Anyone who took the route north out of King’s Cross pre-2001 should remember her, (or at least those of us who were tittering schoolboys back then surely do). Indelibly she is etched onto our mental chart of once seemingly timeless environmental markers, since lost to the unsentimental wrecking ball of progress.
She was an unusual landmark on many different levels. Not the obvious choice for fronting a down-at-heel strip of disused nineteenth century coal drops, located around the arse end of the capital’s most notorious railway terminus.
Incongruous, ridiculous and glorious. A ship’s figurehead, she boasted such scale, no-nonsense prowess and generous proportions as to make red-blooded sailors green with envy at us lusty Camden landlubbers.
Passing beneath her pendulous comedy bosom was a sign that you were home after overseas voyages (or just a joyless, smoky bus ride from the culturally barren hinterlands of Old Street).
Distracting generations of drivers with her irresistible siren song, she basked unashamedly proud and erect in the sunlight, or by night looked down with a knowing nude twinkle in the darkness as we strode towards cheeky all-nighters in the clubs up on Goods Way.
At the time we believed she was owned by the car wash that advertised its ‘body repair centre’ services (pictured left). It seemed to make sense of her odd situation via the kind of pun-tastic school of business nomenclature to which hairdressers are prone.
But it turns out she was actually perched atop an arch occupied by two former railway workers who carved toys, rocking chairs, rocking horses and performed occasional boat repairs. One day they obviously sat down and thought, “today we’re going to carve the ship’s figurehead of our dreams complete with a giant pair of bare tits”, and then set about the task at hand.
After becoming firmly upfront in her boundary-defining role on the historic route to Kentish Town, the figurehead was a much-loved beacon along Pancras Road’s dusty hotchpotch of recomissioned coal storage arches. It was only the coming of the Eurostar that saw her ship finally sail.
The extension of St Pancras Station’s Barlow Shed – arguably the least sympathetic element of the otherwise beautiful King’s Cross redevelopment, with its functional, tacked-on steel box superstructure and cheap plastic ‘brick’ finish – obliterated not only the coal drop workshops, but all the old railway bridges and road tunnels too. The new infrastructure may whisk us to Paris in two hours, but some unique local character has been sacrificed, here at least, in the process.
I had often searched in vain for another glimpse of that famous bust. As time wore on, it was as if the memory of Camden’s classic topless gate-keeper was going to be lost along with a sizeable strip of King’s Cross’ Victorian heritage.
Finally, I uncovered a picture in Angela Inglis’ excellent local photography and poetry book Railway Lands: Catching St Pancras and King’s Cross, (main pic above). There she was, the figurehead resplendent with her purposeful stare, the jolly green leaf detail preserving the rest of her modesty, just as we remembered it.
But the story surely doesn’t end here. Does anyone know where our busty heroine resides today?