Survey of London: Volume 24, the Parish of St Pancras Part 4: King's Cross Neighbourhood. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1952.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by English Heritage. All rights reserved.
CHAPTER 11: EUSTON ROAD, INCLUDING KINGS CROSS AND ST. PANCRAS STATIONS
It will be convenient to deal with the changes that have taken place in this neighbourhood in a separate chapter. The first important innovation was the building of the Euston Road, long known as "the New Road from Paddington to Islington," which was sanctioned by Act of Parliament in 1756. (fn. 110) Many references to its course through the western part of the parish occur in Part III of the Survey of St. Pancras. At its eastern end it cut through sections of the Somers and Skinners' Company's Estates, severing the upper angle of Battle Bridge Field and joining the main roads north, east and south at the little common through which the Fleet river once flowed and where it was crossed by the former Battle Bridge.
The Act of Parliament had stipulated that no buildings should be erected on new foundations within fifty feet of the road, a provision designed to placate the opposition to its formation, which was led by the Duke of Bedford. The result was that the road was wholly residential, with long gardens in front of the houses and this pleasant effect was increased by laying out open squares which faced one another, such as Park Square and Crescent, Endsleigh Gardens and Euston Square. Mackenzie's view (Plate 82a) shows the road in 1825 at the height of its fashion. On the north opposite St. Pancras (new) Church was Seymour Place, and Somers Place, a commanding block of houses built on Lord Somers' Estate (now occupied by Euston Road Fire Station); beyond were Judd Place, West and East, commemorating Sir Andrew Judd, who gave the property to the Skinners' Company. These last two terraces were on the site of the present Goods Depôt and St. Pancras Station. East of this was Egremont Place (shown in Plate 5) which extended to Pancras Road, leading to Highgate. The lower part of this was called Weston Place and the houses on the south-west side are shown in a drawing by C. J. Richardson (Plate 85) with St. Pancras Hotel in course of erection behind them. Out of Weston Place there turned a lane called Brill Lane, at the back of Judd Place East, which bent at right angles to the north to skirt a brickfield between it and Pancras Road. Here was the Brill Tavern. On the eastern side of Weston Place were the grounds of the Smallpox Hospital (Plate 79b) on the site of which now stands King's Cross Railway Station. The hospital was moved here from Windmill Street, Tottenham Court Road, in 1746. In 1791 Dr. William Woodville (1752–1805) was appointed physician. The hospital appears to have been rebuilt in 1793–4, (fn. 75) when it received the patients from Cold Bath Fields Hospital. It was increased in size after Jenner's publication of his discovery of vaccination. Woodville, who had published a book on inoculation, was at first sceptical of Jenner's use of cow vaccine, but later accepted the new treatment with enthusiasm. About 1846 the hospital was removed to a site at the foot of Highgate Hill. (fn. c1)
On the south side of Euston Road were built South Row (east of St. Pancras Church), Tonbridge Place (on the Skinners' Company's Estate, west and east of Judd Street) and Hamilton Place on the Battle Bridge Estate. At the north-west corner of Argyle Street stands a stucco-faced building formerly called the British College of Health and founded by Dr. James Morison (1770–1840), the "Hygeist," who from philanthropic motives produced a vegetable pill which brought him a fortune. Morison's pills provoked great hostility from the medical profession and were the subject of much satire. In the garden of his house was formerly an inscribed granite memorial. (fn. 17)
Where the New Road joined Gray's Inn Road stood the great Dust Heap known as Smith's (see Plate 75 and Tompson's map, Plate 81). This was removed in 1826 when the ground was sold to the Panharmonium Company. Outside No. 345 Gray's Inn Road there is still a stone which may be a parish boundary stone or a milestone. The inscription is obliterated.
In the centre of the meeting place of Euston, Pentonville, Pancras, Gray's Inn and King's Cross Roads was erected in 1830 the memorial "cross" to the memory of George IV, which gave its new name to the locality. (fn. n1) It was an ambitious but not a successful design (Plate 83) by Stephen Geary, architect. It took the form of a square building with paired Doric columns at each angle, which was finished with a balustrade and supported a pedestal, on the summit of which was a statue of the king. The pedestal carried a clock and over the projecting entablature of the angle columns stood figures of the patron saints of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The lower room was used successively as a place of exhibition, a police station, and finally a beer shop. The statue was taken down in 1842, and the substructure in 1845, an engraving of its demolition appearing in The Illustrated London News of 15th February, 1845.
