Before the railways, Somers Town and Battle Bridge – as King’s Cross was known – was a notoriously dirty place, best known for its dust heaps. These were huge piles of refuse including cinders and ash, barley husks from brewers, broken crockery, rags, animal bones and more beside. The Great Dust Heap was a landmark in its own right, part of what Charles Dickens described as a ‘lofty chain of dark mountains’.
Dickens made the dust heaps famous in his 1865 novel ‘Our Mutual Friend’. It stars the ‘Golden Dustman’, Nicodemus Boffin, who lives in dust country and inherits a fortune made from combing the heaps. By the time the book was published, they were long gone. They began to disappear in the 1820s, when it was rumoured the heaps had been sold to the Russians to help rebuild Moscow, after Napoleon’s invasion. They were finally cleared away when King’s Cross Station opened in 1852.
By Tom Bolton
References and copyright:
Dust heaps, Somers Town, 1836
Public Domain Mark (PDM) terms and conditions https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/mark/1.0
Credit: King’s Cross, London: the Great Dust-Heap, next to Battle Bridge and the Smallpox Hospital. Watercolour painting by E. H. Dixon, 1837. Wellcome Collection. Public Domain Mark
‘Plate 75: The Dust Heap, Battle Bridge‘, in Survey of London: Volume 24, the Parish of St Pancras Part 4: King’s Cross Neighbourhood, ed. Walter H Godfrey and W McB. Marcham (London, 1952), p. 75. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol24/pt4/plate-75 [accessed 2 June 2022].