Time Travel Explorer Blog

Traveling Through Time: King's Cross

by Matt Brown 31. October 2010 14:33

King's Cross is one of the most rapidly changing areas of London. Only a couple of years after St Pancras was hooked up to the Eurostar, huge change is afoot alongside and behind King's Cross station itself. A new concourse is almost complete to the west of the main station building while vast swathes of former railway lands to the rear will become home to commercial buildings and a new campus for St Martin's College.

The pace of change is frenetic, but it has always been thus in this quarter. Time Travel Explorer lets us move between eras and see how local landmarks have come and gone in this unique area.

Views of King's Cross in 2010, 1862 and 1830. Use Time Travel Explorer to zoom in further.

Travelling back to 1862, the biggest change you'll spot is the road layout. St Pancras Road, following the curve of the buried River Fleet, sweeps round the southern foot of King's Cross station, covering ground now occupied by the green-canopied concourse. When you're next waiting for a train at King's Cross, consider that you're standing on a vanished road, which itself overlays a vanished river.

Actually, an even bigger change lies to the west. St Pancras station is completely absent from the 1862 view. We see instead a whole neighbourhood of streets, schools and churches just months away from demolition. The Great Northern Hotel, however, is extant, again following the ancient curve of the River Fleet. Behind it is a small park, an area which will soon serve as the new concourse for King's Cross station.

This view also shows us that the Great Northern Hospital once occupied the site now taken by McDonalds, Starbucks, Pret and other usual suspects.

Time to hop back a few more decades. Although less detailed, the 1830 map reveals plenty of interest. Neither station is present (King's Cross opened in 1852). Instead, we find a series of streets joining up to Maiden Lane (now York Way). In place of the Great Northern Hotel, we find a smallpox hospital. Not shown is the huge ‘dust heap' that accumulated next door, immortalised in Dickens' Our Mutual Friend. Finally, we also see a monument marked as ‘King's Cross'. This statue of George IV was erected in 1830, the year of our map. While it only lasted until 1845, this memorial made enough of an impression to impart the name King's Cross on the whole area, which had formerly been known as Battle Bridge.

Close ups of the station area in 1862 and 1830.

Innumerable little lanes and courts

by Matt Brown 21. October 2010 09:40

"if you wish to have a just notion of the magnitude of this city, you must not be satisfied with seeing its great streets and squares, but must survey its innumerable little lanes and courts" - Dr Samuel Johnson

This oft-quoted piece of sagacity from the good doctor is as true today as it was back in the 18th century. London is criss-crossed with secret alleyways and little-known shortcuts. Some are a useful means for avoiding tourist crowds, many have colourful histories; some lead nowhere at all, and quite a few are home to a special pub. You cannot claim to have a sound and ready knowledge of London until you have squeezed through Brydges Place, held your nose along Bull Inn Court, or pondered the name of Hanging Sword Alley.

Time Travel Explorer allows you to seek out these spaces from the comfort of your sofa. Starting in the modern map view, you can zoom in on one of the many passages north of Fleet Street, for example, and compare its layout through time by switching between maps. The first thing you'll note is the marked diminution in number. Back in Johnson's time, many streets could boast an alley or court every few houses. When the City still housed small independent manufacturing trades each business needed access routes from the main street, stabling for horses and provision for waste storage and collection. Comparing with the 1862 view, we find that Peterboro Court is no more, Falcon Court has been blocked off, and Robin Hood Court has, like its namesake, become a myth.

Area north of Fleet Street, 1862, 2010, 1746. Use TTX London to see in more detail.

Many other passages remain in this unusually well endowed part of town. Gough Square, sometime home to Johnson himself, is all present and correct as far back as 1746. Wine Office Court, scene of the incomparably atmospheric Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub, has also stayed put. Crane Court, Re

d Lion Court and Hind Court are also undisturbed by the centuries.

Modern developments may appear to sweep away all before them, but farsighted planning laws have preserved many of the characterful snickleways beloved of Johnson. Exploring them on foot is one of my favourite weekend pastimes. Failing that, you can learn a lot about these hidden byways with a quick finger tour in Time Travel Explorer.

Temple: where old maps are better than new

by Peter Watts 19. October 2010 14:04

You wouldn’t have thought it, but sometimes a really old map can help you get around far more satisfactorily than any of the newer ones. Take navigation in the Temple for instance. This curious corner of London between the Strand and the Thames east of Somerset House is a law unto itself. Literally, as it has its own rules and regulations distinct from the rest of the city.


