Saturday, June 25, 2005

North of St Pancras

The area to the north of King's Cross and St Pancras stations is being changed out of all recognition. The developers' website declares that "King's Cross presents one of the most exciting and significant development and regeneration opportunities within London, the UK and Europe."

So it is no wonder that this profile of a nightclub owner says he has:
wasted no time in renting out the offices to the type of professionals who will change the landscape from the tapestry of hauliers, scaffolders and car mechanics redolent of a bygone era, when cheap rents were to be had in the Goods Yard and neighbouring arches.
Yet that landscape, which can be seen in the Ealing film The Ladykillers, contains - or contained - an extraordinary range of historic buildings. There is a list of what has been lost, saved or moved by the developers here.

One of those buildings is the German Gymnasium, which I have long known about but not consciously seen until last Wednesday. I had always imagined this 19th century institution as the haunt of Victorian men with striped combinations and waxed moustaches who lifted rounded dumbbells with ease. Perhaps weedy youths were sent there to toughen them up. ("A spell at the German Gymnasium would do that boy good.")

It turns out that the Gymnasium is next to the new station at St Pancras which Midland Mainline trains are using at the moment. It has been cleaned and restored (though I believe the original entrance has been demolished) and now houses the developers' exhibition. For a photograph of the place in a state of romantic decay click here, and for a more sober account of its history see the bottom of this page.

The history of the area goes back long before the 19th century. Iain Sinclair's visionary book Lights Out for the Territory leads on to an even more visionary work: the poem Vale Royal by Aidan Dun. (It was published, in Rutland naturally, in 1995.)

Dun mines this history to offer:
A song to explain the Golden Quatrain
and the mystical geography of Kings Cross,
a song for all navigators of the night-sea crossing...
Those without an interest in mystical geography or off-piste industrial archaeology can still find much to enjoy in the area. Not drugs and prostitution, but Old St Pancras Church, Camley Street Natural Park and the London Canal Museum.

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