London’s first purpose built coach station for demolition

London’s first purpose built coach station for demolition

London’s first ever purpose built coach station will soon face the wrath of the rubble merchants – their task will of course be to bring the historic building right down to ground level and make sure its presence is removed from an iconic London setting for ever. This is a move which will permit replacement with a much bigger structure slap bang in the centre of what is a council approved conservation area. What’s more, the council in question according to conservation groups, has mismanaged the historic structure’s records (in fact this council has little clue of the building’s historic significance) and unfortunately the result has been one of making the building look less credible in terms of history than it really is, thus very easily signalling the building’s death knell.

No its not that at Victoria – which everyone assumes to be the first but it wasn’t even that because another coach station beat it! That might come as a complete surprise to many to learn Victoria coach station wasn’t the capital’s first purpose built facility to open with everything completely under cover. Rather it was one at King’s Cross and the building itself in fact still stands in full view of the main line railway stations. Victoria coach station opened on 10th March 1932 however the King’s Cross Coach Station, a building specially built for that purpose, opened in December 1931. Thus it beat Victoria Coach station’s opening by at least three months.**

Despite opposition by historic and conservation groups, the council in question which is Camden, approved the death sentence for the London Coach Station on 25th February 2021. The building these days is known as Belgrove House so one would find most of the detail about it under that name instead. In terms of the new development being given the go-ahead, there was anger among councillors and historic groups as the plans got approved. One councillor said he would be making a case to UNESCO on the basis of what should in fact be a historic world heritage site (the whole of the King’s Cross area with its famous transport termini) is being totally compromised by having a unsuitable development approved for construction in the middle of a sensitive area.

The new development (marked ‘site’) will be in the midst of a sensitive conservation area opposite King’s Cross station. The structure will be totally out of character and scale. Map source: BelgroveAcorn

It was alleged that the developers had taken advantage of the coronavirus pandemic, knowing there would be little opposition at such a difficult time the world is facing – in order to get their plans approved. The news article below extracted from today’s Camden New Journal explains the problems quite well – so I’ll leave the detail to that:

Lab too ‘ugly’ for spot near St. Pancras? Scanned from the Camden New Journal published today (4th March 2021.)

Here’s a write up on the approval by the Save Bloomsbury Society.

The controversially approved development for the King’s Cross conservation area. Source: Construction Enquirer

The Save Bloomsbury Society, the Bloomsbury Conservation Areas Advisory Committee, the Victorian Society, the Georgian Group, the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society and others have objected to the proposals. The Save Bloomsbury Society has alleged that Camden Council failed to make a proper assessment of the situation and even dismissed the building outright as a structure from the 1950s without any historic merit of any sort. The society said ‘Camden’s planning department are working with the developer to promote shocking overdevelopment, and neither give a toss about heritage.’

Camden Council admitted its historic assessment of Belgrove House had contained ‘a couple of inaccuracies’ but were of the opinion the present building in fact had a positive contribution towards the area. Nevertheless the council have given the proposals the go-ahead.

The Save Bloomsbury Society has written two articles on the subject of the new development: The first is Monstrosity proposed on Euston Road, and the second Belgrove House: Lessons Learned. Both articles are equally scathing in regards to Camden Council’s failures to recognise the historical significance of the older building and not care about an out of scale development that will replace it.

There are of course other concerns such as the matter concern the claims the new building will be a world leading laboratory for the area. As Save Bloomsbury point out in two of their recent articles, this is nothing more than a mere possibility – there are no laboratories proposed in fact. First there’s Belgrove House a ‘Fake Lab and secondly Camden Demand £8.6M for Belgrove House Fake Labs. What it seems is Camden looks like they want to secure an ill-fitting development for the King’s Cross conservation area on any sort of possible, even dubious, merit…

King’s Cross Coach Station history in brief

King’s Cross has seen many pop-up coach station during the first three quarters of the 20th century. The first two decades of that century coach services in London were so popular they regularly caused traffic chaos thus there was a reason to find permanent sites which would do the job better than some side street or some tumbledown site that had seen better days. Several companies and entrepreneurs got together to form a syndicate in order to facilitate a coach station which was much needed for the area.

