Day 9 – British Library – St Pancras – Kings Cross

A pretty short one today; partly due to the fact that I dropped my phone shortly after leaving the house, and then cut my thumb open on the smashed screen. I also lingered rather longer than anticipated in the British Library, from where this walk begins before crossing the Euston Road and making a brief foray into the St Pancras area south of the eponymous station.

Day 9 Route

Before we kick off though the shaded area in the map below shows what we’ve covered so far. As someone once said – this could take a while.

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As already noted, the starting point today is the British Library which divorced itself from the British Museum and moved to this purpose-built site on the Euston Road in 1997 (the largest public building constructed in the UK in the 20th century). I don’t think it’s in any way controversial to describe the building itself as uninspiring – not helped by the unflattering comparison with its majestic neighbour, the Renaissance (formerly Midland Grand) Hotel of which more in a minute. Someone must like it though as it was granted Grade 1 listed status this year.

The BL collection comprises more than 150 million items adding around 3 million each year. This takes up 625km of shelf space and requires a further 12km every year.

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The statue in the picture above on the left is a representation of Sir Isaac Newton by artist Eduardo Paolozzi “after the style of William Blake”. Funding for this was provided by a grant from pools companies, Littlewoods, Vernons and Zetters. This was  just one year after the start of the National Lottery which was ultimately responsible for forcing the three pools companies to merge into one and effectively disappear off the public radar.

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As I said I spent longer than intended at the BL. This was down to visiting the recently-opened “West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song” exhibition, which I can thoroughly recommend (it’s on until 16 February 2016).

The mask in the right-hand picture above is of a kind used in masquerade rituals in Burkina Faso and northern Mali. The black and white pattern represents the importance of learning – black signifying the deep knowledge of the elders and the white the lack of knowledge of the youth. ( I think we can all get with that particular message).

Anyway, I finally leave the library and make a quick up-and-down Midland Road which separates the library from St Pancras International Station and the aforementioned Renaissance Hotel. The original St Pancras Station opened in 1868 and the Midland Grand Hotel eight years later. The hotel was the “wonder of the age” when it opened but after the First World War, during which it was bombed, it gradually fell out of favour and closed in 1935. From then until 1985, when it was declared unsafe, it was used as railway company offices. In the 1960’s there was a proposal to demolish both the hotel and St Pancras station but a vociferous public campaign led instead to listed status in 1967.

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Latterly, of course, the arrival of the Channel Tunnel and the decision to site the eventual London terminus for Eurostar services at St Pancras led to the redevelopment of the site between 2004 and 2007 and the rebirth of the station as St Pancras International and the hotel, which Betjeman had feared “too beautiful and too romantic to survive” as the Renaissance Hotel. The pictures above show how the architectural motifs of the original building were carried over into the new construction.

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Further evidence for the case that it is nigh on impossible to take a photo of anything in London without a bloody white van getting into the frame.

So crossing Euston Road we venture down Judd Street before taking a right into Bidborough Street which leads into Marbledon Place and today’s pub of the day, Mabel’s Tavern. Very nice pint of Shepherd Neame Bishop’s Finger and a sausage sandwich but how many screens blasting out Sky Sports News do you really need.

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On leaving the pub it’s a revisit of Flaxman Terrace before turning left into Burton Street and then right into Burton Place where we come across this van promoting St George Ethiopian beer. Having never seen this stocked anywhere I was half-inclined to view this as some kind of elaborate art installation with the name being a stab at political comment on cultural misappropriation. However it transpires that St George is not thought to have ever been anywhere near Ethiopia and is merely a shared patron saint and that the brewery named after him has been going since 1922.

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Burton Place leads into Cartwright Gardens. This whole area is awash with budget hotels (though in London the term is purely relative) but this particular crescent is wall-to-wall with them.

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Cartwright Street is closed off due to a massive redevelopment of student halls so we have to traverse the actual gardens which are themselves undergoing a make-over. Hence the caging off of the statue of the man after whom the gardens were named. John Cartwright (1740 – 1824) was a political reformer who campaigned for universal suffrage well before the concept became reasonably acceptable. His status as all-round good bloke is evidenced by the fact that this statue was paid for by public donation.

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Next up is Sandwich Street which is obviously where I should have had lunch.

