Video: See what lies beneath the huge new Francis Crick Institute

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Long before Europe’s largest biomedical research unit was built next to St Pancras Station, thousands of people lived on the site


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This week is the first time the general public are able to venture inside that dramatic, towering building behind the British Library: the brand new Francis Crick Institute.

The world class biomedical research facility is hosting the first in its ongoing programme of free public shows and events (read more about it in the new print edition of Gasholder, out next week).

To celebrate, we unearthed this video (above) made by partner in the project, the Wellcome Trust, during archaeological excavations of the Crick site back in 2010, before the first stone of this modern day local landmark was laid.

The striking new Francis Crick Institute, complete with Conrad Shawcross sculpture. Photo: Alex Maguire
The striking new Francis Crick Institute, complete with Conrad Shawcross sculpture. Photo: Alex Maguire

Until as late as the end of the 18th century, this location was all still fields. It was subsequently built upon for housing that fairly quite quickly sprawled into a densely packed slum, and this period yields some nice domestic finds for the archaeologists.

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Later, the Midland Railway made a compulsory purchase of the entire area (that also contains the British Library site), flattening over 4000 homes and uprooting over 10,000 Somers Town locals to make way for a big goods yard next to their mainline terminus at St Pancras.

The video reveals that large consignments of milk, fish, potatoes and bananas used to pass through this place, supplying Londoners with daily volumes of produce from around the world.

Original gates to Somers Town Goods Yard. Photo: Still from Wellcome Trust video
Original gates to Somers Town Goods Yard, that still stand today. Photo: Still from Wellcome Trust video

The team excavate forgotten railway tracks, pinpoint the banana ripening facility and uncover a hydraulic pumping station once used to power huge cranes.

The short film is well worth a watch, and is a particularly poignant way to consider the site’s previous incarnations when beholding the thoroughly sci-fi new Crick, complete with impossible geometric sculpture, Paradigm, out front.

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‘How do we look?: Exploring the scientific gaze at the Crick’ Midland Road, NW1. Open Wed-Sat until 4th February 2017. Admission free. More info here.

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