Coal Drops Yard

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Thomas Heatherwick's Coal Drops Yard, looking north

Coal Drops Yard is a retail development in the King's Cross Central scheme in London.[1]


The two Victorian coal drops sheds were used to receive coal from South Yorkshire and trans-ship it to narrowboats on the Regents Canal and to horse-drawn carts;[2] they processed 8m tonnes a year.[3] Coal was the only form of energy available to heat and light the buildings of London, either directly or after having been converted to coal gas in the adjacent gas works. Coal use was challenged by electricity, and electricity prevailed – the coal drops were redundant and fell into decay. They were used as warehouse units; one was gutted by fire in 1985[4] and another used by Bagley’s nightclub,[5] which closed in 2007. The night clubs complemented a vibrant night life of easy drug access, raves and prostitution.[1]

The coal drops[edit]

The Regent's Canal was named in 1820 after the Prince Regent, who became George IV the same year. After his demise, the Kings Cross monument was raised at the junction of New Road and Battlebridge Road (Euston Road and York Way); this gave the name to the area, but it was removed in 1845. This was former common land, and open to development. An 1846 Act of Parliament prohibited the railway companies from building south of Euston Road. The London and Birmingham Railway (London and North Western), with George Stephenson connections[clarification needed] had built their terminus at Euston Square in 1833-1837. The Great Northern Railway's London & York Bill received royal assent in 1846 and they built at King's Cross; the Midland Railway built at St Pancras in 1863–8.[2]

Their goods yards were north of the canal with lines opening onto wharfs and basins. The topology changed with the rapidly developing economy and technology. The coal drops were in the Great Northern's western goods yard.

The eastern coal drops were built in 1851. They were essentially a long three-storey, 48-bay (cell) shed reached from the north by a viaduct. The trains came in on four tracks on the third storey; the waggon's bottom was opened, and the goods fell down chutes to the hopper floor below where they were sorted, before being lowered to the road vehicles waiting on the ground floor. The goods were often coal that needed to be graded, but could be potatoes or any heavy loose load. The hopper floor was supported on cast-iron columns and beams.[2]

The western coal drops were built in 1860; they presented a simplified and more advanced design. The roof span was 48 feet (15 m). The rails came in on an open cast-iron viaduct that terminated under the roof. Beneath was the Coal and Stone Basin, allowing direct transhipment to canal boats. This was filled in when the adjacent Western Goods Shed was built in 1897–99. The Western coal drops became a general-purpose warehouse.[2]

The Coal offices and the Wharf Road Viaduct and Wharf Road Arches close the site to the south, where they follow the arc of the Regent's Canal. The arches were used as stabling for some of the Great Northern's large stock of horses. There were 200 horses in 1850, and 867 in 1867, eventually rising to 1500. Great Northern had a fleet of 2-tonne and 4-tonne road vehicles, as they also delivered coal directly to the customers. The horses were well stabled, and the company had its own farriers and a horse infirmary.[2]

Change of use[edit]

In 1866, Samuel Plimsoll opened his own coal drops, south of the canal in Cambridge Street; to reach it John Jay built an independent viaduct between the buildings and over the canal. Plimsoll had invented an advanced mechanism that reduced the damage to the coal as it was 'dropped'. This reduced wastage and thus increased profit. From 1870, business moved away from both the Eastern and Western coal drops. By 1879 both the of them had ceased to function as staithes, and were used for warehousing.[2]

The Eastern Coal Drops was sold in 1876 to the glass bottle manufacturer, Bagley, Wild and Company. They were founded in 1871 in Knottingley, Yorkshire, specifically as it was close to the railway, so they could easily move their goods to London. In the 1930s, Joseph Bagley & Co Ltd were transporting thirty waggons of bottles a day to the yard.[2]

The nightclubs[edit]

In the early 1980s the rave scene started in London. Disused warehouses were used to stage illegal raves, a form of partying fuelled by the illicit drug ecstasy. The scene developed and became centred on three bars in King's Cross. There was Billy Reilly’s bar, 'Fabric' under the arches of the Coal Offices, 'The Cross' and 'Bagley’s', which took over three floors at the southern end of the Eastern Coal Drops. Bagley's, which was later called 'Canvas', lasted till 2008. It could accommodate 2500 clubbers on a Saturday night. It was reputed to have some of London's best DJs. By 2008 the buildings had become derelict again. [6]


The £100m project called for the listed Victorian sheds to be converted into a new high-end, 9,290 sq metre, shopping complex and privately owned public space. Thomas Heatherwick took the two converging arcaded sheds and connected them with the 'kissing roof.[1] The two brick and wrought iron coal drops were designed at different times so were structurally different, but shared a common roof line. Heatherwick's scheme takes the analogy of how a strip of paper can be twisted, and does the same to the slate roof finish. He uses the brick sheds as a base, and constructs the plastic form of the roof from steel tubing.[7] The result is an additional glazed space, in the roof, two storeys high that adds 20,000 square feet (1,900 m2) of space. The 35m wide roof adds no extra weight to the wall structures; it is supported on a 54 steel columns that are embedded within the building.[8] The slate used in the roof comes from the same seam in the same Welsh slate quarry as was used in the original roof.[9]

There are 9290 square metres of shopping space, in units ranging from 15 to 1,800 square metres.[8]


  1. ^ a b c Moore, Rowan (3 November 2018). "Thomas Heatherwick's Coal Drops Yard – shopping in the Instagram age". the Guardian. Retrieved 21 November 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Riding, Jacqueline (2018). Coal Drops Yard in Six Stories (PDF). NC1 Coal Drops Yard. Retrieved 23 November 2018.
  3. ^ "Everything you need to know about Coal Drops Yard in King's Cross". Evening Standard. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  4. ^ Mason, Robert. "Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society". Retrieved 24 November 2018.
  5. ^ "From Coal to Club | Exhibition on Coal Drops Yard | King's Cross". King's Cross. Retrieved 23 November 2018.
  6. ^ "History of Coal Drops Yard". Coal Drops Yard. Retrieved 23 November 2018.
  7. ^ "Heatherwick Studio | Design & Architecture | Coal Drops Yard". Heatherwick Studio | Design & Architecture. pp. 12, 25. Retrieved 23 November 2018.
  8. ^ a b "Heatherwick Studio joins two warehouses to form Coal Drops Yard". Dezeen. 26 October 2018. Retrieved 24 November 2018.
  9. ^ "Thomas Heatherwick hopes Coal Drops Yard will be "new heart" for King's Cross". Dezeen. 30 October 2018. Retrieved 23 November 2018.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°32′11″N 0°07′35″W / 51.536336°N 0.126444°W / 51.536336; -0.126444