Posted: October 28, 2013 Filed under: Fictional London, London on film, Transport | Tags: Andrew Martin, Channel Tunnel Rail Link, Dombey and Son, Kings Cross, Mrs Wilberforce, St. Pancras, The Ladykillers, Tim Marshall
St Pancras, Midland Road exit. © Tim Marshall.
Andrew Martin, Notes From The Railways, The Independent, Aug 31 2006:
If, like me, you cycle through King’s Cross most days, the description of Staggs’s Gardens in ‘Dombey and Son’ will seem familiar: ‘…bridges that lead nowhere; thoroughfares that were wholly impassable; Babel towers of chimneys wanting half their height; temporary wooden houses and enclosures, in the most unlikely situations…’
When you remember that a Stag was a railway speculator, that Staggs’s Gardens is supposed to be in Camden, the whole scene is a remarkable prefiguring of the bringing of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link into St Pancras and the associated works, such as the transformation of the streets east of King’s Cross into ‘Regent Quarter’ (which is somehow ten times more irritating as a name than ‘Regent’s Quarter’ would have been) and the development of the old goods yards north of King’s Cross.
Corner of York Way. © Tim Marshall
The developers contend that ‘no one can be nostalgic for the old King’s Cross.’ Well, that depends what you mean by ‘old’. There was so much shilly-shallying over whether King’s Cross or St Pancras should receive the CTRL that the area has been blighted for at least twenty years. (And many locals, incidentally, still wonder why Eurostar is coming into North London at all, given that South London is closer to France, and that the Waterloo terminus seems to be doing perfectly well). Immediately before the blight, the area was, according to Albert Beale of Houseman’s book shop on Caledonian Road, ‘pleasantly seedy’, as opposed to the heart of darkness, which it became.
King’s Cross, Pancras Road exit 2. © Tim Marshall.
Pre-blight, there were dark pubs where the beer mat tended to stick to the bottom of the glass, but King’s Cross was full of interesting transients, and with a sooty, crepuscular, train-haunted feel. When coming down from York as a teenager, I would drink in two wonderful old pubs in the south end of York way. The first was the Duke of York. It’s now called ‘Offshore’. Nipping in there the other day, I asked the Antipodean barmaid if she knew what the pub had been called before. A rather cruel experiment, I admit. ‘As far as I know it’s always been called Offshore,’ she said. I wonder if she also thinks it’s always been painted sky blue, and carried the slogan ‘Backpacking the world’ as it does today. This would certainly have made it stand out in 1860.
The second pub was The Railway Tavern, which had a black and white tv as late as about 1995, and was full of railway men, with those distinctive box-like shoulder bags. It is now hidden behind a hoarding, waiting to re-emerge, hung, drawn and Regent Quartered. I suppose it’ll be a Juice Bar.
McDonalds, Pentonville Rd. © Tim Marshall.
In Staggs’s Gardens, the nice old Ham and Beef Shop suddenly becomes the Railway Eating House, and the word ‘Railway’ is imposed on everything, even buildings that have as yet only a façade. My fear for King’s Cross tends in the opposite direction. I worry it will lose its railway character. I could be wrong. Most of the old buildings on the Railway Lands are to be preserved. And many of the locations used in the Ladykillers – which was made in 1955 when getting on for forty trains a day were still coming into the goods yard – still survive.
King’s Boulevard. © Tim Marshall.
The house of the old lady, Mrs Wilberforce, tended to flit around a bit. Some of the exteriors were done in Goldington Crescent, which is just as elegant as ever. For her rear garden (from where the bodies of the crooks were dumped onto coal trains) a patch of grass on top of Copenhagen Tunnel was used, and if you go along to the end of Vale Royal, off York Way, you can see the very spot. A man keeps horses there. The top of the tunnel is all black, cracked Gothic battlements, and the trains still thunder underneath towards the mass of X’s that form the points leading into King’s Cross.
I do hope this prospect is preserved. If not…well, The Ladykillers is just out on DVD.
© Andrew Martin. His new novel The Night Train to Jamalpur is published by Faber on 7 of November. Tim Marshall‘s album King’s Cross Stories is on his Tumblr site.
Posted: November 9, 2011 Filed under: Architectural, Literary London, Transport | Tags: Edward Mirzoeff, John Betjeman, St. Pancras
© Tim Marshall 2011.
From London’s Historic Railway Stations, John Betjeman, 1972:
“For the last ninety years almost, Sir Gilbert Scott has had a bad Press. He is condemned as facile, smart, aggressive, complacent and commercial.When at the top of his form Scott was as good as the best of his Gothic contemporaries. He was so firm a believer in the Gothic style as the only true ‘Christian’ style – Scott was a moderate High Churchman – that he was determined to adapt it for domestic and commercial purposes. St. Pancras Station hotel was his greatest chance in London and well he rose to the occasion.
I used to think that Scott was a rather dull architect, but the more I have looked at his work the more I have seen his merits. He had a thorough knowledge of construction, particularly in stone and brick. For St. Pancras the bricks were specially made by Edward Gripper in Nottingham. The decorative iron work for lamp standards and staircases and grilles was by Skidmore of Coventry, who designed the iron screens in some English cathedrals for Scott. The roofs of the hotel are of graded Leicestershire slates; the stone comes mostly from Ketton. Scott’s buildings are so well-built they are difficult to pull down. He had a grand sense of plan and site. The Grand Staircase, which alone survives of the hotel’s chief interior features, ascends the whole height of the building, by an unbelievably rich cast iron series of treads with stone vaulting and painted walls. The chief suites of rooms are on the first floor and the higher the building, the less important the rooms, until the quarters for the servants are reached in the gabled attics – men on one side, women on the other – and separate staircases. Yet even these are large and wide and compare favourably with more modern accommodation. The building has been chopped up and partitioned inside for offices. It is odd that it is not used again as an hotel especially now that hotels are so badly needed in London.”
Edward Mirzoeff writes:
Not long after this book was published I approached British Railways proposing a BBC documentary on London stations, with Betjeman. BR insisted on charging a facility fee at the same daily rate as that for feature films – which killed the idea, doubtless as intended.