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No.13 King's Cross: Railwaylands

In 1997 GLIAS produced this walks leaflet, compiled by Charles Norrie.

We have reproduced it here for historical interest. Links to entries in the GLIAS Database are given.


While the two termini on Euston Road (King's Cross, 1850-4 and St Pancras, 1863-68) are familiar to everyone, the area immediately to the north of the train sheds also contains much of interest, primarily remains of the goods transhipment and coal traffics. Several such complexes were built during the mid to later 19th century, to serve London. This is the one surviving that retains most of its structures. The area is now the subject of complicated Channel Tunnel rail link development plans.

King's Cross is an inner city area with more than its fair share of problems. GLIAS suggests that you take care and do this trip with friends. Avoid using a car, especially if you are on your own. In the evening the gates to the towpath may be closed.

This walk covers about 14 miles from the front of King's Cross station, at the junction of Euston Road and Pancras Road, to the Goods Yard at the rear of the station, returning to the junction of York Way with Euston Road. The walk takes from 2-2½ hours.

Start from the corner of Pancras Road and Euston Road, in front of King's Cross Station.

① King's Cross, architect Lewis Cubitt, was the London terminus of the Great Northern Railway (GNR) which served the eastern side of the country. Across Pancras Road is the Gothic bulk of the Midland Grand Hotel, 1868-76, by Sir George Gilbert Scott, and the train shed of the Midland Railway's (MR) St Pancras Station, the GNR's great rival. The difference in level of the two termini demonstrates the different ways the MR and the GNR crossed the Regent's Canal just to the north: the former by bridge, coming to Euston Road on a viaduct, the latter by the four Gasworks tunnels.

Follow Pancras Road and turn right at the service road. Cross the taxi rank to reach the side of King's Cross Station.

② This side of King's Cross was originally the main entrance. The curved yellow stock building on the left, the Great Northern Hotel, 1852-54, was built on the line of the old Pancras road (this side of the building). In 1860, the area in front the hotel was then laid out as a formal garden.

Pass under the glass roof in front of you and turn left along Cheney Road when you reach King's Cross suburban station (Network South East). Follow the road north to the corner of Weller's Court.

③ A warehouse of the same name stands on it. In front, in a heavy mid-19th century German style, is the rear of the German Gymnasium (entrance in Pancras Road, flanked by shops), designed by EA GrÜning, for the German Gymnastic Society, 1864-5. It has an unusual roof of horizontally laminated timbers.

Behind you the complex of railway structures contains to the right, the approach to Hotel Curve (under Cheney Road), the down line from the Metropolitan line to Moorgate, and to the left the Horse Wharf, later Motorail terminal.

Continue along Cheney Road to Clarence Passage.

Beyond Clarence Passage, with a view of St Pancras, is Stanley Buildings, 1864-65, by the Improved Industrial Dwellings Company, a Victorian solution to the accommodation crisis.

Go to the junction with Battle Bridge Road.

To the right are Culross Buildings, 1891-2, named after a former chairman, and built by the GNR for its workers.

Ahead, the gasholders are part of the old Imperial Gas Light and Coke Co.'s site.

Turn left, cross over and go to the corner with Goodsway.

④ In front of you is the plate girder bridge carrying the lines out of St Pancras and through it a view of the wall of Somerstown Goods Station, 1883. The flats, 1936, behind you, were a demonstration of steel-framed building by the British Steelwork Association.

Continue round the corner.

Gasholders are on either side of the road, for Goodsway passed through the site of Imperial Gas Light and Coke Co., which was opened in 1822-4 and closed in 1907. Coal was initially bought by canal from the docks, and later also by rail.

Across the road, the frames of three nearest gasholders, purportedly restored to their original colours, 1978, share cast-iron columns and are thus known as 'Siamese' triplets. They date from 1861-4 but were made telescopic in 1880.

One bell always looks as if is is down: it was destroyed by a bomb in the Second World War and never reinstated. The ornate red brick building on the railway is the St Pancras waterpoint, 1868, for the replenishment of engine boilers.

Cross Goodsway and turn left up the right hand side of Camley Street.

To your right is the nature park, the site of Samuel Plimsoll's coal drops, 1866. Coal transhipment and distribution was one of the major activities of the area, and Plimsoll (of loading-line fame) campaigned successfully against the railway companies' monopoly of the coal trade, promoting his improved coal drops (structures for the unloading and bagging of coal) which, he claimed, caused less damage to the coal.

Follow the road under the MR railway bridge. The lines to the west gave access to the Somerstown Goods Station. Follow the road north until you cross the canal, passing the gothic St. Pancras Coroner's Court, 1886, and later. Cross the road, go down the steps to the towpath and turn under the road bridge, noting the rope marks on the old stone piers.

