On Wednesday, 12th April, Millman Street Community Centre members enjoyed the latest in a series of workshops presented by Amy (from Building Exploratory) and Polly (of History Pin), under the auspices of The Kings Cross Story Palace. They explained that the idea was a “narrative to upload pictures and documents,” to “pin history” to the Kings Cross area. They asked our members to add their own memories to the Timeline Collage they’d brought with them.
Queenie said she originally came from Caledonian Road. Margaret added that “Hatton Garden was home to all the jewelry shops.”
Gloria recalled that “They used to have the Flying Scotsman at Kings Cross station,” prompting Queenie to recall: “I used to go down to The Cross for shopping,” adding: “It used to have a bad reputation.”
Quite. “Drug-taking by homeless people,” David added. Not to mention prostitution. “I used to sleep on the streets myself,” David revealed, after he “First came to Kings Cross in 1979” from his native Ireland.
Jose came to Kings Cross in 1967. Our new member, Joan, agreed that there had been drugs and prostitution in the area. This prompted Gloria to recall: “Women were scared to go down there alone, afraid to be put on the game, and drugs.”
After talk of Leather Lane market, members also recalled the Kings Cross tube station fire of 1987. “It was terrible, a man died,” Anne remembered. “Someone called out ‘Fire! Fire!’ and I ran out of the flat!”
Further back, several HCA members recall how the area was bombed during the Blitz in 1940. “Kings Cross station was bombed,” Ivy said. “The estate where Ivy [now] lives got bombed,” said Margaret. Ivy recalled a timebomb that had been dropped on Millman Street during the war.
“I got a job in the school, serving dinners,” said Margaret. “Weren’t it horrible [in Kings Cross] years ago?” she suddenly said, to Ivy. The latter agreed.
On a cheerier note, Fred said: “We used to watch trains at Kings Cross. There were only two tunnels: one in, one out.” He and Olive were born in St Pancras Hospital, he said.
Mulegetta came to Kings Cross in the 1970s. He said that his teachers (in his native Ethiopia) gave him “some idea that London was a big city before he moved to London.”
Members also remembered the various salesmen who had peddled their respective wares on the streets of post-war London. “People used to come through the streets with barrows, selling toffee apples,” Queenie said. Gloria recalled “The onion man” and “rag and bone men,” and also “The parrafin man,” and “The bilko man”, who sold soft drinks. There were also knife-sharpeners, coalmen and others selling things from hand carts.
“Sarah is the best thing that’s happened to this place,” said Ivy, out of the blue, to general agreement. And Sarah’s blushes.
Helena recalled “The Italian Procession,” through the area, “from Clerkenwell, Farringdon and Leather Lane,” which apparently still takes place every July [Sunday July 16th this year, research reveals].
Then, as is often the case, everyone started talking at once, and this reporter snatched what conversational snippets he could from the ensuing good-natured chaos.
Amy and Polly added various post-its to the Timeline Collage as our members’ stories unfolded. They plan to add photos of HCA members to their archive in future workshops.
Terrible photos and rambling report: Notes Smudger