Why Is King’s Cross Called ‘King’s Cross’?
I’m sure many of you have found yourself asking this exact question when walking through the concourse; eyeing the massive queue of people waiting patiently to clutch on to the luggage trolley that’s on its way to Platform 9 3/4.
It’s all down to one man. An entrepreneur who, had he been alive today, would have probably been on and booted off the Apprentice by episode 4 or 5. He was one of those men who tried his hand at anything – not only did he give us the name of this London district but he also gave us one of the UK’s best known Cemeteries.
Under instruction from Signor Gesualdo Lanza, an Italian music teacher, the architect in question was drawn into a speculative development that would have been a centre for music and dance, just outside where the current railway terminus now stands. A theatre, reading room and pleasure gardens would have stood on the site however, funding meant only the theatre was built and the idea scrapped as money failed to materialise.
Stephen Geary was not put off by this setback. Indeed, it galvanised him to push forward with another idea. By now it was 1830 and the King of the aforementioned Cross was the recently deceased George IV (whom the Queen Mother often referred to as ‘Old Naughty‘). George was the epitome of Georgian excess; bloated, arrogant and controlling but to his credit, knowledgable, smart and resourceful. The Beach Hut in Brighton and the British Library, founded from his father’s book collection, are two of his legacies we can still enjoy today.
In an area formerly called Battle Bridge, Geary proposed a fine memorial that would uphold George IV’s reign. Sadly, it was the victim of what Tim Dunn calls Render vs Reality; funding for the building works was lower than anticipated and therefore the finished article wasn’t as triumphant as it should have been. Crudely constructed, the statue of George IV was made out of brick and then plastered over; the ornamentation and detail much revised and simplified. It also presented a serious traffic hazard at what was fast becoming a busy interchange.
The original design for what at the time was generally regarded as an eyesore. The saints of the United Kingdom were proposed but never built. © British Library
By 1842 the statue atop the structure was removed and the memorial became a Police station and then a pub. Barely 15 years after it was first suggested, what was widely regarded as London’s worst architectural joke was unceremoniously torn down; Kings Cross had lost its monarch.
Kings Cross in the latter part of the 19th Century. Geary’s Cross would have been just to the right of this picture. ©Historic England 2017.
But Geary, unpertubed, had another iron in the fire. Whilst the King’s Cross venture flopped, he had another idea in the creation of Highgate Cemetery.
His designs incorporated the growing interest in Ancient Egypt. A ground that was to replace the old parish churchyards was suddently having architecture installed that would be more at home in Thebes or Luxor. The great Egyptian Avenue and catacombs were built, each vault costing a rather hefty £120 each, for the well to do of London.
With an eye for flair, he also made a series of vaults in the roots of an old Cedar of Lebanon which had been on the site when it was the gardens of a private residence. Not only did Geary showcade Egyptian architecture to London, he also inadvertently created the world’s biggest Bonsai tree.
Geary’s grave at Highgate Cemetery.
Whilst Kings Cross’ name lives on as a railway and entertainments hub, its creator also happened to give us one of our finest libraries of the dead too.