London: Pt 9 – Borough of Camden

Camden. It was an important stop during our London trip, as when we arrived in London originally from Preston, we pulled in at London Euston, and our hotel was just across the road. Aside from Euston, the Borough is also home to the famous St Pancras and King’s Cross stations…

Camden:

Status: London Borough of Camden, Greater London (historically Middlesex), District, England

Date: Various

Travel: London Underground (Various), Virgin Trains (Preston – London Euston), Thameslink (London St Pancras – St Albans), East Midlands Trains (London St Pancras – Sheffield)

Eating & Sleeping: Premier Inn Euston

Attractions: London Euston, London St Pancras International, London King’s Cross, Camden Town Hall, British Library, BT Tower, British Museum, Euston War Memorial, Bloomsbury Baptist Church, John F Kennedy Memorial, Platform 9 3/4, St Pancras New Parish Church, Holy Trinity Church etc

Camden

London Euston is the Southern terminus of the West Coast Main Line between London – Glasgow/Edinburgh, with branches towards Holyhead, Manchester, Liverpool, Shrewsbury & Blackpool. Virgin’s Pendolinos have run on the line since they were introduced in 2002, flying at 125 mph between the UK’s major cities in the Midlands, North West and Scotland.

Euston opened in 1837, although in a radically different form, for the London & Birmingham Railway (LBR), the 1st intercity line to connect the capital with another British city. The original building was a grand affair designed by Philip Charles Hardwick (1792 – 1870, English Architect), featuring a long iron train shed, similar to many of the other classic terminus stations in London. A key part of the design was the famous “Euston Arch”, a 72 ft tall Arch along the lines of the Wellington Arch in Westminster.

The station was constantly growing as more and more trains began to use it, with the Great Hall being added in 1849, a stunning entrance hall over 120 ft long, also by Hardwick.

The most major change came in the 1960’s when, much to everyone’s dismay, the Great Hall and the Arch were both demolished to allow an extension to the station, and a more subdued entrance hall was constructed, out of concrete. Euston now stands out as having the most brutalist design of all the major London stations, with gems such as Paddington, King’s Cross and St Pancras retaining their original frontage. With 18 platforms, Euston is the 6th busiest station in the country, with Waterloo coming in at Number 1.

2 London Underground Stations serve the station, with “Euston” lying directly underneath the main station on the Northern/Victoria Lines, dating back to 1907. Just across the road towards University College Hospital to the East sits “Euston Square”, served by the Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan Lines. It actually predates the other Euston station, having opened in 1863.

Whilst the Euston Arch sadly no longer exists, the are a few other landmarks located in the vicinity of the station, starting with the Euston Square Gardens to the front of the Station complex. They were once much larger but eventually fell victim to the 1960’s enlargement of the station. At the North end of the gardens towards the station building stands the Euston War Memorial, a 42 ft Obelisk clad in Portland Stone, created by Reginald Wynn Owen (1876 – 1950) in 1921. At the time Euston was owned by the London & North Western Railway (LNWR), after the LBR and 2 other companies merged in 1846. It was the LNWR who commissioned the monument, in memory of the 3719 soldiers from the company who were sadly killed in World War I.

It would be updated after World War II, although by then the LNWR had become part of the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMSR) so it was used to commemorate their many employees who went off to fight and never returned.

Moving into the inner Station courtyard, there stands a statue of Robert Stephenson (1803 – 1859, Famous Railway Engineer and son of George Stephenson), who both jointly chose the site that Euston Station was originally built on in 1837.

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Just across the road from Euston Station you will find St Pancras Parish Church, a stunning building whose main facade is serenaded by large columns, as part of the designs of William Inwood (1771 – 1843), who worked on the project along with his son, Henry William Inwood (1794 – 1843). William even taught another William, William Railton (1800 – 1877) who would go on to provide the famous design for Nelson’s Column in the City of Westminster.

Looking back at the Church, it was completed in 1822 to complement the original Church of St Pancras, a smaller building serving the once individual Parish of St Pancras which takes in the area between Euston and London St Pancras station. We walked past the new Church every day in London, as we were staying in the Premier Inn Euston, just a few yards further along the road from the Church.

