The New Kings Cross

I found myself in Kings Cross on Friday and finally made a video documenting some of the new development around the back of the station that has been emerging for a couple of years now. It’s a peculiar new zone of the city that many people seem unaware of, hidden away around the back of St. Pancras International and Kings Cross Stations and off the side of York Way.

Pancras Square Kings Cross

Pancras Square

To remind myself of what it used to look like I skimmed through the Mike Leigh film High Hopes where the main protagonists live in a council flat between the stations in the redevelopment area – their handsome block of flats and the Victorian terraces demolished. Checking an out-of-date A-Z shows that the location used in the film, Stanley Passage is perhaps somewhere beneath the new Google HQ and YouTube Space. Other streets that have disappeared under Pancras Square and Battle Bridge Place include Wellers Court, Clarence Passage, Battle Bridge Road, and Cheney Road.

Stanley Building Kings Cross

fragment of the old Kings Cross

It was hard to look at the tower blocks rising from those fields between Islington and Marylebone and not to think of the lines from Blake’s Jerusalem,

THE FIELDS from Islington to Marybone,

To Primrose Hill and Saint John’s Wood,

Were builded over with pillars of gold;

And there Jerusalem’s pillars stood.

Through the Angel Tunnel on the Floating Cinema

The other week I did a talk and screening aboard The Floating Cinema on the Regent’s Canal. I spoke about some of the myths, legends and hidden histories of the Canal hinterland around Kings Cross, Islington and Pentonville – where we passed on the boat and allowed the talk to stray up into the Northern Heights and even down to Balham. Some swans drifting past the barge led to a discussion of Iain Sinclair and Andrew Kotting’s film Swandown and we played clips from the film I’ve just made with them – London Overground.

Finally passing through the Angel Tunnel (or Islington Tunnel) was a great experience – I lived for 4 years on an estate up above (see the early archives of this blog) and always planned to take the subterranean boat trip but never did. The lack of a towpath means you have to walk above ground through Barnsbury Estate, down Chapel Market, across Upper Street and Duncan Terrace before rejoining the towpath in Canonbury. The boat journey can take up to 20 mins sliding through deep underground, depending on traffic.

I’d read the story of the opening of this section of the Regent’s Canal on 1st August 1820 when an orchestra spread across several barges played as they passed through the tunnel. Huge crowds gathered around each end to listen to what must have been a glorious racket. I played some music by British composer Henry Bishop that may possibly have been played on that momentous occasion as Bishop was one of the most popular composers of the time.


Inside the new YouTube Space – Kings Cross London

YouTube Space London

YouTube Space London

Wednesday evening I went for a look around the new YouTube Space in Kings Cross. There were mini cheeseburgers with halloumi and bottles London Pride laid on. I did an icebreaking exercise with a charming fella who produces a fashion channel full-time and then got chatting to a lad who does tech reviews, a young lady who makes cooking videos and another who does a Disney Channel.

IMG_0749 YouTube Space LondonIMG_0753 IMG_0732
Everybody seemed impressed by the space which easily outstripped the facilities we had at the small production company I used to work for where TV shows had been made. About a third of the people walked around vlogging with their cameras on selfie sticks which when you think about it makes far more sense than me talking to my camera while walking along the Pymmes Brook through Edmonton.

I started my main YouTube channel 10 years ago this October with a video called Deep Topography with Nick Papadimitriou. When I started working at the TV company the following year the telly people didn’t get it when I told them to start uploading their content to Youtube. How things have changed in those 10 years.

What Is A City For? KERB crates talk Kings Cross

This is an extract from a 20-minute talk I gave the other day stood on a soapbox in the KERB food market on Kings Boulevard, Kings Cross. Stood there amongst the rising towers of mammon you see parallels with the same landscape where Blake saw the golden pillars of Jerusalem rising in the field beneath Islington.

THE FIELDS from Islington to Marybone,
To Primrose Hill and Saint John’s Wood,
Were builded over with pillars of gold;
And there Jerusalem’s pillars stood.

I naturally talked about the Pen Ton Mound and Merlin’s Cave, the legend attached to St Chad’s Well just over the road from the station and also about Tooting Crater on Mars named after an area of South London. All from my book This Other London.

Bloomsbury to Kings Cross Sunday wander

A sultry Sunday early evening stroll round Bloomsbury was just what my hangover required. One of my literary role-models, Thomas Burke spent a lot of time walking these streets and I fancy, often feeling slightly jaded from a few the night before. In his 1939 book, Living in Bloomsbury he writes about how the reputation and nature of the area had changed, “as one district erases its shabby past, and improves and promotes itself, another forgets its decent past, and deteriotes and wanes…. Bloomsbury is a notable example of the whirlygig of favour.”

Burke outlines Bloomsbury’s arc from a smart neighbourhood for professionals and bankers in the 1820’s – 1860’s to the dwelling place for ‘hard-up clerks’ by the 1880’s, then starting to become re-gentrified during the interwar years of the 20th Century when he lived there. He lists the 19th Century books on London life that he accumulated during this time, books for people who are “seeking illumination on the realities of the period”. The intriguing collection includes, The Wilds of London and The Seven Curses of London by James Greenwood; Ritchie’s Night Side of London, Occult London, Mark Lemon’s Up and Down the London Streets, and James Grant’s The Great Metropolis.

From Sicilian Avenue I make my way for a mooch in Book Warehouse on Southampton Row and then on to the Brunswick Centre after stopping to admire the font of the Underground sign above the entrance to Russell Square tube station.

I photograph the doorway of an apartment block in Marchmont Street that I imagine is where those ‘hard-up clerks’ mentioned by Burke might have lived. The prostitute from Patrick Hamilton’s The Midnight Bell also lived round here somewhere. There’s always life in Marchmont Street, in the cafes, the launderette with the cranes looming above, the pub, Judd Street Books (which I just missed).

Moving round to Judd Street munching on a Topic bar you have to stop and admire Clare Court, a fine 1920’s brown brick block of flats, a fitting tribute to the 18th Century brick fields upon which it stands.

The neighbouring Lucas-Cromer estate was developed for housing with the first six houses rising from the cow pastures in 1801. By 1815, Lucas the tin-plate worker, had built another 99. Cromer Street today is dominated by a mixture of social housing blocks – the backs of the estate that lines Harrison Street and older flats with locally-listed shop fronts below. It has a European feel in the sunset, reminds me of the outskirts of cities in Emilia Romagna – Modena, Parma, Bologna.

The view north from Swinton Street is a panorama of changing London – the backs of early 20th Century social housing and the gleaming new glass towers of the Kings Cross development. I’m closing in on sacred ground – the Pen Ton mound, springs gurgling beneath the pavement, rising on the high ground around the top of Pentonville Road. The only reasonable thing to do now is to follow the water to a table near the banks of The New River outside the Marquess Tavern in Canonbury, a grand Victorian pile where George Orwell used to drink.