What’s in a name?…King’s Cross

June 6, 2011

The location now known as King’s Cross, north-west of the City, takes its name from a monument adorned with an 11 foot high statue of King George IV which once stood on a site now occupied by King’s Cross Railway Station.

The area had been previously known as Broadford Bridge or Battlebridge – the latter a name many associated with the apparently erroneous belief that it was here, at a bridge which once crossed the River Fleet, the Iceni Queen Boudicca (also known as Boadicea) ill-fatedly confronted the Roman Army under the command of Gaius Suetonius Paulinus.

From the 1830’s (King George IV ruled from 1820 to 1830), however, the area took on the name of King’s Cross thanks to the erection of what Walter Thornbury described in his 1878 text, Old and New London, as a “ridiculus octagonal structure crowned by an absurd statue of George IV”.

The structure, said to be 60 feet high, was erected at the intersection of Gray’s Inn Road, Pentonville Road and what we now know as Euston Road, and during its relatively short lifespan, was employed at different times as a police station and as a pub (complete, apparently, with a camera obscura in the upper level).

It was completely removed by 1845 (King’s Cross Railway Station officially opened in 1852).

The area of King’s Cross has been settled back as far as Roman times – St Pancras Old Church is one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in England although the current church is Victorian – but it wasn’t until the 1700s and 1800s that it was transformed in to an urban area with the arrival of canals – including The Regent’s Canal – and the railways.

Traditionally one of London’s poorest areas, it survived World War II bombings but subsequently suffered as the railways declined in the post-war period. By the 1980s, it had become notorious as a red light district.

It has since gone through – and is still going through – a gradual gentrification process, however, with the 67 acre development King’s Cross Central among the projects currently under construction.

Key attractions of the area include The British Library, The London Canal Museum, arts centre King’s Place, and the recently refurbished St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel.

It’s also now home to St Pancras International – London’s Eurostar terminus (having been moved here from Waterloo) – as well as King’s Cross Railway Station which is believed by many, despite the lack of any evidence, to be the burial site of Queen Boadicea (it’s said she still lies beneath platform 9 or 10) and which is the home of the fictitious platform 9 and 3/4 from which Harry Potter catches the train to Hogwarts.

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