“The Ladykillers” (Ealing Studios, 1955) – locations, then and now

This page shows pictures from the 1955 film “The Ladykillers”, with comparable modern-day pictures. Each of the pictures on this page is a link to a larger version of the picture (size: 100–150 KB).

I was inspired to produce this then-and-now photo-record after going on a guided walk of the area which was organised by the Sir Nigel Gresley Preservation Trust in August 1999. It also serves as a record of the area before it was changed considerably as a result of the construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL).

See also Reel Streets, a site by John and Brian Tunstill which identifies locations used in British films from the 1920s to the 1980s. The locations for The Ladykillers are described here.

Large-scale street map of area around King’s Cross Station

This is a large-scale map of the area close to King’s Cross Station. Cheney Road (formerly Cheney Street), where the robbery took place, is immediately west of the station. Argyle Street, used for the view from Mrs Wilberforce’s front door, is south-east of St Pancras Station. It shows the road layout from the 1980s, before the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) work on St Pancras Station changed the area.

Map reproduced by permission of Geographers’ A-Z Map Co. Ltd. © Crown Copyright 2007. All rights reserved. Licence number 100017302.

See also street map (Streetmap) and the top-down and bird’s eye (oblique) aerial photographs (Bing) of King’s Cross and St Pancras Stations. In the photographs, the large semi-circular building on the west side of the station is a new entrance hall which occupies the site of Cheney Road.

Large-scale street map of area around Frederica Street

This is a smaller scale map of the area between King’s Cross and the southern end of Copenhagen Tunnel. Mrs Wilberforce’s house was a set that was specially built for the film, above the tunnel mouth at the western end of Frederica Street, off Caledonian Road. Although a small part of the eastern end of Frederica Street still exists, the area has changed out of all recognition and is now occupied by two housing estates dating from the 1960s and 1990s.

Map reproduced by permission of Geographers’ A-Z Map Co. Ltd. © Crown Copyright 2007. All rights reserved. Licence number 100017302.

See also street map (Streetmap) and the top-down and bird’s eye (oblique) aerial photographs (Bing) of the area around the southern mouth of Copenhagen Tunnel. The long grey roof just south of the North London Line is the place where the CTRL emerges from its tunnel under north London and runs above ground from here south-west to St Pancras station.

On a zoomed-in oblique photo of the tunnel mouth, I've marked the position of the wall which is roughly where the front of Mrs Wilberforce’s house was.

Front wall of Mrs Wilberforce’s house

Sketch map of King’s Cross Station

Here’s a sketch of King’s Cross station, based on the 1938 Ordnance Survey map that’s shown on page 21 of “Lost Lines: London”, Nigel Welbourn, Ian Allan Publishing, 1998, ISBN 0-7110-2623-8.

It shows the York Road (southbound) and Hotel Curve (northbound) platforms on the link between the ECML and the Widened Lines (Thameslink). These links closed in 1976 when the Drayton Park – Moorgate line was handed over to British Rail, providing a more direct route between Finsbury Park and Moorgate.

At one time, Battle Bridge Road extended on a viaduct across the tracks to link up with York Road, though this bridge had already been removed by 1938, long before “The Ladykillers” was filmed.

Sketch map of railway lines between King’s Cross Station and Copenhagen Tunnel

Here’s a sketch of the area to the north of King’s Cross station, based on the 1938 Ordnance Survey map that’s shown on page 21 of “Lost Lines: London”, Nigel Welbourn, Ian Allan Publishing, 1998, ISBN 0-7110-2623-8. For reasons of clarity, I’ve shown multiple tracks as a single ticked line; the many sidings which diverge from the main line and pass under York Road are only diagrammatic. Maiden Lane station (which still existed in 1938) on the NLL was immediately west of York Way, before the spur from the ECML joined the NLL.

1966 Ordnance Survey map of area around Copenhagen Tunnel

The coal siding still existed in 1966 when this 6"-to-the-mile (1:10560) Ordnance Survey map was made. Thanks to Donald Galt who scanned his copy of the map. I’ve marked in red the approximate position of Mrs Wilberforce’s house just beyond the wall at the end of Frederica Street.

Film: Aerial view of Mrs Wilberforce’s house

The picture from the film shows very clearly the cutting just south of Copenhagen Tunnel, with the siding climbing the far side of the cutting. The bridge carrying the North London Line is visible in the top left corner. It is just possible to see the continuation of the siding where it passes immediately behind Mrs Wilberforce’s house.

