In just under two weeks time, commuters arriving at King’s Cross station will be the first to leave the front of the building and walk not onto a building site, but a large open plaza.

The demolition of the ugly green shed that despoiled the front of the station started last September, and a year later, the repaving of the area and cleaning up of the two huge ventilation shafts is nearly complete.

In fact, people coming out of the station into a vast open space will be the first time that has ever been possible, as the land in front of the station has always been covered with shops and sheds of some sort or other — and the 1970s Green Shed was itself just a replacement of a previous cluttered mess.

As the station refurbishment is nearly finished, there was a chance to go up the famous clock tower and have a look down from above.

First, a couple of old/then/now/soon photos of the site. Curiously, it doesn’t really look significantly different from this perspective, as the real shock is when you get much closer to the building.

Exterior of King's Cross Station 1870-1900 © English Heritage

Kings Cross's Green Shed

King's Cross plaza

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Now that the shed that sat next to the frontage has been removed, people can finally see the huge brick and glass wall fronting the station building that originally housed just two platforms, and now has 9 of them.

There have apparently been some comments made about the glass canopy and the wish that it wasn’t there, but if you come out of a station platform directly into the rain, people will need a few meters of brolly erection space.

Glass canopy aside, this is a view that has only been visible in the first decade after the station opened — it was soon to be covered over, and remained so until a few months ago.

The newly cleared frontage

In the center of the frontage though sits the famous clock tower, and the best way to the roof, is via the staircase hidden within.

Inside the clock tower

Although don’t use the door to nowhere half-way up.

Up to the clock room

The clock itself, once a Victorian mechanical affair has since been replaced with a tiny electric box, although the original wooden beams and cogs and bars are still transmitting time to the three clock faces.

Inside the clock tower

While the fully cleaned up roof looks quite amazing from below, and was an astonishing sight when first uncovered from the massive “duvet” that had shrouded it for a couple of years — possibly a better view is from above.

Above King's Cross station

The structure is original, although the glass is all fresh replacements for the tinted yellow stained glass that used to be here. There are also solar cells along the top of both glasshouses which can generate about 10% of the station building’s electricity needs (excluding trains).

A couple of flag poles will adorn either side of the station, and one was still being erected as we arrived.

Flagpole errection

Far down below, the refurbishment of the plaza continues. It took a year to clear the shed, as in part there were services under the pavement to clear and shift, and the tube station below meant restrictions on how deep some structures could go.

For example, just small decorative trees in pots so that their roots don’t end up grazing the heads of tube passengers below.

Three tall poles with lighting on them have now been erected and the two ventilation shafts are being re-clad. A new ventilation shaft for the tube tunnels was also installed in an old gap left over from WW2 inside the new concourse, so the tube network has gained a bit more heat extraction capacity from the works.

King's Cross plaza

The works will be finish — in theory — in time for the whole area to have its hoardings removed overnight on the 25th Sept, in time for the plaza to open to the public on Thursday morning.

There will then be a big Victorian celebration on the Square over that weekend, with more activities behind the station, and a “train ride” linking the two.

This isn’t just a celebration of restoring a building for the sake of restoring it though. The St Pancras/King’s Cross complex collectively have a passenger traffic level roughly double that of Heathrow Airport. No one should leave such a major transport hub in such a dilapidated state again, and the works carried out here are starting to show the real commercial benefits of good quality station design.

They are finding that people are spending more time in the stations, not due to train delays, but because the venues are actually pleasant spaces. No one would have wanted to spend an hour in the Ugly Green Shed, but they are happy to do so in the new platform waiting areas.

The redevelopment of the station has also been a major catalyst in encouraging businesses to take up office space behind the station. That is already leading to more high paying business users on the railways, and it is these sorts of things that justify, and ultimately pay for the £500 million upgrade cost of the station.

A couple of silly photos to finish with.

This is an under construction pavement drain which will have the metal slats installed at the top — but doesn’t the side wall of the drain look remarkably like a row of brick arches for a railway viaduct.

Brick arches? No, the side of a drain.

Also, although they will be totally hidden, the tiles running around this tube station entrance still carry the famous roundel. Although I hope they turn the two on the corner the right way round before covering them up in pavement slabs.

Tube roundels!

Site access was courtesy of Network Rail. Matt from Londonist and myself finished off with a couple of pints in the stations really quite lovely pub.

A few more photos over here.

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13 comments on “Photos from the roof above King’s Cross Station
  1. Andrea says:

    The scandal is how little they have done to make cycling to the station safe. Typical #NastyBritain.

    • IanVisits says:

      That’s not a scandal at all, as this is a story about the refurbishment of the railway station building — how you get to the station is a totally different issue.

  2. Charlie says:

    What a silly comment. Clearly a post about the wonderful restoration to the building.

    It’s becoming a feature on my tours and visitors are always impressed with both Kings Cross and St Pancras. Plus the HP connection helps.

    Having used the place for years to escape northwards home bound I’m massively impressed with the layout and quality of the place. The whole area is now a place to linger rather than scamper through quickly.

  3. Jim says:

    I should probably add to that: Fantastic photos, of course! This is the second time I’ve looked at this article and I’ve enjoyed them all over again.

