt in 1973, this lightly framed structure which would later become a drab symbol of urban decay was deemed an award-winning positive addition to the station at the time.
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It doesn’t look so bad here…
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But, I suspect this is how most of us remember it.
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As part of the Kings Cross project the whole frontage was demolished…
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It took nearly a decade of chaos to move from this…
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To this… the mock-up is a pretty fair representation of what was built, or ‘un-built’.
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With Cubitt’s frontage finally being revealed…
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In all it’s elegant…
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…glory!

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2 thoughts on “King’s Cross

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