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Euston Station stands on Euston Road, but it is also home to St Pancras and King’s Cross, with all 3 forming a Trio, separated only by:

1) British Library – The largest Library in the world, holding over 150 million books, manuscripts and other items. Originally part of the British Museum, it moved into its new building in 1973.

2) Camden Town Hall – Opened as St Pancras Town Hall in 1937. Designed by Andrew. J. Thomas (1875 – 1965, American Architect) for the former St Pancras Metropolitan Borough Council, who merged with neighbouring areas to form the new Borough of Camden in 1965.

St Pancras Station was built by the Midland Railway (MR) in 1868 to designs by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811 – 1878, English Gothic Architect). The station is famous for its external architecture, with its distinctive Clock Tower at the East end standing 269 ft tall. Whilst the station was under construction, plans were put forwards to build a grand hotel as part of the overall structure, and the “Midland Grand Hotel” opened in stages between 1873 and 1876, pictured above. It remained in use until the 1980s when it was shut down as it failed new safety regulations which had been introduced. It wouldn’t be until 2004 that the building was redeveloped, and it reopened in 2011 as the “St Pancras Renaissance Hotel”. The Clock Tower isn’t merely decorative, as a large portion of its interior is usable, and indeed a guest suite inhabits it, which you can find out more about here.

The hotel very nearly suffered a similar fate to Euston, as in the 1960’s plans were made to demolish the station, as many services which ran into St Pancras were transferred to Euston. A successful campaign however saved the station and it continues as 1 of Londons most important stations, currently the 13th busiest in Britain, which is also the Southern terminus of the Midland Main Line from London to Sheffield.

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Indeed, St Pancras is actually the terminus of the UK’s only rail link with mainland Europe, and is now officially called St Pancras International. A fleet of Eurostar trains link London with terminus stations at Gare du Nord in Paris, France and Midi/Zuid Station in Brussels, Belgium along with less regular services to Disneyland Paris. They run via the Channel Tunnel, a 31 mile rail tunnel between Folkestone in Kent, and Calais in France, which opened in 1994. When services started in 1994, they ran from London Waterloo, which was renamed Waterloo International, before they were transferred to St Pancras in 2007.

Above you can see a number of Eurostar Trains, made up of British Rail Class 373 electrical units, with a recorded top speed of 208 mph, although on the Eurostar route they are limited to 186 mph. The Eurostar platforms 5-10 are separated from the other platforms which provide internal British services, and you have to pass through airport style checks to board.

As you enter the station from Euston Road, before you get to the Eurostar trains, you will walk past the 30 ft tall statue of a couple embracing, presumably after 1 of them had just arrived by train. Designed by Paul Day (Born 1967, British Sculptor), the statue was installed in 2008, and towers over visitors and commuters alike.

Elsewhere you will find a statue of Sir John Betjeman (1906 – 1984, English Poet) who stands gazing up at the fantastic glass roof covering the station, which happened to be the largest single-span structure ever built when it opened.

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Directly adjacent to St Pancras on the East side is London King’s Cross, the terminus of the East Coast Main Line from London – Edinburgh via York, Newcastle and Berwick etc. A number of trains continue on through Scotland to Glasgow, Stirling, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness, with English lines diverting towards Yorkshire and Leeds and Wakefield.

King’s Cross predates St Pancras by nearly 2 decades, although it comes in 2nd to Euston. Designed by Lewis Cubitt (1788 – 1855, Norfolk Builder), the station opened for business in 1852, as part of the Great Northern Railway (GNR) between London and York. The line was later absorbed into the East Coast Main Line, forming around 1/3 of the line to Edinburgh. This area of London is known as King’s Cross, with the name coming from a monument to King George IV (1762 – 1830) which once stood here, until it was removed in 1845, and borders the St Pancras area.

In 2012 a brand new concourse opened, shown above, and fills the gap between the Great Northern Hotel which is a stand alone building between King’s Cross and St Pancras. The interior lighting has quite an effect in the evening.