  4. Jim says:

    Hmm, the first of my two comments seems to have disappeared (which makes the second, above, look a bit odd). Here it is again.

    The comment that the station originally only had “two platforms” makes it sounds like it was a very different layout to today; presumably an enormous concourse with a bay platform under each of the large arches. But if the Wikipedia article on it is to be believed, all 8 platforms* existed from the beginning, it’s just that only two of them (platforms 1 and 8) were used for passengers, with the rest used for stabling trains. The two platforms were separately dedicated to arrivals and departures – reminiscent of today’s segregated concourses! But sadly all of this is uncited, so unless we find a source it’s just hearsay of an anonymous editor.

    * Of course platform 0 didn’t exist. Again according to an uncited Wikipedia claim, this was a taxi rank immediately before it was converted. Whether or not that’s true, that surely can’t have been the original use for that space. Looking at it now, I wonder if it was an area for goods, perhaps post.

  5. @Jim

    You need to be clear about what you are talking about. There were only two platforms but there were many tracks. In the early days of King’s Cross there would be few trains so two platforms would be quite adequate.

    Preparing just the carriages for a long return journey (cleaning, refilling the restaurant, replenishing water in the toilets, a check on the mechanical state of the stock (wheeltapping etc.) would have taken considerable time and this would be done at the many additional tracks between the arrivals platform (today’s platform 1) and departures (today’s platform 8).

    The original layout explains why all the various shops, restaurants,toilets etc. as well as the original booking hall were located along platform 8 and not behind the buffer stops which would normally be the logical place to enable passengers departing from all platforms to conveniently use them.

    I am puzzled why you don’t believe that platform 0 was originally the taxi rank. Of course to be absolutely strict that is correct because a taxi is merely short for “taximeter cab” and these did not exist at the time the station was opened. But it was the original cab rank. One can hardly think of a more ideal location. It was right next to the arrivals platform. Unlike many main line stations it did not involve a ramp which the horses found awkward and furthermore the tunnel nature of it would have minimised the risk of horses bolting as whilst waiting as they would be away from the busy traffic. Of course, departing passengers would have been dropped off on the other side.

    I think we can safely assume that the area that is now platform 0 was not used for parcels and goods. A big clue can be found in the name of the station pub next to platform 8 called “The Parcel Yard”. If you ever see the original film “The Ladykillers” you should be able to identify where the goods traffic was situated which was to the west of platform 8.

    By the way, the location of all arrivals at platform 1 goes a long way to explain why the original Metropolitan Railway/Line King’s Cross Underground station of 1863-1941 was located next to the old King’s Cross Thameslink platforms.

  6. Andrea says:

    You Brits are really clueless.
    Millions have been spent to restore a train station and no thought has been spent on how to reach it safely by bicycle.
    And you don’t think that is a scandal?
    I guess a nation of idiots deserves being so crap.

    • IanVisits says:

      Look, think about it logically.

      The key thing when people are outside the station is speed of thruput — you simply cannot have vast numbers of people arriving on a comparatively slow form of transport that takes up far more space than a bus or tube train would to deliver that volume of passengers.

      The cost of building the vast warehouse needed to house the bikes in storage when not in use would have been staggering.

      Yes to more bike provision at intermediate stations, and around the rest of London, but terminus stations are one of the last places to focus cycling at.

    • Elaine Jones Evans says:

      Tut tut tut!!! Andrea Did you know? When one is not getting one’s opinion across! One should NEVER EVER result to insults and unpleasant comments. Being a cycle user myself I do understand the point you are attempting to get across but your shameless comments regarding our NATION and PEOPLE simply put condemns you as being arrogant and self opinionated. Arguments are not won in this way only damage to the cycle lobby for more consideration is achieved.

      Kind regards

  7. Elaine Jones Evans says:

    Now now ANDREA just because you have an issue with cycleways there is no reason or need to Throw Your Toys Out of the Pram!!! And resort to sarcastic remarks about our Nation…what about calm, constuctive, comments to open up what I am sure is a valid subject (cycleways) BUT the original blog was and is about the restoration of Kings Cross which if I might say is much welcomed as with the lovely St.Pancras Station…to restore and upgrade such places, keeping the old and new is something to behold…Town Planners throughout our land take note and digest…so Andrea back to your comments..Time and place and this blog is not that place.

  8. Elaine Jones Evans says:

    Thank you Ian enjoyed your tour around Kings Cross can’t wait to visit from Winchester..regards

  9. Jim says:

    Well I’d consider a raised surface that you can stand on and is next to a track to be a platform, even if passengers aren’t allowed there (although I realise that technically means that I count a bay platform as two platforms). But yes, I hadn’t considered that there could be tracks in the station for anything other than letting passenger board and disembark. So Ian’s comment threw me off, but as you rightly point out, that’s down to my ignorance.

    I’m just skeptical of unsourced Wikipedia material because anyone can edit it, not because I specifically disbelieved the claim. Thanks for your very interesting reply!

  10. Jim says:

    My last comment was aimed at PoP, in case that wasn’t clear. I took so long to reply (but the tab was left open in my browser) that a whole chain of comments appeared when I hit “submit”!

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