• Richard

What's Kings Cross Coal Office got to do with Sanitation?

As part of Open House weekend (definitely recommended if you are in or near London!) I did a tour of the historical aspects of the renewing of the Kings Cross railway goods yards. Perhaps its an 'engineer thing' but absolutely fascinating to see the 1850's sophistication of an integrated transport hub with canal barges being able to go right alongside/beneath the railway goods lines - and how they managed all the goods wagons and then the transfer to carts for distribution of coal and goods and vegetables around London.


One of the protected and renewed buildings on the site is the Coal Office. Which is where I got excited and can justify the link to sanitation because it was the tax on coal, and wine, coming into London through the railways and the Port of London, that funded the construction of the Victorian Embankment!

Parliament voting £3m then, at modern day prices $533m (2020 PPP prices)(BoE, 1860)) plus, in 1862 ‘an Act permitted the Metropolitan Board of Works WB to draw upon the Metropolis Improvement Fund created expressly for the Embankment by Parliament the previous year out of ancient duties on imported coal and wine.’ ‘”The Act was probably as fair as was politically possible in the 1860’” (Porter, 1998)…. ‘plus 3d on the rates’.

So the Coal Office, I guess, would also have been the tax-collecting office for the benefit of the new collector sewers for London.


The Coal Depots have been given an amazing make-over to become expensive shops and restaurants with the original straight shed roofs having been rebuilt as 'kissing roofs'. Strange but true.

And if you want to see the sophistication of the whole operation in the 1850's, when sanitary engineers were only just getting round to laying their pipes and building their relatively simply embankments, the diagram below - from https://www.pre-construct.com/regeneration-kings-cross/ - shows how the general goods came in on the right hand set of lines, were unloaded and then each wagon pushed to the southern end, transferred sideways and then set up on the left-hand set of lines ready to be loaded up for the journey back up north. With the canal basin (now filled in, but the canal remains) available for transfer of loads also. The coal trains unloading through shutes to lower level carts on the far left. Fascinating!


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