Originally the base for the Knights Templars, Temple is now a home for barristers, and only they surely understand how to navigate the headspinning maze of alleys, courts and arched doorways that exist within its boundaries. Neither an A-Z or Google Map will help – both have unhelpfully ignored the byways of Temple, finding it all far too confusing. Tap in the postcode for Temple Church on Streetmap and it’ll stick a flag in the middle of a square surrounded by unnamed avenues that make little sense when you’re on the ground, surrounded by courts and alleyways and desperately trying to not be late for a meeting with the verger at the church (yes, this is bitter personal experience).


Use a map from 1862 on the Time Travel Explorer, though, and you’d be fine (bar some adjustment for bomb damage – Temple was badly mauled by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz). Here the delightful confusions of Pump Court, Hare Court, Fountain Court and Garden Court are all present and correct, even if Temple Church goes by the now unfamiliar name of St Mary (that is to whom it is dedicated) and you might get a bit lost if you’re trying to get there from Blackfriars, given that the then landmark City Gasworks no longer exists and, er, the Embankment hasn’t been built yet. Overcome those little difficulties however, and once you are inside Temple itself you’ll never leave a verger waiting at the altar again.

Traveling Through Time: Trafalgar Square

by Matt Brown 10. October 2010 20:07

Trafalagar Square. You're perhaps familiar with it. The bustling plaza is perhaps the most visited location in central London, drawing in millions of tourists each year - and even a few Londoners - to play in its fountains, climb on its lions and ascend the steps to the National Gallery. But what did the area look like 100 years ago, 200 years ago...longer? Boot up Time Travel Explorer and let's take a look.

The site has long been of importance to Londoners. At its southern end, where the statue of Charles I gazes forlornly down Whitehall, the original Charing Cross once stood. This great pillar marked one of the final resting places of Eleanor, Queen of Edward I. The location has since been used as the official centre of London, from which all road distances are measured. You'll find it marked on all the maps in TTX London with the exception of the modern map. Today, the area is a centre of leisure, tourism and the arts. But let's go back more than two and a half centuries and take a look at how it developed...

Three maps of Trafalgar Square: 1746 (left), 1799 (middle), 1830 (right). View in Time Travel Explorer for greater detail and transitioning effects.

1746: Moving back to the middle of the 18th Century presents the time traveller with a very different square. Indeed, there is no square. Instead, we see a simple T-junction, surrounding the isolated statue of Charles I. The Trafalgar Square site is mostly taken by ‘The Royal Mewse' - a giant stabling yard for royal horses. You'll also find a number of vanished roads. Woodstock Court and Chequers Court stand where, today, you'll find the eastern-most fountain. There's no sign of Nelson - this view is 12 years before the great commander was born. You'll also note that both Northumberland Avenue and The Mall are absent, as well as Charing Cross Road. More on these in a bit.

1799: Moving on a half century, and little has changed. The stables are now known as ‘Kings Mews' and the area previously known as St Martin's Churchyard, and later to become the National Gallery, is a workhouse.

1830: Great changes are afoot. The main mews buildings have been swept away, and the site now contains a large void. Construction of Trafalgar Square began in 1829 and, at this stage, it can't have been more than mud and construction materials. Still, a new road - Pall Mall East - has been driven through the north of the site, and the Physicians' College has established itself on the West side.


Views of Trafalgar Square from 1862 (left) and 2010 (right). Note the presence of The Mall and Northumberland Road to the south-east and southwest of the square in the modern map.

1862: That's more like it. The Square itself looks much as we know it today, with the statues of Havelock, Napier, George IV and Nelson all clearly labelled. The twin fountains are also marked. North of the Square, a slimline National Gallery shares premises with the Royal Academy. Two less artistic neighbours stand behind, in land now used by the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery's extensions: St Martin's Workhouse remainss from earlier times, but a barracks has also been established. Soldiers, paupers and painters, all cheek-by-jowl in the West End.

2010: Back in our own time, the biggest changes concern the creation of major new roads around the Square. Charing Cross Road was knocked through the area in 1877, sweeping away the workhouse and various small streets. Fairwell, Hemming's Row, and White Hart Court; we never knew you. The other major shift in roads in the parts is the joining of The Mall through to Trafalgar Square, accomplished in the early 20th Century. This development and the construction of the monumental Admiralty Arch came at the cost of a small green patch (Spring Gardens) and the church of St Matthew. Finally, we also see the knocking though of Northumberland Road, forming a neat symmetry of angles with The Mall.

To get a better view of these maps, download Time Travel Explorer now for iPhone, IPad and IPod Touch.