Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Arriving at the private viewing of D-Fuse's Pathways: King's Cross early yesterday, I had time to look round the King's Cross Central construction site. Access to the site has been blocked from the St Pancras International entrance for well over a year, so I walked up Pancras Road, down Goodsway and tried to enter the site alongside the one remaining gasholder. From a portacabin, a security guard in an orange jacket poked his head out and told me I could go no further. An Olympic-style wall has been erected around the southern end of the site, and only the slenderest traces of its past remain.

Perhaps my series on King's Cross last Spring wasn't the best thing I have written on this blog, but I don't think I've ever put so much of my heart into so few words (albeit the series did stretch to seven posts). For a couple of months I became obsessed with the sliver of land bound by St Pancras Way and Pancras Road in the west, Granary Street and Goodsway to the north, York Way to the east and Euston Road to the south - drifting through them, skirting round them, imagining their pasts and dreading their futures. The railwaylands permeated me like no urban area has before.

My first proper encounter with them was properly psychogeographical: following a predetermined route, designed to pass the time on an afternoon without anything much else to do, I felt a gloom descend. From a guidebook of black and white photos produced by the Council, I saw that King's Cross had once been an axis of crime and vice yet also of community, an hermetically-sealed haven away from the aggressive profiteering of the city. The stations of King's Cross and St Pancras had reared up to protect their railwaylands when regeneration plans were drawn up, and an alliance of recession and resistance had preserved the archaic gasholders, the limpid ponds and rushes of the natural park, the Romantic churchyard of Old St Pancras and the solid, symbolic apartment blocks.

But arriving at the scene midway through 2008, I had missed all of this. The Council had sold one of the Stanleys, and Argent had bulldozed it to make way for St Pancras International. The gasholders and the cosy-looking flats on Battle Bridge Road and the shops beneath the coal-drops – they had all gone the same way. Culross Building, a former co-operative housing block still stood until the Autumn (the Google Streetmaps view of Pancras Road shows it being demolished), but its tenants had long gone.

And now the land on which these buildings stood is out of bounds. The past has disappeared, and we are left with a vision of the future, as set out in Argent’s “marketing suite” in the German Gymnasium. The KXC plan feels dull and affected, as though business capital is pushing for one last hoorah: the relentless discipline of the new Sainsbury’s HQ fails to excite, the unctuous plazas with their unnecessary water-features (there is a major waterway nearby, after all) dominate the canal, the sole Stanley survivor will apparently be fossilised in a glass case (?), and the whole place will become a Westfield for WC1. It is truly miserable, and I’m afraid the Pathways film only deepened my depression. Mixing clips from films (some, like High Hopes and The Ladykillers, set around KXSP; others – Naked, The Long Good Friday – merely passing through) with recollections from people who lived in the area, its message is clear: the old, crime-ridden King’s Cross exists only in fiction or the past, and must give way to the new King’s Cross. The film, I should add, was commissioned by the developers.


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