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Railwaylands caretaker’s 25 years of change in King’s Cross

Man who has seen area’s transformation tells of his pride at being ‘part of it’

06 October, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Allan Horton is overseeing the final 12 months of work at King’s Cross

NO one has seen King’s Cross change quite as drastically as Allan Horton.

He first started working on what were once known as the Railway Lands 25 years ago as a caretaker, looking after the site, collecting rents from tenants, and managing the 68-acre, Victorian industrial area.

He has seen it owned by a number of different landlords and worked under all of them. He is currently employed as a caretaker for the site by developers Argent.

“I have seen it change, seen people and businesses come and go,” he said from the upper floors as he surveyed building work that is transforming what were once coal drops for trains to provide fuel for Londoners into a new high street that snakes alongside the Regent’s canal.

“It is hard to express what it means to me as the work continues, but I have a real sense of pride that I am still here and still part of it.”

Coming to work in the area in the early 1990s, the land was marked by its small industries during the day and the nightlife when the tradesmen packed up.

“I would have to go and collect the rent off everyone, including Bagley’s and the Cross [nightclubs] each week,” Mr Horton recalls.

Now he is keeping an eye on the coal drops as workers rebuild and reshape them to create a new shopping area.

“The coal drops are the last heritage building in King’s Cross to be converted,” he adds.

“The area was home to a real community.

“There were scaffolders, a stone mason, building firms. There were carpenters and a joiner’s shop, a traditional market barrow maker and a brewery. We had a car storage area and mechanics.

The shell of Bagley’s nightclub at the King’s Cross development, where Mr Horton used to collect rent

“In many ways this new work is the coal drops’ third incarnation and I like to imagine the response the Victorians who worked here would make of it now.”

Brick arches are being revamped to become shopping units. A new plaza area, new roof and raised walkway bridges, designed by Thomas Heatherwick’s studio, take shoppers into its heart. Around 40 per cent of the units have been let.

Mr Horton added: “Bricklayers who have worked with the Granary building, the Midlands shed and the Transit sheds [elsewhere on the King’s Cross develop­ment] are now here. They have made their way through the site. They are using heritage bricks – ones that have been reclaimed from other Victorian buildings where necessary and much has survived.”

Original oak roof beams have been removed and cleaned up before being hoisted back into place. Brick work has been blasted and are pointed where possible, and iron work has been salvaged and repaired. In some cases, replicas to fit the exact same ironmongery have been cast.

A new roof covering part of the drops is nearly complete, with Welsh slate being laid on its steel skeleton. The steel was forged by the same Yorkshire firm that made the area’s iconic gasholders.

“The firm built the steel frames for the roof, which will be finished in Welsh slate, and constructed it in Yorkshire to check it all worked and fitted together, before dismantling it and bringing it here so we could put it all back together again,” added Mr Horton.

“This is, therefore, the second time the structure has been fitted together.”

Around 40 per cent of tenants for the shops and restaurants have been confirmed.

A group of graduates from St Martins University of the Arts, based in the Granary building opposite, will be opening Lost Property of London, a bespoke bag shop. Cubitts Spectacles, by designer Tom Broughton, draws not just its name from the locality but even his eyewear has little touches that are pure King’s Cross, such as rivets on the glasses mimicking the train turntables that were once on the site.

Work will be completed in around 12 months’ time, giving Mr Horton a whole new raft of businesses to get to know and look after.

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