The changing landscape of King's Cross - Commentary
I began photographing the industrial and residential buildings of King's Cross and St.Pancras when I moved to Somers Town in 1986. I was particularly interested in the gasholders because of their intricate embellishments and their magnificent latticed frames. Whenever I photographed them people passing would stop to talk with me about their elegant structure and how it would not be King's Cross without them. 

There were nine gasholders originally, and seven still standing in 1999, used until that date for supplying gas to King's Cross and its surrounding area. With the coming of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and terminus at St. Pancras they had to be removed to make way for the new railway line. Gasholder 8 was dismantled in the summer of 2011.  

The three largest gasholders known as The Siamese Triplets, and uniquely joined by a common spine, are now in storage. All four gasholders will be re-erected on the North side of the Regent's Canal very near St. Pancras Lock. Click here for a map on the Kings Cross Central website.
Uses for the gasholders
Argent (the developers) are planning to build housing within the triplets.  Gasholder 8 will be used for a new park and events space. A competition to design the new use was held in 2009: the winners, with a design for an events space and public park, were Bell Phillips & Kimble.

During the consultation period between Camden Council, Argent and the King's Cross Development Forum in 2004 I consulted with local people at my joint exhibition with Peter Herbert (entitled Altered Spaces, Quiet Places) and asked them to suggest uses for Gasholder 8.  These are the suggestions they came up with:

  • a museum showing how The Imperial Gas Company worked and how the gasholders distributed the gas 

  • a museum to show the history of the train and the canals, and some mention of the nineteenth century ballooning in this area

  • a sports centre

  • a dance centre

  • a cinema

  • an exhibition of what is on in London

  • an art gallery

  • a miniature Kew

  • a music and media centre for young people

  • a reference library

  • a health centre etc. 

Finally a balloon could be attached to one of the gasholders as a viewing platform, as in Barcelona. 
It is interesting to see which competition design Argent chose and which of the suggestions are included in the result.

Echoes from the past - Coal Drops
I support Argent's intention to make use of some of the old coal drops on the Railway Lands site. If one looks at the photograph below it is clear how well the gasholder, the Granary and the Coal and Fish Depot are of a piece, from the point of texture and structure, and it is hoped that Argent will achieve a similar integration in their development.

The Granary
The central building and eastern side of the Granary is currently under development to become the University of the Arts. The photographs below show (left) the Granary in 2007 and (right) the present construction from the rear of the building.


Stanley Buildings
There was a unique residence, too, before the building of the new Terminal, in the Stanley Buildings North and South, one with its memorable dancing mural of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire who so appropriately sang, 'The melody lingers on'. 

Both these buildings were cut in half in February 2002 to make way for the new railway lines on the eastern side of the station. And subsequently at the end of June 2007 Stanley Buildings North was completely demolished in order to leave space for a straight road by St Pancras International.

These buildings together with three others, now demolished, were erected in 1864-5 by the Improved Industrial Dwellings Company, whose chairman was Lord Stanley (later Earl of Derby and Prime Minister). They were designed by John Dower and adapted from Henry Robert’s model cottages for the Great Exhibition, 1851. These blocks had cast-iron access balconies served by an open central staircase. 

Only one part of Stanley Buildings still remains, half of Stanley Buildings South.  The plan is for new offices to be added, 'wrapped around' the original building. 

See my book RAILWAY LANDS Catching St Pancras and King’s Cross, pages 129 – 143 for more information.

Culross Buildings (demolished during July and August 2008)
This large tenement block stretching along Battle Bridge Road, with a mission hall at the east end, also drew my attention. It was built in 1891 for the GNR as a replacement for dwellings it demolished.  The forty flats were reached from open communal stairs with wrought iron balustrades. The construction was of durable blue engineering brick and the floor was granite setts. The curved addition to the West, once a community office, had thirteen windows on three floors and was curiously attractive. My Culross Window Reflecting the Gasholders (right) was taken there in 2000.

Local residents campaigned to keep this building as part of the plan for the new development but were unsuccessful and the building was demolished during the summer 2008.

Argent kindly allowed me to photograph the demise of Culross Buildings. According to the King’s Cross Central Report published on September 8th, 2008, Nuttall took four weeks to strip ‘out all the internal fixtures and fittings’. The bulldozing started after that on July 2nd , 2008 and was completed by the end of the first week in August 2008.. The report states that ‘the whole job was completed two weeks ahead of schedule and the bricks have now been crushed and stored on site for reuse’. 

Again for more information see my book Railway Lands, pages 145 – 157.  
Click here for my poem Culross Buildings 1892.

For the Arrivals Programme in November 2007 to celebrate the completion of St Pancras International Culross Buildings were lit up and images of trains and the St Pancras clock were projected on the Culross Walls. It made the public startlingly aware of the building’s beauty. It is a travesty that this building was demolished. The King’s Cross Conservation Advisory Committee produced a booklet in 2005 entitled Respecting the Railway Lands. In it they described how it would be possible to keep Culross in the new King’s Cross Central Development. Unfortunately their ideas were ignored.

Camley Street Natural Park offered, until February 2002, interesting shots of the gasholders, nature enhancing the view. After this date gasholders gave way to cranes. On completion of the Eastern side of the new shed at St Pancras International, these reflections disappeared.
Opposite the park on the other side of the canal the curve of the Coal and Fish Depot adds a charm to this area (see left). Local people were involved in saving this building for posterity and it is to be preserved in the King’s Cross Central development.

Again, see Chapter 10 of my book Railway Lands for photographs and information on the above.
The German Gymnasium appears in a number of photographs as an intrinsic part of the Victorian Structures, unique with its triangular roof. It was built in 1864 by Edward A Gruning for the German Gymnastic Society along the lines of such institutions in Germany. It opened in January 1865, initially for Germans, though within a decade at least half of its 1,100 members were English. 

Finally the St. Pancras Railway Bridge with Brill Place beneath supplied me with many moments of delight over the pink gothic arches and the play of light and shadow on its brickwork. It was a perfect place for a photographer.
After February 2002 this rail bridge and the road beneath it were blocked in to accommodate the new longer train shed. The tunnel for Pancras Road was moved further north under the new train shed. The old St Pancras railway bridge was demolished in June 2004.
Click here to see the photographs.

Text above: With thanks to Camden History Society for permission to quote from Streets of St Pancras















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