King’s Cross is also famous as the station where Hogwarts students would arrive to get a train to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft of Wizardry in the Harry Potter Books by J. K. Rowling. The train would leave from a special platform which you could gain access to by running through a portal in the form of a column between platforms 9 and 10, known as Platform 9 3/4. A plaque to mark the location from the books was added in 1999, along with half a trolley made to look like it was sticking out of the wall, which tourists could pose with. This has recently been moved into the new concourse due to the high number of passengers who wanted to be pictured with it, but it remains a very popular attraction at the station.

Both St Pancras and King’s Cross are served by the “King’s Cross St Pancras” tube station, opened in 1863 by the Midland Railway. It is currently the largest interchange station on the London Underground, as across 8 platforms the Hammersmith & City, Circle, Metropolitan, Northern, Piccadilly and Victoria Lines discharge passengers into 2 of the busiest terminus main line stations in the country.

As you could probably tell, my picture of King’s Cross was taken in the evening, and we had a lovely walk around the surrounding area, back past Euston heading towards the BT Tower in Fitzrovia, also known as the Post Office Tower. It looks incredible at night, and you can see on the picture I got the following day during daylight hours the many transmitters located near the top of the structure.

Designed by Eric Bedford in the late 1950’s, the building rises 626 ft into the sky, dominating the skyline since 1964 in an area of London which has relatively few high rise buildings. For the next 15 years it would hold the title of tallest building in London, as well as the UK, before the new Natwest Tower opened in 1980 (find out more in my City of London Post here.)

The Towers primary purpose was to broadcast signals from London around the UK, using the various aerials and communications dishes on its exterior. The Tower also featured a souvenir shop, and a revolving restaurant on the upper floors, although a failed terrorist attack in the 1970’s heralded their permanent closure. A large advertising board, recently replaced in 2009, displays adverts and important headlines across London, and is even visible from as far away as Wembley Stadium (at night).

Amusingly, until 1993 the Tower was officially a secret, despite it being the most obvious building in the whole of Camden, and it wasn’t present on Ordnance Survey maps until the 1990’s. The Tower is still in use, albeit with more up to date broadcasting systems, and continues to send signals out across London.

The night shot above is taken from Fitzroy square, just a few blocks North of the base of the Tower.

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Just off Fitzroy Square, as you head up Fitzroy Street for a visit to the base of the Tower itself, you will find a statue of General Francisco De Miranda (1750 – 1816, Venezuelan advocate for independence for various Spanish Colonies in the America’s) who fled to England in 1785 as the situation around him deteriorated. There were attempts to abduct him from the British Capital by the Spanish, although these were doomed to fail thanks to Russian intervention.

In later life he settled permanently in London, at Number 27 Grafton Street, which was eventually renamed 58 Grafton Way, just a few yards from here.

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Continuing our night walk, which also took us to Madame Tussauds, Baker Street and the Oval in the City of Westminster which you can read about here, we spotted Holy Trinity Church, which I think lies just outside the Camden boundaries, in Westminster.

The building is of course clad in Portland Stone like so many other buildings around central London, and was completed in 1827, a stunning render of the designs put forwards by Sir John Soane (1753 – 1837, English Architect from Oxfordshire). It is 1 of many Churches which celebrates the British victory at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, paid for by the £1,000,000 gifted by the Government towards their construction. It escaped World War II unlike so many other Churches in the area, although it hasn’t actually been used as a Church since 1936 when Penguin Books bought the building and stored masses of their new children’s books there. Moving out in 1937, the SPCK (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge) took over until 2006, and there are various plans for the future of the building, which apparently includes an idea to turn it into a shopping centre.

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Just over the road from the old Trinity Church, outside the International Students Hostel from 1965, sits a bust of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917 – 1963), 35th President of the United States who was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald on 22nd November 1963.

Designed by Jacques Lipchitz (1891 – 1973, Lithuanian Sculptor), the Memorial was paid for by Kennedy’s brother Robert Francis Kennedy (1925 – 1968, US Senator for New York) who was also sadly assassinated, just 3 years later in 1968.