Modern-day view of Copenhagen Tunnel

Modern-day view of Copenhagen Tunnel

Modern-day view of Copenhagen Tunnel

It is not possible to get onto the tunnel mouth to take a comparable picture. The only access is from a road at the end of Vale Royal, off York Way (formerly York Road); this road follows the line of the siding that is on the far side of the cutting in the 1955 picture. Notice the ramshackle huts above the left tunnel and the new houses to the right of the picture. Mrs Wilberforce’s house was where the blue/grey lean-to shed is above the centre tunnel. The track through the right-hand tunnel, which was in use in 1955, has now been lifted.

The second picture is taken from a North London Line train as it crosses the bridge. With hindsight, I should have taken it from a train going in the other direction so I was on the track closer to the tunnel, to make the blue railing a bit less conspicuous! You can see the end of Vale Royal on the left, on the site of the siding, and the flat grassy area above the tunnel.

In both pictures, the wall at the end of the former Frederica Street can be seen above the mouth of the right-hand of the three tunnels. By comparison with the 1966 OS map and the aerial photo from the opening titles of the film, I believe that Mrs Wilberforce’s house was built where that wall now stands.

The third picture is a panorama of two that were taken from Bunning Way on the housing estate at the eastern side of the tunnel mouth, through a convenient gap in the fence! At the very right, you can just see the wall where Mrs Wilberforce’s house stood: it’s to the right of the grey fence. For those that are interested, the panorama was created using PanaVue Image Assembler. I bet you can’t find the join!

Film: View from on top of tunnel mouth

Film: View from on top of tunnel mouth

This bridge carries the North London Line across the East Coast Main Line. Highbury and Islington is to the left; Camden Town is to the right. Notice the extensive signal gantries – long since removed and replaced by much uglier overhead-electrification gantries!

Modern-day view from Vale Royal

Modern-day view from tunnel mouth

The first picture is taken from the site of the siding; the view is partly obstructed by a sagging chain-link fence in the foreground. Through the middle span of the bridge, one of the tunnel mouths at the northern end of Gasworks Tunnel is visible; through the right-hand span, you can just make out the long viaduct that carries York Way over the sidings that go to the old Goods Depot and Top Shed.

The second picture is taken from the tunnel mouth, just to the left of the left-hand octagonal “tower” on top of the tunnel. Apologies for all the foliage in the foreground: I moved as much away as I could reach! The lines on the right-hand side go under York Way viaduct, and the branch on the extreme right curves sharply to link up with the North London Line, as shown on the maps above.

Film: Major Courtney looking for parrot

“Where’s General Gordon?” Major Courtney is on the roof, looking for Mrs Wilberforce’s parrot. A section of the siding across the tunnel mouth is visible behind the house. The main line is off the top of the picture.

Film: Professor Marcus walking along Argyle Street

Film: Professor Marcus walking along Argyle Street

Film: Mrs Wilberforce seen through window in front door; black police car in background

Here are three views along Argyle Street looking from Mrs Wilberforce’s front door towards the tower of St Pancras Station.

Modern-day view of Argyle Street

Modern view of Argyle Street with St Pancras Station in background Modern-day view of St Pancras Clock Tower

Modern-day view of building in Argyle Street where Mrs Wilberforce’s house would have been

Argyle Street was only used for the shots from Mrs Wilberforce’s front door. The fourth picture shows the building that is behind the camera in the other pictures, in the place where Mrs Wilberforce’s house was supposed to be.

St Pancras Station may provide a very photogenic backdrop in the film but it is stretching the bounds of credibility a bit to have a house which is clearly on top of a tunnel and yet which is apparently also south of St Pancras, in an area where there are no railway lines, cuttings or tunnels!

Film: The security van turns left into Battle Bridge Road

Film: The security van turns right into Cheney Road

The security van containing the money turns left from Goods Way into Battle Bridge Road. A few seconds later, having been boxed-in by the silver car and the taxi, it turns right from Battle Bridge Road into Cheney Road.

Modern-day view of the junction of Goods Way and Battle Bridge Road

Modern-day view of the junction of Battle Bridge Road and Cheney Road

These two views are easily recognisable. The main change is the trees that have grown since 1955, obscuring the bridge in the distance carrying the Midland Main Line over St Pancras Road.

Modern-day map showing the changes to the roads around King’s Cross in connection with the CTRL

2 September 2002: This area is being redeveloped as part of the construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL). This map is based on one produced by the CTRL Visitor Centre in Brill Place, north of the British Library. The green and purple areas (added by me) show, respectively, the existing roads that will be closed and the new roads that will be built. The additional platforms of St Pancras, which will be used by domestic services once the original platforms in the Barlow shed are used by the Eurostar trains, are being built in the area north of the existing station, in the area bounded by Midland Road to the west and Cheney Road in the east, on top of the old alignment of Pancras Road and the western end of Battle Bridge Road.

The house that was on the right-hand side of the first 1955 picture still existed when I took the modern-day picture in July 2000, but has recently been demolished.

