London’s abandoned nightclub that sat empty for years but is now one of the coolest places to shop in the city

Flashback to 1990 and a certain place in King’s Cross rebounded with rave and dance music. Clubbers crowded into a dirty old railway warehouse to party the night away in the dirty yard where coal and fish had once been stored.

Beneath these old warehouse vaults dating back to the golden age of steam in the 1850s, dance, house, jungle and trance music are all said to have originated in the UK and thousands of clubbers flock to would remember partying until dawn.

Flash forward to 2007 and it was all over. A nostalgic wrap-up party was held at The Cross nightclub in December 2007 and after that no one knew what would happen to the decaying arches. They were redundant and empty again, and the ravers had all grown. The warehouses were built in 1851 as part of a large storage facility for London’s coal and fish supplies, in the then flourishing King’s Cross Goods Yard.

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For many years the arches under the warehouse lay derelict

The canalside Fish & Coal buildings were built as offices in 1851 as part of Lewis Cubitt’s design for the King’s Cross Goods Yard, where barges, locomotives and horse-drawn carts met.

They processed eight million tons a year. Upstairs there were offices for the administrators, while the arches actually served as the stable for the horses. But after the heyday of the Industrial Age, Commodity Yards became one of London’s most notorious wastelands.

They were literally left to rot. The area became the haunt of prostitutes, criminals and vandals who sometimes set it on fire. In 1983 – inevitably – a huge fire engulfed the warehouse buildings, almost completely destroying them.

The courtyard when it was practically abandoned

But parts of the freight yards were used for truck parks and two now quite famous men, Billy and Keith, brothers of the locally well-known Reilly family, saw an opportunity.

Part of the warehouses – later to become Bagleys nightclub – began to be used as a rave venue and Billy and Keith decided to open their own club under some of the arches. It started out as a modest enough wine bar for revelers to hang out before the club. It would become The Cross – one of London’s most legendary clubs of the 90s and 2000s.

The club reigned supreme between 1993 and 2007. It was known for its long-running promoter residencies, such as Glitterati, Italian-themed Vertigo and progressive house superclub Renaissance. DJs such as Danny Rampling, Dave Seaman, Ian Ossia, Nigel Dawson and Judge Jules became established residents and names such as Paul van Dyk emerged before becoming stars in their own right.

A draft horse and its handler, collecting in a goods yard at King’s Cross in 1938

In recent times, campaigners have demanded a blue plaque be put up to commemorate him and even put up a joke saying: “The Cross Nightclub 1993-2007 – If you squinted hard enough you felt like… to be transported to Ibiza – honest!”

Meanwhile, Keith has started his own little nightclub called Fabric just up the road. This of course became another absolutely legendary club.

But all good things come to an end. Plans were underway to regenerate the whole area, including its nightclubs such as Bagleys and The Cross. In 2007, a series of crazy closing parties took place and the club closed its doors. The arches sat vacant for years.

May 1926: Young children with their sacks, skimming pieces of coal in the coal yard that fall from the vans in an attempt to earn money

Fast forward to 2022 and it’s now one of the hippest places in London. Coal Drop’s Yard has a shopping mall under the arches. Designed by Thomas Heatherwick, it opened in October 2018.

It even received the Royal Institute for British Architecture (RIBA) London Award and the National Award for 2019. The public space outside the mall has hosted many cutting-edge art installations, music and art festivals .

The refitted shipyard in full swing in recent years

Right now, a fabulous hanging art exhibit called Woven Wonders, by renowned artist Sheila Hicks, is on display until October 16th. There are pop-up museums, blooming events and special markets. It is one of the trendiest places in London.

It somehow seems right that what started life at the helm of Britain’s greatest innovation of its time – industrial steam and coal – should be at the forefront again, albeit in the less grimy world art, fashion and shopping!

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