Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

Registered UK Charity (No. 115342)

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,365 pages of information and 245,906 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

King's Cross Railway Station

From Graces Guide
Demolishing King's Cross. Image published in 1894.
The original King's Cross train shed with laminated wooden arches. From Tredgold's Carpentry
The original train shed with laminated wooden arches.
Section through laminated rib.
Detail of drawing showing the original cast iron spandrel fillings re-used with the replacement wrought iron ribs
Image published in 1894.
2024. The building on the right is a Waitrose supermarket, built on the footprint of one of the trainsheds of the original GNR terminus. It incorporates some of the original cast iron spandrels - see below
2024. Cast iron spandrels seen from inside the supermarket

King's Cross was originally designed and built as the London hub of the Great Northern Railway and terminus of the East Coast Main Line. It was impressive in its scale and its restrained decoration.

The first Great Northern Railway London terminus, known as Maiden Lane, was opened in 1850. The designer was Lewis Cubitt. It was only used by passengers until 1852, while the permanent terminus (King's Cross) was constructed. Passenger access was from Maiden Lane. The contract for the trainshed roofs was given to Robertson and Lister of Glasgow. It was always intended that the original terminus site would be used for goods after the permanent terminus opened. In fact it was used for a potato warehouse. Major alterations were made in 1864, but the original trainshed roof was retained. Extensive demolition was undertaken in the 1970s, but several of the original cast iron columns and spandrel beams survived.[1]

A photo here [2] shows what was probably the original roof, with cast-iron columns and spandrel beams. This source also provides a great deal of information about the original station. Some of the cast iron beams and column capitals, but not the columns) have been preserved as roof joint supports in the new Waitrose supermarket. See 2024 photos.

The station was designed by Lewis Cubitt and constructed in two years from 1851 to 1852, on the site of a former fever and smallpox hospital. The main part of the station, which today includes platforms 1 to 8, was opened on 14 October 1852. It replaced a temporary terminus at Maiden Lane that had opened on 8 August 1850.

The two train sheds are 800ft long, 105ft wide and 71 ft high. The square Italianate clock and bell tower is 112ft high. Despite the size, the station opened with just two platforms, and fourteen tracks. Most of the tracks were used for storage and had no platform access. Numerous small turntables and capstans allowed for rolling stock to be moved without the use of a locomotive.

The original arches were made of laminated timber, spaced 20 ft apart, sprung from cast iron wall brackets. The individual boards were 1.5" thick. Drawing here.

The upper portion of the roof was glazed, while the lower parts were covered with timber boards overlaid with slates. The thrust of the arched roof was taken on the west side by an office block, initially of three-storeys, while by wooden flying buttresses over the cab road took the thrust on east side.[3].

In 1858 the Midland Railway started to run services from Hitchin to Kings Cross.

During the 1860s, tunnels were bored connecting the GNR to the east-west Metropolitan Railway's Widened Lines.

In 1866-7 wrought and cast iron replaced wood for the arch ribs.

In December 1869 R. M. Bancroft presented a Paper about the renewal of the roof before the Civil & Mechanical Engineers' Society. He noted that the first known examples of curved laminated roof beams were built in France c.1819, with spans of 65.5 and 69 ft. He mentioned early British examples, including a bridge built by John Green in 1833, and the Ouseburn Viaduct, built in 1837. Bridges were soon found to suffer from wet rot.

The author described the details of the replacement wrought iron work, and stated that extensive planing of mating edges had been carried out, and all holes were reamed after punching undersize. The wrought iron main ribs were formed and accurately cuved so as to fit in exactly between the old cast iron shoes built in the walls on each side (see drawing), the cast iron spandrel fillings of the old roof being cut shorter to suit the new wrought iron ribs. Slates and much of the glass were also re-used. The main ribs were each hoisted to place in seven pieces, and the total weight of iron in one bay was just under 19 tons. Erection was carried out without affecting traffic, changing each rib using a large movable platform weighing 400 tons. Richard Johnson was the engineer-in-chief. The contractor was John Jay. The ironwork was constructed by the London Engineering and Iron Ship Building Co under the direction of Westwood, Baillie and Co, the company's managers.[4]

The station suffered from bombing during the Second World War. Evidence of repair to a group of ribs can be seen, with iron castings being replaced by steel fabrications.

The platforms have been reconfigured several times; originally there was only one arrival and one departure platform (today's platforms 1 and 8 respectively), with the space between used for carriage sidings. In later years as suburban traffic grew, space for additional platforms was added with considerably less grandeur; the secondary building now containing platforms 9-11 survives from that era.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. [1] London's Industrial Archaeology No 7 [2000]: THE FIRST KING'S CROSS. THE 1850 GNR TERMINUS IN MAIDEN LANE AND ITS SUBSEQUENT FATE by Peter Kay
  2. [2] 'A look at the original Kings Cross station – at Maiden Lane'. Published 16 March 2012 By Ian Mansfield
  3. [3] Camden Railway Heritage Trust, 2010: GNR passenger station
  4. [4] The Engineer, 21 Jan 1870