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#109: Kings Cross – 18/09/2020

You’ll notice a trend in my early posts in that I’m travelling to the Central London main line Hub stations. Partly for convenience and to limit my travelling, and also to take advantage of the quieter nature of stations at this moment in time. Whilst office workers continue to be encouraged to work from home, the impact on travellers through these stations is evident.

Kings Cross StationThe station is home to: Grand Central Railway, Great Northern Railway, Thameslink and Hull Trains. And a new service operated by East Coast Trains is also expected to start in 2021. Let’s not forget London North Eastern Railway (LNER) too who recently launched the arrival of the new Azuma train fleet, to much accolade and fanfare..

the front of an Azuma train showing off its red and white livery

But first; my thanks again goes to the Network Rail reception staff for issuing me with my contractor’s pass giving me open access to the station and platforms…so off I set.

a large gilded station clock with roman numerals. taken from the ground and looking up to the vailuted ceiling

The station drew architectural acclaim because of it’s recent restoration with the creation of the semi-circular departures concourse with its intricate ironwork vaulted ceiling. An exciting new feature and one that complements the original design and work of Lewis Cubitt when the station was originally built in the 1850’s.

one of the intricate roof support struts of the new concourse in kings cross station

One of the other features revealed as part of this restoration was the unveiling of the original towers at the front of the station which shows off the magnificent double arched train sheds and clock tower. With access now opened up at the front of the station with a piazza style area providing an opportunity for visitors to enjoy this Victorian building.

the front of kings cross station, but taken from the side directed at the main building towers. a sepia filter has been applied to accentuate the brick colour

As the autumn sun shines through the high vaulted glass ceilings, which to me epitomises the Victorian train station, it casts a striped shadow across the platforms and trains arriving and departing to a fixed timetable. But this is no longer the case throughout the station as solar panels have been installed along the roof line to capture the sun’s energy and help the station with its greener approach.

three azuma carriages in the sttaion with a mottleed shadow caused by the sun through the roof

Having walked the length of all the platforms, I decided not to pay to have my picture taken outside the infamous Platform 93/4 where an empty queuing line awaited the next barrage of eager Harry Potter fans. But I wonder if JK Rowling may have got her inspiration for the positioning of this hidden platform from the common folklore that suggests this is the location of Boudica’s last battle and where she is buried and reportedly haunts the underground passages?

Sir Nigel Gresley – the designer of the first truly high speed trains had his offices at the station and it is where he designed the world famous ‘Flying Scotsman’ and ‘Mallard’ locomotives. There’s a larger than life sculpture of Sir Nigel by Hazel Reeves on the concourse which is worth a look.

a bronze plaque associated with the statue of Sir Nigel Gresley

The remodelled station has created many retail opportunities, but as with shopping centres, station retail outlets are pretty much the same. Overtaken by the chain companies with little scope for the independent retailers to offer their wares. I suspect rental charges may have something to do with this. However there is one ray of London independence here through the ‘pop-up’ style flower stall near the west entrance. Isle of Flowers offers an interesting alternative to the usual bouquet approach if you fancy something a little pricklier.

a flora stand with an array of cacti

Outside the station

Battle Bridge & Regent Quarter – an area now defined by Pentonville Road, Caledonian Road, Railway Street and York Way was once the fifteenth century hamlet of Battle Bridge. The hamlet grew due to the construction of Regent’s Canal in 1812-1820 and Caledonian Road in 1826. 1852 saw the arrival of the Great Northern Railway where a mixture of industrial and commercial premises was established along with large warehouses, small houses, factory complexes and industrial buildings with internal courtyards.

empty chairs and tables inside the open courtyard inside Regent's Quarter

Records show this was once the site of a varnish factory that had formerly been a pottery, a factory making patent yellow paint and premises for boiling bones. The buildings have all now been repurposed into a mixed development. Some retail, some office space and some residential accommodation surrounding a hidden courtyard. But pass through Bravingtons Walk and you’ll see some brightly coloured ceramic artwork built into the wall

bright blue ceramic frame with red diamand inserts

The Lighthouseas you exit through the front of the station, look up to your left and you’ll see a lighthouse. Yes, perched on top of the narrow row of buildings between Pentonville Road and Grays Inn Road, there’s a lighthouse. Recently refurbished, it stands proudly overseeing the area, but my internet searches can’t find any clear evidence as to why it was built. There are many speculative suggestions, but the most compelling is that it was erected in the late 19th Century to promote Netten’s oyster bar, which occupied the ground floor of this building.

a ground shot looking up at the 'lighthouse'

