Monthly Archives: October 2019

Keystone Crescent

Keystone Crescent, King’s Cross, London

At the King’s Cross end of the Caledonian Road stands Keystone Crescent, the London crescent with the tightest radius and the only one in which the inner and the outer terraces have identical facades.

It was built as Caledonian Terrace in 1846, at a time when the surrounding district was first developed as middle-class housing, which rapidly went down the social scale because of the industries which grew along the River Fleet and, most of all, because of the noise and smoke of the surrounding railways.

The area has been transformed by the arrival of Eurostar, and the tiny two-storey houses with a basement and an attic have increased in value tenfold since the 1990s.  They currently come on the market at over a million pounds.

The front gardens have been given over to hard standing for cars, but otherwise the crescent’s conservation-area status maintains its attractive appearance, a few steps away from the bustle of one of north London’s traffic arteries.

Keystone Crescent boasts its own basement club [http://www.keystonecrescent.com], founded by Kristie Bishop and Coralie Sleap, who also operate Drink, Shop & Do [http://drinkshopdo.co.uk], “a quirky multi-faceted cafe, bar and shop” a few yards away down the Caledonian Road.

The spectacular regeneration of the King’s Cross railway lands has generated disruption and change [https://angelacobbinah.wordpress.com/2013/01/04/all-change-at-kings-cross], but the tiny enclave of Keystone Crescent remains intact.

London’s canal museum

London Canal Museum, King’s Cross: horse ramp

The area of London we now know as King’s Cross was until the early nineteenth century called Battlebridge, commemorating the tradition that it was the site of Queen Boudicea’s defeat in AD60-61.  (A more recent and tenuous tradition asserts that the queen is buried beneath platforms 9 and 10 of King’s Cross Station.)

The original “king’s cross” was a bombastic memorial to King George IV, sited at the junction of Grays Inn Road, York Way, Euston Road and Pentonville Road.  It was built in 1836 and though it lasted only nine years because it obstructed the traffic the name King’s Cross has stuck ever since.

The name Battlebridge survives at a canal basin on the Regent’s Canal, now a desirable mooring and the home of the London Canal Museum [http://www.canalmuseum.org.uk/index.html], which occupies a former ice warehouse on New Wharf Road.

The museum has two equally important themes – waterways and ice.  It’s the only dedicated waterways museum in London, and it’s probably the only place to learn about the once-important ice industry that vanished in the face of mechanised ice manufacture after the Second World War.

It was an ingenious trade, meshed with the Norwegian timber trade.  During the winter ice was cut by the loggers who chopped timber in the warmer months, and carried to London in March in the freighters than brought the timber later in the year.

The ice was brought from Limehouse on the Regent’s Canal, loaded and unloaded by metal devices called ice dogs, and stored in cavernous ice wells, much like the icehouses on country estates but rather bigger, built in 1857 and 1862.

The filled wells were insulated by sawdust, an otherwise useless by-product of the timber trade.

The enterprise on New Wharf Road was run by Carlo Gatti (1817-1878), an Italian-speaking Swiss who is credited with introducing ice cream as a popular luxury.

His carts delivered raw ice to restaurants, butchers, fishmongers, hospitals and domestic users.

He also developed a chain of ice-cream parlours and diversified into music halls before returning to Switzerland for a wealthy retirement in the early 1870s.

His warehouse continued in use until at least 1902.

The London Canal Museum, opened in 1992, is small but rich in interest.  The ground floor shows one of the two original wells, and the space above, originally stables which the horses accessed up a steep ramp, has comprehensive displays and film clips that explain and bring to life London’s waterways.

It’s a little-known gem, within five minutes’ walk of King’s Cross and St Pancras stations, and a visit will take at least an hour.

Old Town Hall at risk

Old Town Hall, Sheffield, interior (circa 2014)

Photo: Chard Remains

Sheffield’s Old Town Hall, on Waingate, has stood empty and unmaintained for over twenty years.  As far back as 2007 it figured on the Victorian Society’s annual list of endangered buildings, and it’s more recently been added to SAVE Britain’s Heritage Buildings at Risk register.

I wrote about it in 2011 and again in 2015, since when there has been little to report.  Successive urban-explorer reports have simply underlined the continuing decay:  https://www.proj3ctm4yh3m.com/urbex/2015/02/01/urbex-sheffield-crown-court-south-yorkshire-september-2014-revisit-4.   

Eventually, in August this year, a planning application was posted proposing a solution to the dilemma of what to do with this huge public building with its sensitive interiors.

The new owner, Mr Efekoro Omu, is already refurbishing the long-neglected Cannon public house on Castle Street.

Mr Omu’s company, Aestrom OTH, plans to clean and restore the exterior of the Old Town Hall, and intends to strip out much of the listed interior to provide twelve serviced apartments, twelve “pod” hotel rooms in the old cells and, on the basement and lower ground-floor levels, a “souk” – “a boutique marketplace of characterful commercial spaces” of 918 square metres (equal to 3½ tennis courts).

The Friends of the Old Town Hall, an energetic group of volunteers who have been monitoring the building since 2014, applaud the arrival of someone actually prepared to take on the building but are highly critical of the proposed alterations to the interior:  http://sheffieldoldtownhall.co.uk/our-response-to-the-planning-application.

Mr Omu’s scheme threatens to obliterate the three most impressive courtroom spaces and compromise the Waiting Hall area, making the interior as a whole unreadable as a former courthouse.

There’s no doubt that any historic building has to earn its own keep.  In this case, the current scheme prioritises commercial necessity above historic integrity.

Some parts the Old Town Hall complex, especially the 1955 extension, lend themselves to radical alteration because their historic value is inconsiderable.

The earlier interiors, dating back to the nineteenth century with some later alterations, need more tactful treatment.

Sheffield can boast of a number of practical, attractive, sensitive refurbished historic buildings within a couple of minutes’ walk of the Old Town Hall, such as the Old Post Office in Fitzalan Square and the former bank that is now the Curzon Cinema on George Street.

The Planning Committee of Sheffield City Council meets on November 19th to decide whether to approve this application concerning a major public building in an area of the city that’s subject to radical redevelopment.

Let’s hope that the Committee gives Mr Omu every encouragement to think again in more depth about how to revive the Old Town Hall, which deserves a better fate than to become a historic shell.