King’s Cross Station (opened 1850) has long been overshadowed by its neighbour St Pancras (opened 1867). That was precisely the intention of the directors of the Midland Railway, the designer of the St Pancras train-shed, William Henry Barlow, and the architect George Gilbert Scott, whose Midland Grand Hotel was intended, until the railway directors insisted on cutting it down to size, to be two storeys higher than the existing building.
King’s Cross is actually well worth a look. Built for the Great Northern Railway by Lewis Cubitt, it originally had only two platforms. As traffic built up, its operation became notoriously chaotic, right into the 1930s when the signalling was sorted out just as the entire station threatened to seize up.
The original train-shed was built by the Wiebeking System of laminated timber construction, a pioneering effort to cover a wide space that eventually had to be replaced by iron girders.
Lewis Cubitt’s elegant, understated façade has for long been obscured: it was revealed once more in 2013.
What King’s Cross lacks in visual impact it gains in its stories.
Queen Boudicea is reputed to be buried somewhere under platforms 8, 9 and 10. Indeed, the area was known as Battle Bridge, commemorating the formidable queen’s last stand, until a much-derided monument to George IV briefly occupied the site.
The station featured with St Pancras in the 1955 film The Ladykillers, and the Hogwarts Express famously departed from Platform 9¾ in the Harry Potter books and films.
King’s Cross Station was the scene of a wonderful encounter between Ann Widdecombe and an Irishman who flung his arms round her in the middle of the concourse: “He wanted to thank me for the peace process in Northern Ireland,” she remarked.
It’s also the pretext for a little-known story about the Abdication.
In late 1936 Mrs Wallis Simpson apparently took a taxi from her London residence to catch her train for a weekend up north. “King’s Cross,” she said to the driver.
“I’m sorry to hear that, madam,” he replied.