Scala club – further down Pentonville Road is this Cinema now turned into a music venue. The building has had a chequered past; soon after being built, it was commandeered for the war effort where aircraft parts were manufactured during the First World War. And subsequently as a labour exchange for demobbed troops before returning to life as a cinema in the 1920’s. The building closed in the early 1990’s after being sued by Warner Brothers for showing the UK banned film ‘A Clockwork Orange’, but then reopened as a music venue in 1999.

the building title - SCALA

Ironworks – north of Regent Quarter is the warehouse where the mass production of steel via the Bessemer process was pioneered in the 1860s at Henry Bessemer’s St Pancras Ironworks. In the same small workshop area there were also foundries making brass and copper, and their heritage is now reflected in a large metal wall plaque by one of the entrances to what is now another tastefully redeveloped retail, office and accommodation space.

a wall plaque inside the 'Ironworks' complex promoting the complex's previous occupants e.g. laundry, shoe black, imperial gas company, screw manufacturers

Kings Place – north again of the Ironworks, is a new building which collocates The Guardian and Observer newspapers; several floors of office space and also the home of London’s newest public concert hall with a range of performance, exhibition and education facilities. The building has a very striking wavy glass frontage, which on today’s clear and sunny day offers an artistic reflection of its surroundings.

the wavy glass font of Kings pLace with dramatic reflections and a red stripe indicating where two panels meet

Picture of the Day – Immortal Memory

a tight shot of part of the war memorial. This pasrt dipslaying, in themain, 1914-18 and 1939-45 and the words 'Northern Railway' and 'immortal memory'

Between platforms 3 and 4, there’s a war memorial dedicated to all those working for the Great Northern Railway (GNR) who lost their lives in World War One, and to those working for the LNER who lost their lives in World War 2. The memorial consists of 11 plinths with the names of 937 employees who died in WW1 and a solid metal plaque upon which the dedication is inscribed. There’s a detailed account here from Jane Roberts, a Yorkshire Based Professional Family History Researcher.

I’ve stopped to admire the memorial for a little while in the recognition that not many busy commuters will do so. Those arriving to catch their train are unlikely to see it, and those alighting at the station to head onwards into London are unlikely to give it a second glance. So I take this opportunity to remind others of its presence and if your interest is piqued, please spend a moment to reflect.

  • Location: Kings Cross Station
  • Date/Time: Thursday 17th September 2020
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ5.6; Shutter Speed – 1/200; Focal Length – 75mm; Film Speed – ISO6400

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National Rail

#108 Victoria Station – 27/08/2020

This is the first blog of my new travelling adventure. Having completed my travels to the ends of all the TfL stations across London just before Covid lockdown, I took time out and focused on my local community for a while.

But as restrictions begin to lift, but who knows for how long, I’ve decided to start my next episode. This time to: the ends of the rail network lines within the TfL travel zones (where there is one); and to the furthest point of all other rail network lines within the TfL travel zones. I’ll be excluding those stations I’ve already travelled to during my first campaign which will leave me with almost 40 stations to visit; so I think that will take care of 2020 and 2021 subject to Covid restrictions.

the mosaic floor in the station comprising of brown squares within brown squares in different shades and passengers walking over them

The impact of Covid on travelling

As I set off, I admit to being a little apprehensive from having to wear a face covering for most of the day: on all public transport services and inside the main Victoria Station terminus. I set off with my new travel companions: a face mask and a bottle of hand gel.

My experience throughout the day was mostly positive, but everywhere was noticeably quiet. In fact around Victoria Station it was ghostly quiet as the surrounding offices remain vacant as most people continue to work from home. 

blue floor notices asking passengers to 'please keep your distance'

Passenger numbers are very low and everyone respected each other’s space. Other than those travelling together, people did not sit beside each other. And most passengers were facemask compliant though some didn’t have their nose covered. At times there was maybe one passenger per carriage.

My day’s experience made me full of admiration for those in the station and shops who had no choice other than to wear a facemask all the time. And the floral tribute outside Buckingham Palace in recognition for all the NHS has done during this time remains in full bloom.

a floral display shaped in the NHS logo in the gardens opposite Buckingham Palace

Victoria Station – Home to: Southern and Southeastern Railways and the Gatwick Express although this is temporarily suspended because of the impact the Covid pandemic has had on air travel.

a black and white ceiling shot of the sttaion's latticed roof

I hadn’t realised that Victoria Station is in fact two stations. Built independently side by side in 1860 and 1862 by the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway (LBSCR) and the London, Chatham & Dover Railway (LCDR) respectively. The Grosvenor Hotel, at the front, was independently opened in 1861 and then bought by the LBSCR in 1899. At the same time LBSCR became part of the South, Eastern & Chatham Railway (SECR). 

an external view of the station displaying the hotel frontage with the 'London Victoria Station' sign

1923 saw the station being grouped as one into Southern Railway, and later into British Rail in 1948 as part of its nationalisation. New retail premises were built as part of the Victoria Plaza in the 1980’s and in 1992, the two concourses became one through the integration of even more shopping outlets. But look around and you’ll see examples of the different styles of the original two buildings.

