According to the BBC there is only lighthouse in London. It is situated on Trinity Quay Wharf, logically sited along London’s Docklands where the River Lea joins the Thames. On this rare occasion the BBC may be wrong, however.
Kings Cross–in Central London–does not seem like the ideal place for a lighthouse, but perched on top of a pseduo-Flatiron building at one of the capital’s busiest junctions is an ominous structure that bears much resemblance to one.
The enigmatic structure has been the subject of much speculation by locals for decades, with some even positing that it is in fact a fairground helter skelter and not a lighthouse. The building was derelict for two decades before redevelopment began a couple of years ago, but even probing the long history of this architectural marvel presents more questions than answers.
Research by Urban75 dug up references to the building in some old publications by the Greater London Industrial Society.
“To the south east of King’s Cross main-line railway station on top of a narrow building, sometimes referred to as the flatiron building (probably with North American examples in mind), stands an architectural folly some people think of as a windmill or lighthouse. It has looked much as it does today since 1884 but its date of building and original purpose are unknown.
One of the most popular explanations surrounding it is that it was an advertising gimmick for an oyster bar housed in the Victorian building which hosts the lighthouse. Insider London notes that one of the most enduring theories is that the lighthouse may have been a guerrilla advertising tool used by an oyster bar in the building below.
The lighthouse was built to promote Netten’s oyster bar, which occupied the ground floor. Oysters were a type of Victorian fast food, a sort of McDonalds of their day.
However, the Greater London Industrial Society believe this theory is now “unlikely”, referencing a visit to the tower by the Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society. Unfortunately the trail ends there with the GLIS chasing their tail trying to find evidence of a the GLIAS visit.
In his book Derelict London, Paul Talling recounts an interaction with squatters who had taken over the building prior to its redevelopment:
One of them told me that when they were exploring one day they managed to lower themselves into an underground room from which a set of stairs led further down. They followed these for a while and eventually emerged on to an old tube platform
I was skeptical about this at first, but the website of the architectural practice responsible for repurposing the building as offices and retail space confirms that the building was constructed “directly on two underground train tunnels, creating significant design and construction challenges”.
Whether access to the tunnels below is actually possible is another matter. Guerrilla Exploring had a good look around in the basement in 2011 but couldn’t find any access to tunnels leading to the old Kings Cross tube station (although they eventually found another way in).
That’s about as much as anyone knows about it, so far. As the building is slowly demolished there are still only theories with no conclusions. Mercifully, according a planning application, the lighthouse will be retained and refurbished for future generations to join the search for the truth about Central London’s lighthouse.