[Robert Freidus took all the photographs below except of the one of King's Cross in the 1960s before its cleaning and renovation, which is by Landow. Click on images to enlarge them.]

King's Cross Station

King's Cross Station. Designer: Lewis Cubitt. Builders: John and William Jay, Euston Road, London. 1852. According to www.networkrail.co.uk, “Cubitt also designed the companion Great Northern hotel. "The land was acquired for £65,000 and the station cost £123,500 to build. The train shed comprises two vaults of clear arch construction. The ribs supporting the roof covering were originally of laminated timber but were replaced in steel. The roof spans are 105ft wide by 800 feet long." “The two arched roofs . . . are frankly displayed as the predominant motif of the façade” — Pevsner. [See additional commentary below.]

King's Cross in 1966 and 2015: blackened with a century's deposited soot at left and after cleaning and restoration at right.

This engraving of King's Cross from the Illustrated London News reveals that the roof over the entrance and the small room at the left (seen the the photograph immediately below at right) were added after the initial construction.

Left: The right side of the station showing the side walls extending into the distance. Right: A plaque on the station.

Commentary by Stuart Durant

The London terminus of the Great Northern Railway was completed when the GNR reached Doncaster. Services were later extended to Bradford, Cambridge, Halifax, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham, and Sheffield. All the important Yorkshire manufacturing towns were eventually served by the GNR. During the ascendancy of the Modern Movement, King’s Cross was frequently cited as an example of proto-modernism and compared favourably with Euston’s classicism — “display” as Nikolaus Pevsner described it — and the brilliant, though misguided, mediaevalism of St. Pancras. John Betjeman captured prevailing attitudes in architectural circles towards King’s Cross in the 1930s: “ . . . we were all told to admire King’s Cross for its functional simplicity, an earnest of the new dawn. We were told to despise St Pancras for its fussiness though we were allowed to admire the engineer’s roof. All the same I have an idea that St Pancras is the more practical station.” (London’s Historic Railway Stations, 1972)

In his account of London in his Buildings of England, 1952, Pevsner wrote that

Cubitt, perhaps because he came from a family of builders and engineers, looked at his job with equal pride but no romanticism. [He was comparing King’s Cross with Hardwick’s Euston.] The two arched roofs . . . are frankly displayed as the predominant motif of the faade . . . The roof of the clock tower heralds the coming of the new Italian villa ideals. Otherwise one does not look for Ômotifs’ at King’s Cross. The architect was satisfied to depend, as The Builder put it in 1851, ‘on the largeness of some of the features, the fitness of the structure for its purpose, and a characteristic expression of that purpose’

It is worth pointing out that the Italianate features of King’s Cross — notably the tower as cited by Pevsner — could well reflected Prince Albert’s enthusiasm for Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s Italianate designs for the Prussian royal family — notably his work at Charlottenhof. Albert, incidentally, had chosen Lewis’ alder brother Thomas as his architect for Osborne House (1845-48), the summer home of the royal family on the Isle of Wight. Thomas Cubitt (1788-1855), who had begun his career as a carpenter, was the greatest London speculative builder and developer of the 1820s. Belgravia, Bloomsbury, Pimlico and Tyburn were largely built by him and he made an immense fortune. Lewis Cubitt also built the Great Northern Hotel (1854) — the oldest hotel in central London — which adjoins King’s Cross. Unlike the station, it is of no remarkable architectural distinction, though the passing years have given it a charming patina. It is recommended for those wishing to spend a night in London before going on to Luton Airport. Now that King’s Cross had been restored, the space between King’s Cross and St Pancras International forms a magnificent piazza. The two stations will supply a vivid lesson in the polarities of nineteenth-century architecture. (Lewis Cubitt was a very successful bridge designer — much of his work was overseas. He deserves more attention than he has received from historians.)

The iron beams and glass roof of the train shed seen through one of the two semi-circular windows opened in the front wall.

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Last modified 17 May 2015