The land for the site was purchased on behalf of the new coach station syndicate in early 1930 by Deacon and Allen, who were an Estate Agents based at 27, Connaught Street, just off Edgware Road. The plans were to be for a comprehensive coach station including repair workshops in the basement, coach berths and passenger facilities on the ground floor, including tea-rooms and shops. There would be a restaurant on a mezzanine floor overlooking the facilities. It would be ‘one of the largest and most up to date in the country.’ Huge glass partitions and glass doorways divided up the coach berths and the passenger areas. This gave passengers a full view of the coaches arriving and departing as well as forming a noise barrier that made the waiting areas far more comfortable to use. Clearly no coach station so far had offered such a wide range of features and this several months before Victoria coach station even opened!

The new London Coach Station (aka Belgrove House) first came into use December 1931 (this photograph was taken early January 1932) even though it was somewhat unfinished at the time.

I am not sure why the place ultimately closed down as a coach station, it may have been due to disagreements within the various companies which formed the syndicate. These days the building is a warehouse/offices and its basement houses a storage centre and repair facility for Santander cycles.

22017040283 649d8098b5 b - George Ewer & Grey-Green #2

Mid 1930’s view of Grey Green’s AEC Regal on a service to Felixstowe leaving the London coach station. Argyle Square can be seen in the background. Here’s the same view today on Google Streets. Picture source: Flickr

IMG 8931 - George Ewer & Grey-Green #2

My photograph of the same location roughly ninety years later! The building is now used as a number of units, the main being for Access Storage. The yellow doors that are visible hide the ramp to the lower floor where the maintenance and minor repairs of coaches was undertaken. That area is now the Santander cycle storage/repair base.

The London Coach Station at King’s Cross. Its said this picture was taken during the 1940s.

Belgrove House today with the famous St. Pancras clock tower almost right next door! This part of the building facing onto Euston Road was once the main frontage with a large atrium space leading towards the coach bay areas to the rear.

Some of the other entrances to the coach station which have since been blocked off.

Belgrove House has an ornamental frontage which could look so much better if it was smartened and cleaned up. The rest of the building may be of some austere appearance however let us remember one thing – each and every one of London’s iconic top buildings, theatres, museums, cinemas, (British Museum, Wallace Collection, Apollo Theatre and many others) they’re all the same. Smart frontages with simple, austere, sometimes a crappy, brick built structure towards the rear. Should all of these be demolished too? Belgrove House is historically a transport facility thus it has considerable merits in terms of the area’s evolving transport history – much the same as King’s Cross, St. Pancras and the Metropolitan Railway too.

These once smart entrances formed another access point to the London Coach station. The door on the right led to some steps that went down to the basement garage and repair workshops.

This was once the main thoroughfare for coaches. The coach bays themselves were to the right. The mezzanine area at upper left was once the coach station’s restaurant.

**I am of course aware Victoria Coach Station set up an earlier, but temporary open air site on a back lot in Pimlico and have written about that elsewhere. Temporary being the operative word. The Pimlico site was still in use when the new London Coach Station at King’s Cross opened. There too is the London Terminal Coach Station at Clapham (actually somewhat mid-way between Oval and Stockwell stations – the site is now the depot for Europcar.) This facility opened sometime in late 1929 or early 1930 however the public area was out in the open with a large garage to the rear (now demolished) for parking and maintaining the coaches. The remote location far from the centre of London (and indeed the nearby tube stations) did little to enhance its reputation. Attempts were made to sell the site off as early as 1937. That however fell through and it continued in use until the late 1940s when the site was finally sold off. The garage area was rebuilt (due to war damage) in order to became Keith & Boyle (London) Ltd Vauxhall/Bedford car dealers. Green Line too had a small coach station in Poland Street designed by Stanley Gordon Jeeves, which opened in 1930 and was closed by the LPTB in 1933. This was a fully enclosed facility in the art deco style however it was a simple drive through facility and did not have garage or repair facilities.