There’s arguably no other place in London that has been transformed quite like King’s Cross. Granted, transformation is not easy without heavy investment and a booming local economy, but today’s new face of King’s Cross is the next chapter in the area’s story. The Resident takes a look at the past, present and future of postcode area N1C
Words: Eugene O’Sullivan
The phrase – and the place – King’s Cross now means different things to different people. This part of London is evidence that an area can shed one skin and take on another. Granted, the transformation is not easy without heavy investment and a booming local economy, but today’s new face of King’s Cross is the next chapter in the area’s story.
King’s Cross in Roman Times
The story began, in fact, in Roman times, when this area lay around 2km from Londonium, a Roman settlement. Initially associated with a Queen rather than a King, it is reputed to be the site of the legendary battle between Queen Boudica and the Romans in AD61, leading to a story that she is buried under Platform 9 at King’s Cross station. The platform is arguably more famous now for its Harry Potter associations.
Later, Roman monks built a church there, now the site of St Pancras Old Church, but it turned out to be rather out of the way for worshippers, and even later on in the 18th century this remained a rural area where Londoners would come to escape. Urban development began in 1756 with the completion of the Euston Road, and further escalated with the completion of the Regents Canal in 1820. It was around this time that the name King’s Cross entered into use. At the crossroads of Battle Bridge a statue of King George IV was erected but, attracting ridicule, it was demolished only 14 years afterwards. The name, however, persisted, and the station opened ten years later.
At the crossroads of Battle Bridge a statue of King George IV was erected but, attracting ridicule, it was demolished only 14 years afterwards
The area became a hub of industrial and commercial development and yet, by the end of the 20th century, a steady decline in fortunes led to derelict buildings and lack of opportunity. Despite attracting creatives and artists, the seedy side of the area dominated, with crime and unemployment on the rise.
King’s Cross Now
Sixteen years into the 21st century things couldn’t look more different. Investment and projects have combined to make King’s Cross a desirable area to both live and work. The imaginative redevelopment of St Pancras station nearby and its link to the Channel Tunnel rail link, kick-started a change in the area, the extent of which has not been seen in any other part of London.
Buildings that have influenced the transformation include the redeveloped and restored Midland Hotel, now St Pancras Renaissance; the Francis Crick Institute, a centre for biomedical research, formed by six of the UK’s scientific and academic institutions; and Kings Place, a hub for music, arts, and food, with space for events and conferences, housed in an award-winning building. Part of the attraction of the area is the sympathetic redevelopment of long-abandoned buildings combined with the brand-new, architecturally unique new developments. Rather than kick away its past, the developers and investors, including the local authorities, have used the history of the area as the very backbone of its new character.
Rather than kick away its past, the developers and investors, including the local authorities, have used the history of the area as the very backbone of its new character
There have been some quite subtle ways of indicating the new personality of King’s Cross, such as a new postcode, N1C, being introduced. The area is marketed not only towards those seeking retail space or therapy, or office space, but towards everyone: workers, families, tourists, locals, and businesses.
Living in King’s Cross is now an aspiration; new developments have been established over the last few years, with the Plimsoll building one of the latest to be under construction. There are also numerous sites being offered as retail space, such as Two, Three and Four Pancras Square, while the current retail tenants that are already servicing the new permanent and temporary populations of the area include Vinoteca, The Greek Larder, Yumchaa and most recently Waitrose – with a new pub and restaurant by Jamie Oliver on its way. Google’s relocation to the area turned heads. The internet search giant will be constructing its own purpose-built headquarters, but moved its staff to the area in advance.
Living in King’s Cross is now an aspiration
The fortunes of King’s Cross can be tracked in parallel in the rents achieved over the years. Recent figures show King’s Cross prime rents at around £80 per square foot – still one of the lower price ranges in the capital, with the highest total, St James’s and Mayfair, up at the top at £146 per square foot.
King’s Cross in the Future
King’s Cross is now sold to prospective occupiers in terms of figures: 20 new streets, 50 new buildings, 2,000 new homes, 10 new public squares, 67 acres, and – importantly – 45,000 people living, working and studying here. Some experts predict residential prices here will reach £2,000 per square foot by 2018. Other experts are not so sure.