Other recent CTRL changes are the demolition of the Milk Sidings and the Hotel Curve platform which used to be visible through a gateway in the high wall on the east side of Cheney Road, to the north-west of the suburban platforms.

Modern-day map showing the changes to the railways in connection with CTRL and Thameslink 2000

October 2005: This is a map of the new lines north of King’s Cross and St Pancras, including the CTRL and its connections to St Pancras and the North London Line (and hence the West Coast Main Line). The link between the Thameslink line and the East Coast Main Line is also shown: this will be used for Thameslink 2000.

Notice that the ECML-to-NLL link, labelled “North London Incline”, now passes over York Way (“124” on the map) whereas the previous alignment passed under it. This is because York Way road viaduct has been demolished and the road lowered, now that access to all the goods sidings is no longer needed. I wonder if there are any other examples of a road-over-rail bridge which has become rail-over-road?

The source of this map is http://www.ctrl.co.uk/flyers/contract.asp?ID=5442.

Film: The silver car drives off, pursued by a policeman on foot

Film: The taxi turns sedately in front of the station; the Great Northern Hotel is just visible in the background

This is the view from the “elbow” in Cheney Road, looking south-west towards St Pancras Road.

Modern-day view of the Great Northern Hotel, with the front of the station in the foreground

The building in the middle distance is now a Red Star parcels depot. The road on the left, into which the taxi was turning in the 1955 picture, is now blocked by a bollards and a number of Portakabin buildings. The suburban platforms of the station are behind me. In the background is the Great Northern Hotel and the majestic roof of St Pancras Station.

Film: Mrs Wilberforce takes the trunk of stolen money out to a taxi in front of the station

Film: View of Pentonville Road and Gray’s Inn Road from Mrs Wilberforce’s taxi

Mrs Wilberforce emerges from the station, accompanied by a porter carrying the trunk that contains the money, and gets into the blue taxi, while Major Courtney gets into a fluster reporting her movements from the wooden phone booth in the foreground. I bet you’d never find a porter these days who was willing to carry your luggage – do they still have porters, even?

As Mrs Wilberforce’s taxi drives away, we see this view looking east: Pentonville Road is to the left of the round-ended Lighthouse Building above the police car, and Gray’s Inn Road is to the right. Notice the roundabout (now replaced by traffic lights) with its “Keep Left” sign and its black-and-white bollards. I’m not sure what that aerial pylon is on top of the roundabout.

Modern-day view of Pentonville Road and Gray’s Inn Road from the station

The station entrance no longer exists in this form. The front of the building has been extended towards Euston Road and the waiting area for taxis has been diverted further west.

It was while I was taking this photo that I was accosted by a prostitute (for which the King’s Cross area is notorious nowadays) who asked me if I “wanted any business” ;-)

The taxi, about to turn from Vernon Rise into King’s Cross Road

The taxi, about to turn into King’s Cross Road

When Major Courtney is getting flustered while reporting Mrs Wilberforce’s movements, he is speaking to Professor Marcus who is in a phone box on Vernon Rise, south-east of King’s Cross Station. I didn’t grab any pictures of this scene – I must remember to do so next time the film is shown on television. However here are a couple of pictures of the same location from other times in the film. The main road in the background is King’s Cross Road.

Modern-day view of Vernon Rise with King’s Cross Road in the background

The area has changed considerably since 1955, but the buildings on King’s Cross Road are still easily recognisable. The woman in this picture is standing in roughly the same position as the lamp-post in the second picture from the film. Thanks to Eric Butler who sent me this photo.

The images from the film are taken from a widescreen 15:9 DVD copy rather than from the 4:3 version shown on television. Many thanks to Skevos Mavros for sending me these pictures. Note that the DVD copy is still not a perfect copy of the original film: although it shows slightly more of the width of the frame, the height is slightly truncated compared with the 4:3 version. I’m not sure why the picture couldn’t have been zoomed out slightly to include all of the height, even if this meant slightly bigger left and right margins to fit the standard 16:9 DVD frame. The overall picture quality from the DVD is a vast improvement on my analogue captures from a VHS off-air copy of the film.

Film: Aerial view of Mrs Wilberforce’s house, 4:3 aspect ratio Film: Aerial view of Mrs Wilberforce’s house, 15:9 aspect ratio

The distinctive silver car that Louis (Herbert Lom) drives is a 1950 Studebaker Champion Coupe built at South Bend Indiana and styled by Raymond Loewy.

Louis' car Louis' car

The piece of music that the robbers pretended to practice at Mrs Wilberforce’s house while planning their robbery was the Minuet from “Quintet in E major, Opus 11, Number 5” by Luigi Boccherini.