King's Cross Voices

History of King's Cross

The story of King’s Cross begins with the Fleet River and a small settlement, which grew up at a place known as Battle Bridge, named after an ancient crossing of the Fleet River which flows beneath, near the northern end of present-day Gray’s Inn Road.

Some of the earliest enterprises in the area were the spas, which developed around the Fleet's springs, becoming fashionable resorts in the eighteenth century. It was, however, an early attempt at traffic planning which determined the area’s fate. Thomas Coram built the Foundling Hospital for children in 1742-1747 just south of the present day King's Cross and ten years later, in 1756, the New Road was cut across the fields from east to west to channel traffic away from the city centre. Today, as the ever-busy Euston Road, it serves the same purpose.

By the early-nineteenth century Battle Bridge had become a depressing place. It was low lying and subject to flooding. The Smallpox Hospital had been built in 1769 and a fever hospital was added in 1802. It had become notorious for its tile kilns, rubbish tips and noxious trades.  The Regent’s Canal, opened in 1820, attracted other industries such as gas works. A rescue attempt was made in 1829. How different it could have been if the Panarmonion project, offering recreational and cultural activities, had been a success. It's failure led to the site being developed for housing, leaving only Argyle Square as open space. Associated with the plan was a statue of King George IV built in the middle of the road junction. It gave the area a new name - King’s Cross.

Railways

To most people the area is synonymous with the station. The arrival of King’s Cross Station in 1852 followed by St Pancras in 1868 had an enormous impact, establishing it as an entry point to London for visitors, immigrants and goods from the north. The construction of the Underground lines confirmed it as a major interchange. For the people who lived in King’s Cross these developments were a mixed blessing, providing work but also great upheaval.  he expansion of land taken for railway use involved the demolition of whole streets of what were generally considered as slums, but many lost their homes and this added to overcrowding in the small terraced houses to the south of Euston Road. Model housing blocks such as Stanley Buildings, Derby Buildings, the late-Victorian flats of the Hillview Estate and more recent council flats are examples of projects to provide the district with good, affordable housing.

Still surviving today, however, is St Pancras Old Church.  It is named after Saint Pancras, a fourteen year old boy beheaded in Rome in 304 for his faith. A church was founded on this spot some years later making it quite possibly one of the oldest Christian sites in Britain. It stands in St Pancras Gardens, the former burial grounds of both St Pancras and St Giles in the Fields parishes. The coroner’s court, built in 1881, was erected on a piece of ground  used for the reburial of the remains of closely packed decomposing bodies which had been exhumed during Midland Railway’s approach works to St Pancras Station in 1866.

Once the fortunes of King’s Cross were linked to that of the railway industry, it also suffered from its problems. After surviving Second World War bombing the railways succumbed to post–war decline, particularly in goods traffic. Vast areas of sidings and warehouses became redundant and turned to wasteland; by 1955 the area was suitably run-down, a seedy backdrop for the Ealing comedy 'The Ladykillers' starring Alec Guinness released the same year. A low point was reached in 1966 when a plan was put forward to amalgamate the two termini, which would have meant the demolition of St Pancras Station. Since then a number of redevelopment schemes have come to nothing.

King’s Cross has suffered from years of neglect. It is noisy and chaotic yet visitors and residents look upon it with affection. It has some success stories. Camley Street Natural Park beside the Regent’s Canal provides a welcome green refuge. Euston Road is home to Camden Town Hall; the administrative centre of the borough, and opposite is the prestigious new British Library. Next door, St Pancras Chambers is being restored. Since 2007 Eurostar Trains has provided a link with Europe and in 2012 there will be a shuttle link with the Olympic site at Stratford. Meanwhile, with the development of 67 acres of disused goods yards, there is no doubt that this will once again bring enormous change to King’s Cross.

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