We bought and converted 65 Kings Cross Road into our new home in 2000, renaming it Phoenix Yard, having previously rented various premises around Regent Street for 50 years. As we stripped away the accretions of previous occupations – the most recent being a garment factory – it became obvious that the building’s wonderfully improvised structure had a long story to tell, (as below). We gradually converted the parts we didn’t need into work space for fledgling businesses, and bought the adjacent 69 building from the Pre-Schools Alliance a few years later for the same purpose. Phoenix Yard is now home to a mixed community of thirty or so small-to-medium sized businesses — about 100 people — who do all sorts of things from architecture and engineering to product testing to software development to children’s books publishing and various forms of consultancy .
A very concise summary of the history (see also images following):
Since the Norman invasion, the area to the south of Kings Cross between Kings Cross Road and Grays Inn Road was part of Bagley’s Common, an unenclosed landscape of rough grazing, mostly on the west bank of the River Fleet, one of London’s “lost” rivers. Rising on Hampstead Heath and flowing into the Thames near Blackfriars Bridge, it ran alongside what is now Kings Cross Road (probably giving rise to the crooked rear boundary of our site). In 1596 London’s first modern historian, Stow, described the Fleet as the ‘river of wells’. One of these, Redeswell, was possibly owned by the nuns of Clerkenwell Priory.
In 1676 Elizabeth Cooke, widow of St Giles, Cripplegate, was granted copyhold on part of Bagnigge ‘island’ and built the first known building on the Kings Cross Road on the site of the Phoenix Brewery. She placed over the entrance gate a stone inscription, (now on 63 Kings Cross Road) reading ‘ST This is Bagnigge House neare the Pindar of Wakefield 1680’ - ST probably was her son, Simon Thriscrosse, and The Pindar of Wakefield was a public house in Grays Inn Road, destroyed in a gale.
Nell Gwyn and her paramour Charles ll were associated with the premises. In 1689 Bagnigge Wells House was leased to Richard Salsbury, a London vintner, probably as a public house. In 1757 a Holborn tobacconist Thomas Hughes acquired the lease, the site probably still used for water power, grinding snuff and medicines. John Bevis published a celebration of the efficacy of Bagnigge Wells water with testimonials of cures from gout to gonorrhoea, and the site became established as a spa with its own song, aimed at the genteel ‘water cure’ market of Bath and Tunbridge Wells. By1815 a brewery had been substantially rebuilt by John Hudson on behalf of John Chapman, using a Commercial Union of Norwich loan, creating The Phoenix Brewery, aimed at home deliveries of bitter and mild ales, in cask and bottle.
By 1826 rises in the price of malt and hops force the brewery into liquidation. The Bagnigge Wells gardens carry on as a skittle alley attached to ‘Bagnigge Wells’ public house, the Long Room being used for concerts and organ recitals. By 1841 only the public house remains of the Bagnigge Wells commercial venture. After a period of dereliction Queen’s terrace is built around 1850. In 1860 The Phoenix Brewery is occupied by CJ Fox and Sons, millwrights, and brewing comes to an end after at least 100 years, unable to complete with beers brewed with clean water in the midlands which arrived at the new St Pancras Station. The building was then used as light industrial premises for almost 100 years, and then as electrical wholesalers and children’s wear designers until acquired by Shepheard Epstein Hunter in 1999.