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Where does Kings Cross get its name from? Is there a cross with royal connections? And should it be called King’s Cross or Kings Cross.
Kings Cross (or King’s Cross – see the end of this article) is one of London’s best known areas. Once infamous as London’s main red light district, it has gone through a period of derelict cool (derelicte?) playing host to some of the city’s biggest clubs and is now being sanitised by property companies keen to develop one of central London’s last major brownfield sites.
The area is defined by the railways – King’s Cross station (Network Rail uses the apostrophe) and its extensive backdrop of railway lines, shunting yards and goods areas. But there is no obvious cross and no clear royal connection. So where does the name Kings Cross come from?
Does it share an ancient etymological origin with Charing Cross? No. Charing Cross was the last site for a string of crosses erected in the 1290s to mark the nightly resting places for the passing funeral cortege of Queen Eleanor of Castile (not, to be clear, Eleanor of Aquitaine – a very different sort of consort). The village of Charing slowly became known as Charing Cross.
At the same time, the area now known as Kings Cross was a village variably called Battle Bridge or Battlebridge. It was the site of a bridge over the River Fleet, a conduit long since covered under the growing city. And the battle? No one is sure, but legend suggests it could have been the site of a battle between the Romans and the Iceni. This is the root of the urban myth that Queen Boudica is buried somewhere between platforms 9 and 10 of Kings Cross Station (a myth that adds mystery to JK Rowling’s choice of Platform 9¾ as the starting point for the Hogwart’s Express).
Battle Bridge would retain its name until the middle of the nineteenth century, becoming known as Kings Cross just before the building of the station that would make the name famous. In 1835 a monument to King George IV was built at the junction of Gray’s Inn Road, Pentonville Road and New Road (now Euston Road).
The monument was sixty feet high and topped by an eleven-foot-high statue of the king, and was described by Walter Thornbury as “a ridiculous octagonal structure crowned by an absurd statue”.
It was an unpopular monument and barely lasted a decade before being demolished in 1845. This was enough, however, to give Battle Bridge a new name and ensure that Kings Cross would become one of the most famous and infamous of London neighbourhoods. This was enough to ensure that people travelling to the capital from Leeds, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh arrive at London Kings Cross rather than London Battle Bridge Station. It is hard for me to decide which one of these names I prefer!
By the by, there is no definitive authority on whether the area should be rendered Kings Cross or King’s Cross. The Londonist examines the evidence for both cases in the article Should King’s Cross Have An Apostrophe?