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Then on to Thanet Street and via Leigh Street back to Judd Street where there’s just time to pay a visit to Camden Town Hall. As well as, naturally, being home to Camden Borough Council this Grade-II listed neo-classical thirties building is now a much-used venue for civil marriage and wedding ceremonies (as exampled below).

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There is public access to the first floor where the council chambers are located and also the Mayor’s parlour (which his or her office is quaintly referred to). The plaque you can see in the picture below celebrates residents of the borough who fought on the right (i.e. the left) side in the Spanish Civil War. The flags commemorate the wartime contribution of Canadian airmen.

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Fittingly, given the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, there is also a commemoration of the granting of the freedom of the borough to Michael Foot (the last genuinely socialist leader of the Labour party).

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 Back on the eastern side of Bidborough Street are the Victoria mansions which were home for 22 years to the British surrealist painter and wartime artist, Paul Nash (1889 – 1946). Nash is best known for his haunting, proto-Modernist WW1 landscapes.

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The remainder of the streets bounded by Gray’s Inn Road to the east and Euston Road to the north are unremarkable save for the already-remarked upon proliferation of lower-end hotels. So via Tonbridge Street, Argyle Walk, Whidborne Street, Argyle Street, Belgrove Street, St Chad’s Street, Argyle Square, Crestfield Street and Birkenhead Street we end emerge again opposite Kings Cross Station just as the early evening gloom is setting in.

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Gateway to the major cities of Yorkshire, North-East England and Scotland, Kings Cross (or King’s Cross – either is used) has a strong history in popular culture. In fact it’s probably better known today for being the home of Harry Potter’s fictional platform 9 and 3/4 than for the tragic fire of 1987 in which 31 people died. It also featured prominently in the great Ealing comedy of 1955, The Ladykillers.

According to folklore, King’s Cross was also the site of Queen Boudicca’s final battle and she is buried somewhere under one of the platforms.

Day 7 – Euston – Somers Town – Bloomsbury

Today’s route sees us heading north again to cover the area around Euston Station starting in the locality of Somers Town which bridges the gape between Euston and Kings Cross. We then head across the Euston Road encroaching into Bloomsbury before finishing off in the streets surrounding University College London.

Day 7 Route

From Euston Station we head north along Eversholt Street which is somewhat reminiscent of the vicinity of Kings Cross before it was tarted up. Though it does have the impressive 1930’s built Euston House at no.24, originally the HQ of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway it later became the home of the British Railways Board (now of fond memory).

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Further up it looks more like this. I don’t think I’ve seen one of those multi-coloured plastic strip curtains since about 1981. Interesting to note that the misused apostrophe isn’t a particularly modern phenomenon – though whoever put this up has obviously hedged their bets.

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Turn eastward along Polygon Street where at no.16 is the site of the  the former Jubilee pub closed in 2003 but nice to see the splendid frontage still in situ. We are now venturing into Somers Town which like the area immediately east of Regents Park still has a good stock of social housing and a bit of an old-school community feel. Right down Werrington Street and left along Pheonix Road and we hit Ossulton Street which heading south flanks the new British Library.

The site just to the north of the library is supposedly being redeveloped as the Francis Crick Institute, intended to be one of the largest medical research centres in Europe. I say supposedly because the poster below proclaims an opening in 2015 and as you can see from the other photo there’s still basically just an empty space.

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Quick right onto Euston Road and back northward on Chalton Street, a pleasingly tree-lined thoroughfare with an interesting mix of retail and hospitality outlets. Including one with a secret garden – though it’s obviously not that secret once you advertise it on your billboard.

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Drummond Crescent, Doric Way, Churchway and Grafton Place complete the set of streets east of Euston and somewhere amongst these is this rather novel storage solution.

Then we’re back out by the supremely unlovely Euston Station from where heading east along Euston Road we pass the headquarters of the Unison Trade Union at no. 130.

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Cross over Euston Road and skirt round the back along Flaxman Terrace which segues into Dukes Road where we find The Place, home of contemporary dance.

Opposite is the back entrance to the imposing neo-classical St Pancras New Church. Built in 1819–22 to the designs of William and Henry William Inwood; the most impressive features of this Grade-I listed building are the two tribunes on either side of the eastern end with their four terracotta caryatids modelled on those at the Erechtheum in Athens.

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Inside the entrance to the church is a plaque commemorating a family of worshippers who were amongst those lost when the Steamship City of Boston sank en route from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Liverpool in 1870.

