One of the sessions at Science Online London this year was about “offline communities in online networking“. There are all kinds of groups around that either started as online groups or that use online tools to organise themselves and gain new members. One group that I am on the fringes of is LIKE – the London Information and Knowledge Exchange – which is a group on LinkedIn with several hundred information professionals as members. They have a monthly meeting and each summer they organise a walk.
In July LIKE put on a walking tour of the Kings Cross/St Pancras area. I have started taking an interest in that area – the Crick Institute is now being built just next to St Pancras and if I’m lucky I will be moving there in about four years’ time. I was also aware vaguely that there is a great deal of regeneration work going on round the back of the stations, and thought it’d be interesting to see how far it’s got.
The walk was guided by Rachel Kolsky. She is an information manager at an insurance company but she has a sideline taking small groups on walking tours in London.
We started outside the Renaissance Hotel, at St Pancras Station. Rachel outlined the history of the area, mentioning that it has had unsavoury connotations for a few hundred years. It has been home to a smallpox isolation hospital, an enormous mound of rubbish and a red light district. The New Road (or the Euston Road as it is now called) was built in 1756 and created a new northern boundary for London. When the railways were built all the termini were located just to the north of the New Road, well away from any respectable areas.
The architectural history of Kings Cross and St Pancras stations is interesting; two more different styles of building you could not imagine. Inside St Pancras we admired The Meeting Place – the giant sculpture of a couple – and the statue of John Betjeman, who played a key role in saving St Pancras from demolition.
Next to St Pancras we saw the great building site which will eventually be the Crick Institute. There’s not much to see there yet, so we had to use our imagination. The Crick website has information about the progress of construction, and you can even register to receive their monthly update if you want to. A week or so after our walk took place the Crick Visitor Centre opened, and its exhibition is open for viewingtwice a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays). The Crick are trying hard to engage with the local community, who are understandably nervous about this enormous research centre being built on their doorstep. The building will also house a “Living Centre” for the community that will offer “services to help improve people’s health and wellbeing”.
Rachel pointed out other buildings nearby – the British Library and the German Gymnasium building – and said a little about their histories. We then walked up Pancras Road to the Old St Pancras church. This is a fascinating church and churchyard – a real haven of peace and quiet. Apparently it is one of the oldest Christian sites in the UK. In the churchyard there is an attractive memorial to Angela Burdett-Coutts, a 19th century philanthropist. A famous photo of The Beatles was taken in 1968 that shows this memorial in the background. The churchyard also contains the tomb of the architect John Soane, which seems strangely familiar. The design of his tomb influenced Giles Gilbert Scott’s design for the red telephone box. Leaving the churchyard we noted the St Pancras Cruising Club (not what you think – it is an association of boat owners) with its listed water tower, and the Camley Street Natural Park. This urban nature reserve lies along the banks of the Regents’ Canal and is a sanctuary for wildlife.
We then came to the area that is undergoing the most change just now, the hinterland between the mainline stations and the Regent’s canal. A few years ago this area contained famous nightclubs (I have attended one or two in the past) and run-down warehouses. Any day now the University of the Arts will move into one of those warehouses – the Grade II listed Granary Complex – and Granary Square will become a huge public space with fountains and steps leading down to the canalside. A number of residential, commercial and retail developments will complete the transformation of the area.
We finished by walking to Kings Place, home to the Guardian newspaper and an interesting small arts centre, and then along the canal to a pub which was the end of the walk.
I had an urge to request that we walk on to Crinnan Street and pay homage to the famous Nature Publishing Group headquarters, but I overcame it. Maybe next time.
The hinterland of these two great stations, Kings Cross and St Pancras is a bit of a mess right now, because of all the construction underway. Rachel said she took an interest in regeneration around old stations – for instance the attempt to turn the Paddington area into something better. She said that everything she had seen made her think that the Kings Cross/St Pancras scheme is going to be a success. It has a richness that other areas do not have: the British Library is already well established there, Kings Place opened a few years ago, the new University is opening now and a bit later the Crick Institute. It is clear that quite soon this is going to be a fascinating new quarter of London.