A – Z Story Challenge: K is for Kings Cross

Kings Cross has been a part of my life since I was a baby… I may have been born in Barnet, then within the county of Hertfordshire, but my Father was a Scotsman born in Dundee and we used to travel north for our summer holidays to Scotland. So, I have many memories of Kings Cross as it was and a view on what it has become. Back in those days of steam it was possible to see the racehorses of the iron road – the Gresley Pacifics, including Mallard, here. I recall, as told before, travelling north behind Gresley Pacific 60065 ‘Knight of Thistle’ and on other occasions behind diesels that still stirred the blood in the early hours of the morning. Kings Cross, more than Euston, was a gateway to the magic of Scotland – possibly because the western route of the old LNWR linked to so many cities like Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester, that Glasgow was often a forgotten by-product. You left Kings Cross knowing that it was York, Newcastle and then Edinburgh – a bit unfair on the beautiful city of Durham but it was never more than a stop for local trains and the occasional express back then. By the way, the stops used to be dictated by changes of locomotive – so it could be Doncaster, Newcastle, Edinburgh depending on the train you were on.

Moving fully into the diesel era, the Deltics ruled. There were just 22 of them and with 3300 horses and a top speed of 100mph – they soon won many fans and were very much the flagship of the BR fleet in the 1960’s / early 80’s. Kings Cross reverberated to the throbbing hum of their Napier engines.

As a railway enthusiast I visited at a variety of times of the day and night. I saw the newspapers being loaded in the early hours on platform nine and the royal mail parcels on platform 1 (where the lorries used to stand is the new platform Zero!). The Royal Mail train usually left from platform 8 and it was possible to post letters in a mailbox in the side of the carriage up until departure for sorting during the journey.

My late evening visits resulted in a number of encounters with ladies of the night who would generally accost you if you were standing anywhere near the southeast corner of the station. I can remember on one occasion in the late 1980’s being approached by a real waif of a girl in the middle of the evening, offering me sex. It was really not what I was there for – as I explained to her, “I’m just waiting for the bus home”. She then asked if I could spare her the price of a cup of tea – no problem with that!

So Kings Cross has been a bit of a home for me over the last 50 years. Sadly, recent changes have made it less friendly than it was, for trainspotters at least – barriers prevent access to platforms – no more wandering down to the end of Platform 8 to ‘see what’s on’. There are no Racehorses or Deltics anymore and I’m not convinced that the new concourse has really made a major improvement for passengers (though there is more space and it is less dingy!). The HST’s moved in to replace the Deltics and electrification displaced all the old noisy Cravens DMU’s with quiet electric units. Now it sometimes feels like a ghost town compared with the past – though it is busier than ever! Perhaps its soul has been taken away by the move into the modern world? Some photos from the past and present…

The Old Kings Cross
The old Kings Cross – 1975 with the original signal box and a Class 40 departing. Cleaning ladies sit waiting for the next train on a porters trolley.

Crews at Kings Cross
Crews at Kings Cross – Holbeck based 46031 awaits departure for her home in Leeds at the end of Platform 8.

Deltic 55018 ‘Ballymoss’ – A racehorse, bound for Kings Cross, at Newcastle. Ballymoss won the St.Leger in 1957 – the first Irish horse to do so.

Old and New in the 1980's
Old and New in the 1980’s – BR’s first mainline express diesel stands alongside an HST in Kings Cross.

DVT82217 at Kings Cross
DVT82217 at Kings Cross – the modern electric Scottish expresses.

Clinically Clean
Clinically Clean – the modern Kings Cross. The platforms screened off by barriers. No more strolls up to the end of platform 8 to watch the trains 😦

New Concourse
New Concourse – located on the west side of the station and utilising the original entrance and ticket hall. About twice the size of the front entrance hall it still seems pretty crowded but at least the roof allows in plenty of natural light.

Welcome to Kings Cross
Welcome to Kings Cross – A weary traveller wanders down the platform to board a local service.

Team Pret
But where would a railway station be without a little romance?… Team Pret – A friendly chat between staff or something more? You decide!


