October 14: Iron Horse and Warrior Queen

2016/10/14 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1852 King’s Cross railway station opened.

Passenger rail had run in and out of London for a bit under two decades when this building by Lewis Cubitt was inaugurated as the terminus of the Great Northern, which started offering service to York in the 1840s.  Cubitt’s design is unusual for train station design in this period, as it fuses the shed and the station in formal terms.  In previous stations, the front part was distinct in its architecture, having little to do with the shed beyond.  Cubitt instead reflects the grand sweep of twin ‘vaults’–each of them 105 feet wide by 800 feet long–in the giant, Roman thermae-scaled openings in the facade, between which the newly important civic time piece stands.  The station’s great iron roof is not original–the first “vaults” were built of laminated timber, a surprising choice for the industrial application, but one that reveals the fact that even in the stable for the iron horse, the use of metal was not a foregone conclusion.

Built in London, which is very old, the station stands on ground that had been trod by ancient feet.  When it opened, only platforms 1-8 were operational.  The additions of platforms 9 and 10 apparently cover the site of the burial of Boudica, who fought a famous battle against the Romans near this site in the first century AD.  (And you thought the only important thing between those platforms was the one labeled 9¾.)

Twentieth-century development at Kings Cross has been not just unkind, but aggressively brutal, to the station, which became confused and buried under all kinds of junk.  In the 1990s a project was commenced to bring clarity and order to the site, making it easier for travelers to pass through the station and restore some of the original dignity to its urban presence.  By the looks of videos you can find here, they got some of it right.  But one wonders if old architecture in London can only be “modernized” by the addition of curvy lattices.  Seriously, is there a new law or something?

Image: the opening of the station (from this source)

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