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On our final day in London, we spent the morning having a pleasant wander from Goodge Street Tube station towards the British Museum, via some of the stunning Georgian Buildings which line the edges of Bedford Square Garden. London is famous for its Georgian Architecture, and whenever I picture houses in the Capital this is exactly what my mind conjures up, and they look absolutely splendid.

Many of them have blue plaques on them, marking their inhabitants at a point in history by a notable person. The 1 you can see above states that:

“Lady Ottoline Morrell (1873 – 1938) Literary Hostess and Patron of the Arts lived here”.

She was very well known at the time in London, and had a number of famous relatives, including her Great-Great-Uncle Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769 – 1852, defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo).

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Leaving Bedford Square Garden, we moved North East up Montague Place towards 1 of the side entrances of the British Museum, a fantastic collection of various artefacts from around the world, founded in 1753, becoming the 1st national public Museum in the world.

The collection began prior to this as a private collection of Sir Hans Sloane (1660 – 1753, British Collector) who had amassed various artefacts and pieces of art, which he left to King George II (1683 – 1760) upon his death in 1753. By the end of the decade the Museum had been set up in Montagu House, a large mansion which stood on the site of the present building.

The building was eventually replaced thanks to the generosity of of King George IV (1762 – 1830), when he gifted the Library of his father King George III (1738 – 1820), which was a prerequisite for an expansion to allow more space for the different exhibits. Sir Robert Smirke (1780 – 1867, English Architect) was chosen to design the Museums new home, which was complete by 1857, and it remains 1 of the most famous Museums in the world.

1 of the most notable exhibits has to be the Elgin Marbles, controversially brought back to England by Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin (1766 – 1841) at the start of the 19th century, after bribing officials from the then Ottoman Empire which encompassed Greece. The Marbles date back to around 447 BC and were located in the Parthenon in Athens.

The Museum has continued to expand ever since, and is a premier attraction in London. You can find out more about the Museum on their official website here.

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Leaving the Museum and making our way towards our next destination which was Grosvenor Square in the City of Westminster for the American Embassy, we encountered yet more stunning Georgian buildings, many of which are laid around different squares. This area in and around Bedford Square is widely regarded as having some of the finest examples of Georgian heritage in the whole of London, and it’s not hard to see why.

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Our final stop in Camden before we passed the boundary into the City of Westminster was Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, shown above. It’s a typical Victorian Church, which opened in December 1848, however it’s appearance back then had 2 particular features that the present 1 now lacks. The 2 main towers were adorned with spectacular spires, rising high above the other buildings in the area, until they had to be removed due to safety concerns in 1952. The building is still in use, and during the 1990’s it celebrated its 150th anniversary, having survived the Blitz in the 1940’s as well as a nationwide decline in church going citizens.

The building came about thanks to Sir Samuel Morton Peto (1809 – 1889, English Railway Engineer and MP for Norwich, Finsbury and Bristol throughout his career). The original design was spireless, which the Crown Commissioner was rather concerned about, prompting Samuel to utter his famous line:

“A spire, my Lord? We shall have two!”

Camden is a famous area of London, and there are many landmarks to be found within it’s border, putting it on par with many other inner London Boroughs. Although unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit them, you will also find the well known Camden Market, a few miles away from St Pancras in the Camden Town area, which also includes Camden Lock.

Camden is incredibly well connected with regards to public transport, perhaps more than any other district in the whole country, with the Southern terminuses of the East Coast, Midland and West Coast Main Lines providing direct links to almost every major city in the UK North of London, as well as France, Belgium and Kent.

Currently there are at least 17 different Tube stations within the Borough of Camden, with 2 serving the major stations at Euston and King’s Cross St Pancras. These stations are served by a total of 8 different Underground lines, allowing easy access to the long distance train services which leave Camden every day.

Bordering the Cities of Westminster and London, as well as Islington and many other boroughs, Camden is the perfect place to spend a day in London, and indeed many of you will probably arrive at Euston, St Pancras or King’s Cross, as we did at the start of our adventure, during the course of which we would use 2 of the 3 stations to transit local destinations. For us, it was time to nip into the neighbouring area of Islington…

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