150 160 years ago the Great Northern Railway proudly opened its London terminus railway station at Kings Cross. However, it wasn’t the first attempt by the railway company at building a terminus station in London, and was a replacement for another railway station that had been in use for just two years.
No railway wanted to lose out on the bonanza from the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park during 1851, and while the Great Northern Railway had planned a great station building at King’s Cross, there were delays in buying up the land.
Facing a diminishing timeline, the railway company built a small station as a temporary measure – at Maiden Lane, just to the north of the modern Kings Cross.
Maiden Lane is now called York Way, and the original name ‘Maiden Lane’ comes from a corruption of the word ‘midden’, a dung heap!
Although commonly known now as Maiden Lane station, and also in the records – once it opened it was always referred to as King’s Cross. So the modern day railway station can be truly said to be the second station to bear that name.
Just like its larger successor, the station had just two platforms, arrivals and departures and passengers used side roads not the front of the station to arrive and leave.
There are some suggestions that the site could have become the permanent terminus building, but various factions within the company prevailed that the station as built should be temporary only – largely due to the distance to the main Euston Road.
The architect, Lewis Cubitt was appointed in December 1849, and it was agreed that the temporary station would be built above a cut/cover tunnel that would later take trains down to its replacement building a few years later.
After less than a year of construction work – the new terminus station opened to passengers on the 7th August 1850, although it would appear that the construction hadn’t been fully completed, with complaints about the unfinished glazing still being made several months later.
It may have been just a temporary station, but that didn’t deter Queen Victoria from using it – once – when taking a trip to Scotland.
The station served passengers throughout the Great Exhibition, but construction work was now underway of its eventual replacement – the second King’s Cross station, which eventually opened on 14 October 1852.
Within days of the switchover of buildings, the original station had been converted into, of all things, a wholesale potato market, which actually turned out to be hugely successful, and within a couple of years, another series of temporary buildings clustered around the old station building to cope with traffic.
In 1864 though, major works were carried out – including the demolition of the temporary buildings, but also the original station fittings – but not the side walls, or the roof. In 1888, further expansions to the potato warehouse were carried out.
After decades of success, the cargo facility — which had long since expanded beyond potatoes — traffic slowed to the point where it was closed down in the 1960s. Some reports – such as an article by the Greater London Industrial Archeological Society suggest that the original station was torn down.
However, trying to confirm that has proven difficult, and most other reports suggest that the frame of the building still stands. I have read (page 63) that bits of the structure were retained in the Goods Shed. That seems to corroborate other reports.
However, the front building is widely claimed to date from the 1850 station, although some of the claims lack context, and looking at some maps suggests its in the wrong location for the original.
Making the assumption that the front building is original though, and that the Handyside roof is modestly original, I took a wander around at the weekend to have a look and see what remains.
Oh, and thanks to the motorist who seeing me photographing the building decided to park his car right in front of it, use a nearby wall as a toilet – and then expected me to offer him directions to the London Canal Museum.
Although the original King’s Cross/Maiden Lane station has long vanished, there was for a while an unrelated second Maiden Lane station, just to the north on what is today part of the London Overground network. There has been a simmering campaign (page 19) to rebuild that station and provide an additional transport option at the extremity of the regeneration area.
The once and future station might return, and add even more confusion to the railway heritage of the area!