  1. These are such beautiful shots Martin! I love the way you catch the light and atmosphere which so wonderfully reflects the past with the present. What happy memories for you, although I am sorry about the lack of access.

    Those platforms do look so clean!

    1. Thank you Patti 🙂 The train shed at any large station usually filters the light in a manner that lends itself to artistic photographs.

      Most stations have relatively clean platforms – you realise how clean when you step outside onto the street and see all the litter 😦

  2. I am pretty sure i remember a program on BBC showing the opening and all the progress of the refurb.. Very long time ago I was at the station, come to that any station in London. Must try it again…:)

    1. Hi Gerry – The opening of the concourse did make the BBC news as a ‘Ready for the Olympics’ item but I think the in-depth program might have been about St.Pancras next door with its magnificent gothic hotel and the International station.

    1. Hi Nancy – I think the new roof was based on the design of the one over the British Museum grand court. Foster and Partners were involved with both projects.

      I regret the passing of many things from my younger years and yet I never shy from genuine progress – I guess memories become ever more important as we progress along the path 🙂 The station is much improved for passengers now and when the restoration of the original facade is complete it will look magnificent.

  3. There’s SO much history in things of the rail, isn’t there, Martin? And I can only imagine that when you add a personal history to that story… visits to Kings Cross must be a bit bittersweet now. It really does look like a beautiful place, though (although it is very unfortunate access is so much more limited these days). I loved the story about the mail train, too! I never would have guessed they used to do that! That’s pretty cool!
    Anyway, I love these as I do all your train pieces! I really like that last image, too… man… talk about capturing the perfect moment, Martin! Now THAT is what I call timing!

    1. Hi Bob – If you want cool, try this 1936 film of actual travelling post office operation on the London Midland and Scottish Railway (with apologies for the poor quality)…

      I still enjoy an occasional pop into the station to see what’s around 🙂

      1. This is FASCINATING, Martin, thank you!
        I’ve already watched a good portion of this… I’m going to have to come back later today and re-watch the whole thing (from the beginning again)! I love stuff like this!

      2. Just watched the whole film… thank you! Cool indeed! I had no idea how much work was done en-route… the logistics of keeping the trains themselves on time has always impressed me… with all the carting / sorting, etc… I can’t even imagine! Ridiculously impressive! Those rigs for picking-up / dropping-off materials on the fly, too… wow… I had no clue!
        Thank you again, Martin… what a fascinating history! (I might have to watch the whole thing all over again!)

      3. Glad you found it of interest Bob – sadly the film has seen better days but at least you get an idea of how the service operated in the 1930’s 🙂

  4. Great photos & an interesting read Martin. Here in Australia, Kings Cross in Sydney is the centre of strip clubs, prostitution, drugs & the underworld of organised crime. Not a nice place to visit.

    1. Kings Cross in London used to have its fair share of those too Tony but clamp downs by the local council and the harrassing of kerb-crawlers by the police has cleaned the area up quite well. I think my encounter with the young lady in the late 1980’s was a last hurrah and the changes being wrought around the station area mitigate against such things. It’s certainly a much cleaner area now 🙂

  5. Great post Martin, I wonder why these new buildings seem soulless … will they recover their soul with years of use … or is it more the manufactured materials that create that feeling? We can all relate more easily to timber and stone, or even iron, than to some modern materials that are further from nature. We rode in some nice new trains whilst in France and Switzerland … 🙂

    1. Thanks Christine. Modern buildings can be inspiring but many fall short of that. I think that the new roof over the concourse at Kings Cross doesn’t quite work because it looks half finished – compare it with the roof over the British Museum quadrangle from which I believe it draws its basic design. The old trainshed actually looks more airy!

      Lots of nice modern trains about 🙂

  6. What wonderful photos! I think it’s the clarity and deftness of the compositions that give them such a quality of art and reality all at once. And as usual, you put human interest into EVERYTHING, even train engines. A gift.

    1. It certainly reminds me of one where a young lady working in a diner falls in love with one of her customers but I can’t remember the name of the film…

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