Kings Cross History

If you are interested in Sydney’s colourful history, you can’t miss the Potts Point Precinct, and especially not it’s most famous part: Kings Cross. But where exactly is ‘The Cross’?

‘Kings Cross’ (‘Kings X’) is more of a phrase than a precise location. ‘Going to The Cross’ for most people expresses a state of mind.

For most people in Sydney, The Cross is more than just the intersection of four roads. Kings Cross today refers to the larger zone from the top of William Street, all the way along Darlinghurst Road (also called ‘The Strip’, with its bars, clubs and restaurants) to Macleay Street, down Bayswater Road to Elizabeth Bay Road and north along Victoria Street into the edges of Potts Point.

Kings Cross Sydney’s Early History

In the early 1800′s, the Kings Cross area was an exclusive place in Sydney, known for it’s Victorian era terrace houses and grand homes. Some of these buildings can still be found today.

This in honour of Queen Victoria. The name lasted only 8 years, because there was always confusion between the similar sounding ‘Queens Place’ (now ‘Queens Square’) near Hyde Park. That’s why it was later changed to ‘Kings Cross’.

Development Of The Cross

During the economic depression of the 1890s, more and more of the larger terraces and townhouses became too expensive for most owners to keep for themselves, so they started letting rooms and converting their houses for boarding and lodging.

Newly arrived migrants, single men and woman, skilled workers; a lot of people were interested and moved to Kings Cross. The houses provided employment (mostly for women) and in 1890 there were 17 boarding houses in the Kings Cross area of which only 1 was run by a man. By 1905, the number had risen to 55, of which 48 were run by women. By 1915, there were 165 boarding houses, of which 139 were run by women.

By the mid-1930s a growing number of smaller venues, nightclubs and jazz bars appeared and Kings Cross also became one of the best places in the city to celebrate the New Year. It remained the main centre for New Years celebrations for the next 40 years, until focus shifted towards the harbour.

The Dark Side Of The Cross

During the time of development in Kings Cross, another -darker- side of the area showed, as the ‘razor gangs’ and thugs from neighbouring precincts began to creep into the area, taking advantage of the late night scene. The area became a place for crime, frivolity, fame and fortune, murder and drugs, mysteries and romances.

From 1916, pubs had to close at 6 o’clock, which produced a flourishing ‘sly-grog’ scene (illegal trading in alcohol) in Sydney and Kings Cross. A series of late-night venues, night clubs and illegal casinos sprang up during the same period, which led to running gang wars, assaults and shootings. Some of the top players in these wars where Phill ‘the Jew’ Jeffs and rival brothel owners Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh.

Modern Times Arrived

Kings Cross became a very modern place and was way ahead of the rest of Sydney. Not just with its new apartment-style buildings, but also wit hits food and entertainment, its new neon advertising signs (that made William Street one of the brightest in the country, the Coca Cola sign is one of the last survivors) and its liberal attitude to life and living.

With more and more restaurants popping up, Kings Cross also became Sydney’s centre for eating out. It began to develop a reputation for night-time entertainment and dining and an increasing number of cafés, restaurants, saloons and entertainment venues also began to open.

Coffee shops also became very popular (especially since the newly introduced espresso machine) and was another reason for visitors to come over and see Kings Cross with their own eyes.