The Regent's Canal, completed 1820, gave the Grand Junction Canal, which ran from Paddington to the Midlands, access to the London docks, and a second route to the Thames. In front of you is the wrought-iron railway bridge over the canal, which determined the MR's approach to St Pancras. Under the railway bridge, across the canal is the St Pancras Yacht Basin, built originally for coal staithes, and now used for cruising moorings.

⑤ Beyond this is the twin chamber (one out of use) St Pancras lock, one of 13 on the canal which drops 100ft in 8 miles. The canal was often short of water and the two chambers acted as mutual side-ponds. The brick building, called the lock-keeper's cottage, c1880, with later alterations, also contained a pumping station by which water was pumped back up the canal.

Over the wall left is the Western Goods Station, 1897-9, built on the site of the Western Dock, 1851, for coal and stone, the entrance to which is crossed by an iron bridge. Further along is the site of the access bridge to the Plimsoll Coal Drops.

Walk along the canal.

The small windows in the canalside wall ventilate stables in the Goods Yard. Further on at the turn, the Fish and Coal offices, 1850s, tower above. Round the corner, before the concrete bridge, 1920s, a shallow brick arch high in the wall indicates the entrance to the Granary Basin, 1851. At the canal's widest point are the GNR's tunnels, 1852, 1874-8 and 1889-92. At the steps by Maiden Lane bridge is a blockhouse containing cooling plant for the high voltage power cables under the towpath.

Go up the steps and turn immediately left into the Goods Yard (Wharf Road).

⑥ Opposite is a chimney-like structure, a tunnel ventilator for the 1874-7 bore. This was previously the site of the 1850 passenger station, elements of which can be seen in the iron arcading of the curved glass roof. It was later rebuilt as a potato market. The building behind, obscured by temporary site offices, is the old Midland carriage shed. Before St Pancras was built, the MR uneasily shared facilities with the GNR, and this building became a goods shed when the MR moved out. The three-storey stock brick office building is the Goods Office, 1851.

Follow the road round until you face the impressive stock brick Granary.

⑦ The central portion with openings for sack hoists is the Granary, 1851-2, for the storage and transhipment of grain brought by rail from the Midlands and Lincolnshire to the now infilled canal basin in front. Office buildings, 1856, to each side conceal two 580' long brick walled, blank arched GNR goods sheds, 1850, one for arrivals, one departures, enclosing a marshalling area between, which was later roofed. In front of the Granary was the canal basin seen in the illustration. Arms of the canal projected into the body of the Granary goods sheds. In the canal retaining wall, the arch of the entrance is still visible.

Continue round. To the left are the Fish and Coal Offices and just to the right, the road descends to the attractive Eastern Coal Drops (ECD), later partially converted to a bottling works (Bagley's) and warehousing. Go down ramp to the nearest corner of the ECD. Turn right and pass along the attractive façade (cast-iron columns, bricked roundels) to the original structure now fire-damaged visible through the fence.

The coal drops were covered. Full trains were worked on one of four lines into the top level. Coal was emptied into hoppers in the middle level and bagged and carted away from the bottom.

Return, and go round the end of the building to the right.

⑧ To the right is the return viaduct of the ECD, for empty coal trains, and left, beyond the access ramp to the Plimsoll Coal Drops, the upper level and awning of the Western Coal Drops, 1858, converted to a goods shed, 1897. The Western Goods Station lies behind.

Turn back to Wharf Road and return to York Way. Turn right.

Maiden Lane bridge is wider than the original 1820 iron structure. The decorative cast-iron parapet is new, replacing that of 1850, on the eastern side.

Continue south and cross Goodsway to the carriage entrance to King's Cross station.

⑨ This was the site of the Battle Bridge road bridge, removed in the 1920s when Goodsway was extended. The north ramp leads to the site of York Road Station. York Road Curve passed under York Way behind, curved under the Duke of York public house, 1840, and joined the City Widened Lines, the Metropolitan Line to Moorgate. The south ramp was used by carriages and cabs leaving the station. The London Canal Museum is second left down New Wharf Road along Wharfdale Road opposite.

Cross York Way.

South of Railway Street is St Pancras Ironworks (36-40), 1866, frontage 1890, with red brick bands, and at 32 the Albion Tin Works, 1866. Adjacent are converted stables and next door a hostel for the Islington and North London Shoe Black Brigade, 1868. Finally, at the corner with Pentonville Road junction is the Bravington's Block, from the name of the jewellers formerly there.

King's Cross took its name from a short-lived statue of George IV erected 1830-36 near this corner. The statue survived until 1842 and the base which had functioned as a beer-shop and police station, until c1845.

⑩ Cross York Way again, at its junction with Euston Road, outside the south end of King's Cross carriage road. The tour ends here.

© GLIAS, 1997