Woolly mammoth in King’s Cross

Of the many hidden London walks we did during lockdown, the King’s Cross and Camden walk was surprisingly educational despite us being familiar with that neck of the woods.

It’s easy to think that places you are familiar with could have been any different. The Notting Hill walk revealed that pigs were once farmed there. On this walk, we learnt that King’s Cross was once woodland. More difficult to imagine, albeit 10,000 years ago, are the woolly mammoth that were roaming around what is now King’s Cross station.

In the 80s, I remember King’s Cross was a dodgy place to hang out. Since then, the area has had a facelift. Both King’s Cross and St Pancras have grand stations, worth visiting even if you don’t want to take the train. The restored Gothic looking building next to King’s Cross, the Renaissance London Hotel, is a good coffee stop.

Mornington Crescent tube station was shut in 1992 — originally for a year. The lift renovation took much longer than planned because of funding issues. The station eventually opened in 1998. The first thing you see exiting the station is the art deco building that was once the Carreras Cigarette Factory . Built in the 1920s, the Egyptian-themed factory with two black cats guarding the entrance was the first factory in Britain to have air-conditioning.

The ubiquitous Charles Dickens lived in Camden Town as a young man. The place is mentioned in A Christmas Carol and Dombey and Son. Dickens’ wife, Catherine was banished to Gloucester Crescent, which is one of the finest residential streets in Camden. Artists such as David Bailey and George Melly also lived there.

Camden Town has other cultural relevance. The writer of Withnail and I used his experience there to inform the film; Noel Gallagher wrote Wonderwall in Delancey Street; and Dylan Thomas, the poet, and his wife lived there too before the marriage broke down; Dylan left for America and soon died of chronic alcohol poisoning.

Reference: London’s Hidden Walks Volume 2, Chapter 8: King’s Cross, St Pancras & Camden Town

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