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The crypt, which extends the whole length of the church, was designed to contain 2,000 coffins, but fewer than five hundred interments had taken place by 1854, when the practice was ended in all London churches. It served as an air-raid shelter in both world wars and is now used as an art gallery. The kinetic installations in the pictures below are the work of Irish-French artist Malachi Farrell.

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Running parallel to the south side of the church is the self-consciously quaint Woburn Walk which trumpets its Georgian origins along with the facts that WB Yeats is a former resident and Dickens used to buy his tobacco here. It’s a popular location for anachronistic TV and advertising shoots most notably episodes of Poirot. As you can see it’s not all about the past – the future is catered for as well, if you dare seek to know it !

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Moving back westward along the south side of the Euston Road we pass Friends House, the Quakers’ top joint, before reaching the Wellcome Collection. This is part of the Wellcome Trust, founded in 1936 by the munificent Henry Solomon Wellcome as a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health. As well as its permanent collection of medical-related artefacts the Collection also puts on regular free artistic and historical exhibitions. If you’re quick you can still (up until 18 October) catch the work of Alice Anderson who has “mummified” an astonishing array of items using layers of thin copper wire.

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Crossing on to the north side of Euston Road we encounter the headquarters of the Royal Society of General Practioners, yet another grand London edifice at the disposal of members of the medical profession.

From here we head back north along Hampstead Road before doubling back down Cardington Street then turning onto Drummond Street, which used to be wall-to-wall Indian vegetarian restaurants but now only has a couple left. Cobourg Street adjoins Starcross Street where we pause at the pub of the day, the Exmouth Arms, for a pint and a burger (though not your actual Juicy Bastard I’m sorry to say).

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North Gower Street leads back to Drummond Street and on the corner of this and Melton Street sits one of those red-tiled disused former tube stations. This was one of two separate tube stations built to service Euston just after the start of the 20th century. This one, which was part of the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway was only in use from 1907 to 1914 when both the original stations were closed (though the other one did reopen in the twenties). The current Euston underground station dates from 1968 like the Victoria Line on which it sits.

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We turn right onto Euston Street and then circle back to the station via Stephenson Way where I completely (and perhaps aptly) fail to spot the (Harry Potter-ishly named) Centre for the Magic Arts which is the home of the Magic Circle. I guess they must keep it shrouded in some kind of invisibility cloak during the daytime..

At the Euston Road entrance to the station can be found the last remnants of the original station which was built in the 1830’s and demolished (surprise, surprise) in the 1960’s. The two lodges which originally flanked the grandiose Euston Arch (despite being Grade-II listed this failed to survive the redevelopment) are now in use as bars. The war memorial in the background below also made it beyond the decade of destruction.

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Turning south again on Upper Woburn Place we find the home of the British Medical Association ( I refer you to my earlier comment). This photo doesn’t do it justice and I’ve missed off the plaque noting that Dickens (him again) lived on this site for ten years or so from around 1860. On the upside what’s not to like about those trousers ?

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We arrive at Tavistock Square which encircles and eponymous garden whose centrepiece is this statue of Mahatma Gandhi, sculpted by the Polish artist, Fredda Brilliant (real name), and installed in 1968 ( as big a year round these parts as it was in Paris seemingly).

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Via Endsleigh Street, Endsleigh Gardens and Taviton Street we reach Gordon Square. This is now firmly within the bailiwick of Bloomsbury as evidenced by the plaque at no 50. celebrating the whole Bloomsbury set and another at no.51 dedicated to Lytton Strachey (1880 – 1932) alone. Thankfully I managed to avoid the recent TV series on the set and I won’t dwell on them here though I suspect they will crop up again in a subsequent post.

More interestingly, no.46 was home to the great economist John Maynard Keynes (1883 – 1946) from 1916 until his death. In 1999, Time magazine included Keynes in their list of the 100 most important and influential people of the 20th century, commenting that: “His radical idea that governments should spend money they don’t have may have saved capitalism.” As we know just nine years later that idea came into its won once more.

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On the other side of the square is Dr Williams’ Library. The gardens in between are much frequented by students of University College London whose campus occupies a large site to the west of Gordon Street and a smaller one to the east.

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So large in fact that bypassing it takes us, via Gower Place and Beaumont Way, all the way back to Warren Street tube and the end of today’s journey.

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