CXXXVII—King's Cross Station
The Great Northern Railway was incorporated by an Act of Parliament which received the royal assent on 26th June, 1846, (fn. 111) Its main purpose was to connect York with London and its authorized capital was £8,137,800. The design of King's Cross Station was entrusted to Lewis Cubitt, the brother of Thomas Cubitt the builder. In the architect's own words he designed the station to "depend for its effect on the largeness of some of its features, its fitness for its purpose, and its characteristic expression of that purpose." (fn. 112) In accordance with this intention the main brick arches of the façade, marking the ends of the arrival and departure platforms, which are each 800 by 105 feet in area, rise 71 feet to the crown. Between them is the clock tower, the clock being that made by Dent for the British Avenue of the Great Exhibition (Plate 84). The total width of the façade was 216 feet, and behind it was a central booking office, with waiting rooms north and south, and a gallery overlooking the station. No attempt was made to raise the station above the lowlying site and the railway lines were therefore constructed under the Regent's Canal immediately to the north. The glazed roofs over the station were first carried by laminated wood arched trusses made according to a system introduced by Colonel Emy, a French Military Engineer; each was built up of sixteen thicknesses of 1½ inch boarding and set at intervals of 20 feet. (fn. 113) This construction was replaced by iron principals between 1869 and 1887, under Richard Johnson, the chief engineer to the railway.
The new station was opened on 14th October, 1852, but trains had been running since August, 1850, from a temporary station north of it. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert used this route to go to Scotland in August, 1851. The goods station, covering some 45 acres, was also under construction in 1850; it had water communication to the Docks and carried a large traffic in coal. The estimated cost was: for the goods station and temporary passenger station £155,504, the permanent passenger station £123,500, and the hotel, also designed by Lewis Cubitt, £30,000. In 1852 it was stated that the expenditure was within these figures. (fn. 114)
The construction of the Metropolitan (Underground) Railway was begun in 1860, and it was opened on 10th January, 1863. King's Cross Underground Station occupies the site of St. Chad's Well and was connected to the Great Northern terminus by a subway.
CXXXVIII—St. Pancras Station
The Midland Railway, which was incorporated in 1844, (fn. 115) had for many years no London terminus. By an Act of 1853 (fn. 116) it obtained running powers over the Great Northern line, and by agreement with the latter company it had the use of the goods sidings at King's Cross. These facilities were withdrawn in 1862 and the Midland Railway Company resolved to build their own passenger and goods stations; parliamentary sanction for this was given on 22nd June, 1863. (fn. 117) The land north of Euston Road, west of King's Cross (including the area of the former Agar Town) was acquired, and the plans prepared lacked nothing in their ambitious and far-reaching character.
The line to the new goods station was opened on 7th September, 1867. (fn. 118) The passenger station was opened on 1st October, 1868, the whole of the staff, tickets, carriages, etc., being transferred from King's Cross during the preceding night. (fn. 118) The building was, however, incomplete and was not finished until some years later. The station is notable for its brilliant constructional design, the work of the company's chief engineer, W. H. Barlow, and for the remarkable station hotel, which forms its street frontage, designed by Sir Gilbert Scott, who won the commission in open competition in January, 1866.
There were two main considerations that dictated Barlow's masterly design for the station. The first was the necessity for raising the permanent way and consequently the platforms to a sufficient height to pass over the Regent's Canal. Barlow saw the advantage this offered of extensive storage space beneath the station floor for one of the chief commodities carried by the company, barrels of Burton ale. The second was his desire to roof the station itself in one span so that the platforms and the ground floor below should be unimpeded by intermediate roof supports. This great construction is 690 feet in length, the span is 240 feet and the height, to the apex of the pointed arch of the roof, is 100 feet. It is carried by curved iron principals, each 6 feet deep, set 29 feet 4 inches from centre to centre with three intermediate ribs carried by trussed purlins. The principals rest on brick piers whose tops are level with the platforms, and the main floor of the station ties the arched framework together. The platforms are 23 feet above Pancras Road, and the floor is carried by 720 cast-iron columns arranged so that it can carry an equal load throughout its area, thus giving complete freedom for the arrangement of the lines and platforms above. An iron and glass screen terminated the outward end of the station, and a second one was ultimately provided between the station and the hotel.
Scott's design for the hotel had no relationship to the station's construction. For its purpose, to provide luxurious accommodation for travellers, it received unqualified praise; as an architectural composition, it was at the time hailed as "one of the chief ornaments of the metropolis," and seemed to contemporaries to be the apotheosis of Gothic as applied to public buildings. (fn. 118) This particular appeal has lost its force to-day and its extravagant elaboration provokes more criticism than appreciation. But its monumental character cannot be questioned and, as a whole, the Midland Station of St. Pancras has won first place among the London termini of the railway companies that are now merged in British Railways.