King’s Cross: A Sense of Place
By Angela Inglis with Nigel Buckner, Matador, July 2012. Price: £19.95
Launch: Tuesday 10th July, 6-8pm at Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9AG
Saving and reviving King’s Cross – untold stories and photographs brought together in a new book: a David and Goliath story.
If you thought there’s nothing more to King’s Cross than a station and a rundown red-light district, you couldn’t be more wrong! Just round the corner to the east of the station you can find some of the loveliest parts of the city, with attractive Victorian terraces and unique examples of industrial buildings which have survived from the days before the railway.
These areas are also home to loyal communities of people who live and work there and who have fought tirelessly and passionately against threats to these very streets over the years.
Local photographer Angela Inglis has been documenting the industrial architecture of King’s Cross and St Pancras for more than twenty five years. Her first book, ‘Railway Lands’, published in 2007, is a photographic record of the changing landscape around St Pancras Station before and during the building of the international station.
For this book, she decided to focus on the stories behind the area – and King’s Cross has many stories waiting to be told. ‘King’s Cross: A Sense of Place’ celebrates the survival and rebirth of a small corner of historic London, thanks to the vision and tireless campaigning of people who have lived, worked and believed in the area. The book is a collaborative history told through narrative and photographs, with contributions from many of the key campaigners.
In Part One, three fiercely fought campaigns are told by some of the people who led them(1). One such campaigner was Norma Steel, whose family had lived in Balfe Street(2) since the 1900s. The street had survived two world wars, only to be threatened in the 1970s by developers who would have swept aside one complete side of it to make way for a soulless office development. By 1980, as Norma puts it, “the community had achieved”.
The largest campaign, in the 1980s and 90s, tells how a neighbourhood was threatened with demolition by a plan to site an international railway terminal at King’s Cross Station – with the compulsory purchase and demolition of hundreds of homes and shops – and how a local campaign helped to defeat that proposal(3), resulting in the international terminal now at St Pancras. There were years of fighting, with blight going on all around. The effect on the area was devastating, blighting property and contributing to a sharp rise in dereliction and crime, especially prostitution and drug dealing. Somehow there was a spirit to fight on, a vision of what could be possible.
The final and more recent campaign described in this book was for the soul of what is now the Regent Quarter, to the east of York Way(4). Having had its first planning application deferred, the developer, P&O, bit the bullet and decided to talk to the local people. A meaningful dialogue emerged – and a consensus. The result can be seen from York Way where old and new buildings sit side by side.
The book also gives an insight into the history and architecture of the area, especially its industrial past. Malcolm Tucker, engineering historian and industrial archaeologist, looks at the sites of past industry in what was once called Battle Bridge; he also presents the story of Battlebridge Basin(5) on the Regent’s Canal.
The book concludes with an overview of Kings Place just to the north of the Regent Quarter. Completed in October 2008 it has established itself as a thriving centre for music, the arts and business.
‘What is the city but the people?’ Shakespeare wrote in his play Coriolanus. This book shows clearly how, without the efforts of the people, the character of these areas of King’s Cross, along with many of the buildings, would have been destroyed for ever.
King’s Cross: A Sense of Place by Angela Inglis with Nigel Buckner, is published by Matador, July 2012.
Price £19.95, ISBN: 9781780883311.
1. Many people got involved: Campaigns have to be well led to be successful but they cannot succeed unless they are supported fully by a majority of the people who live in the threatened area, and who persuade the council and all concerned to fight with them. There has to be meaningful discussion and the aims have to be clear. This certainly happened in this area of King’s Cross where the three campaigns were fought, one after the other.
2a. Campaigners for Balfe Street in the 1970s: Norma Steel worked with Martin Lipson, Lead Worker of the Thornhill Neighbourhood Project from 1973-76, and with Gordon Arnot (Lead Worker from 1976 onwards), Encouraged by Martin, Norma and other local people set up the Kings Cross Community Association to fight the developers’ plans.
2b. Keystone Crescent Conservation Area: Balfe Street is part of the Keystone Crescent Conservation Area, which also includes Caledonian Road south of the canal, Northdown Street, Wharfdale Road and Keystone Crescent.
3. The King’s Cross Railways Bill: in the late 1980s, King’s Cross was British Rail’s first choice of terminus for the planned high speed Channel Tunnel Rail Link, a plan which BR wanted to link to a major property development opportunity on land which it owned. To make the most of the whole scheme, the compulsory purchase of seventeen acres of land near the station was needed – something which had to be sanctioned by Parliament. In 1988 British Rail put a Private Bill before Parliament – the King’s Cross Railways Bill – to try and get the necessary permission. For the next five and a half years, the Bill moved slowly through the various stages of Parliamentary readings and committees until, finally, by order of the Government, it was withdrawn in January 1994. Randal Keynes, one of the leaders of this campaign, is the author of Chapter 2.
4. Regent Quarter: The Regent Quarter consists of three blocks bordered to the east by Balfe Street and Caledonian Road, to the west by York Way, to the south by Pentonville Road and to the north by Wharfdale Road. The area was so named by P&O Properties Ltd, who acquired much of it in the mid 1980s.
5. Battle Bridge and Battlebridge Basin: Battle Bridge was a hamlet next to where the road from Gray’s Inn to St Pancras and Kentish Town crossed the River Fleet. (The River Fleet was covered over here before 1800.) The name King’s Cross was invented in 1830, for the crossing of several roads at this point: the current York Way, Gray’s Inn Road, Pentonville Road and Euston Road.
Battlebridge Basin is a short, wide arm off the Regent’s Canal (the spelling as one word is the accepted variation of the name). It is situated to the south of the canal and to the east of York Way. Since 1874, Ordnance Survey maps have named it Battlebridge Basin, a continuing reminder of the district’s former name.