There’s a simple, yet detailed account of the station’s history on the Network Rail website, and I must also pay my thanks to Network Rail staff for providing me with a ‘contractor’s pass’ allowing me to wander freely around the station for the day.

People

I spend my day wandering in and out of the station several times. I also saunter up to Buckingham Palace to explore the station’s wider catchment area to see who’s about? And despite the lack of visitors and commuters, London being London there are still some interesting characters about. Here are a few of them.

The Drunk: Sadly, despite the efforts to help the homeless during these times, there will still be those who are wedded to old habits. This gent is walking precariously across the open air bus depot at the front of the station, swaying and stumbling from side to side as he makes his way to the station. Onlookers gawping in astonishment at the state he was in.

a drunkard walking in front of the station

The Lovers: a young couple finding a quiet spot for a cuddle on the carefully manicured gardens directly in front of Buckingham Palace. I didn’t want to get too close, as it may have ruined the moment, so this shot with a long focal length captures their intimate moment. I hope her maj wasn’t peering out of her window at the time.

two people canoodling on the gadens in front of Buckingham Palace

The Photographer and the Model: I saw this couple from the other side of the road and the photographer was giving some very clear directions on how he wanted his model to pose. Something tells me they were a couple enjoying the moment by Canada Gates outside  Buckingham Palace. It was an intense session as they seemed oblivious to my presence as I approched closley to chat with them. I mocked that I thought the photographer, as he knelt to take some pictures, was about to propose. The model jested ‘if only…’ 10 minutes later as I had circumnavigated Victoria Memorial, they were still at it…

a photographer and his model outside the Canada gates in front of BUckingham Palace

The Biker: this sole biker, waiting for what I don’t know, is parked in a dedicated motorcycle parking bay in Palace Street; just around the corner from the new Cardinal Palace eatery and shopping centre. Whatever he was contemplating, it was quite intense as he remained transfixed in the moment for quite a while. The backdrop gives it quite a continental feel; the gated and open railing walkway synonymous with some mediterranean locations.

a motocyclist sitting on his bike in front of a n open stairwell with intricate ironmongery

The Porter: at the Rubens at the Park hotel in Buckingham Palace Road opposite the Royal Mews. I watched this porter for several minutes striding between the main hotel entrance and it’s adjacent side entrance. Waiting patiently to open doors for those visiting the hotel, but alas there were none. A sign of the times methinks rather than a reflection on the quality of this 5 star hotel’s service. There’s an interesting plaque on the outside wall by the main entrance commemorating General W Sikorski, the Polish Prime Minister (in exile) during the second world war, who had his headquarters in this building during the war years

a solitary porter standing patiently outside the 'Rubens at the Park' hotel

Artemis – the EWI player: as I’m walking through the Nova complex opposite the station, I approach one of their ‘customer support helpers’ who’s patrolling the area. We chat and he introduces himself as a jazz musician who plays the EWI. He says his ambition is to play full time and he offers me his flyer. I’d never heard of this instrument: EWI stands for Electronic Wind Instrument. You can contact him through his Instagram account if you’re interested.

Picture of the Day

a blck and white shot of a bicycle tyre in the foregoround emblazoned with the makers name 'Acceler8'. Passengers feet walking by in the background

I’ve remarked before that sometimes pictures just find you, and this was certainly the case with this one as I knew it stood out as soon as I crouched to compose the shot.

The passenger, who’s bike this is, was buying a ticket for an onward journey from one of the station’s ticket machines in the centre of the concourse. They’ve clearly thought about their own alternative travel arrangement either for getting to the station, or once they’ve arrived at their destination, or indeed both?

It looked like a new tyre on a new bike, so maybe the owner had decided on new travel arrangements in these estranged times. The positioning of the wheel, with passengers walking in the background and a ‘please keep your distance’ floor sticker made this an interesting composition to capture

  • Location: Victoria Station
  • Date/Time: Thursday 27th August 2020
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ5; Shutter Speed – 1/160; Focal Length – 46mm; Film Speed – ISO1600

Social Media

If you like what you see, do please follow me on my social media channels

  • YouTube – for my video clips where I present a compilation of my day’s pictures to music
  • Instagram – for my photo portfolio where you get to see pictures of each visit before I publish my blogs
  • Facebook and Twitter

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