Brunel, Isambard (Statue)

Probably the first thing that most people associate with the place-name Paddington is Paddington Station. It was due to Isambard Brunel that the station came into being and, therefore, it is appropriate that his statue is mentioned. The seated figure of Isambard Brunel at the station was unveiled 26 May 1982. It is one of two statues of Brunel commissioned by the Bristol & West Building Society. Its companion, a standing figure, was unveiled in Bristol the same day.

The life-size bronze statue by John Doubleday was installed on Paddington Station – initially positioned at the top of the flight of stairs leading to the concourse from the Circle and District line platforms of the underground. A few year later it appeared that the figure had decided to take a short ‘walk’ because it was later to be found in the passenger waiting area beside Platform 1. In 2014 the figure took another ‘walk’ – this time being relocated to an area between Platforms 8 and 9. Network Rail secured listed building consent in June 2014 to re-position Brunel’s statue, providing it with a more prominent location, facing the Director’s Balcony (which is on Platform 1).

The figure of Brunel now has a fine view across the main-line platforms and it can certainly see everything that is going on. His seated figure is also easy to access for the public. He looks rather elegant in his suit, seated and holding his stove-pipe hat.

Early Life of Brunel

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was the son of a French civil engineer Sir Marc Isambard Brunel and Sophia Kingdom. Isambard was born on 9 April 1806 in Britain Street, Portsea, Portsmouth, Hampshire, where his father was working on block-making machinery. Brunel had two older sisters – Sophia and Emma. The whole family moved to London in 1808 because of his father’s work. Isambard had a happy childhood in spite of the family’s constant money worries. His father acted as his teacher during his early years. He taught him drawing and observational techniques from the age of four and by the age of eight Brunel had learned Euclidean geometry. By that time he had also learned fluent French and the basic principles of engineering. He was encouraged to draw interesting buildings and identify any faults in their structure.

When Brunel was eight he was sent to Dr Morrell’s boarding school in Hove, where he learned the classics. His father, a Frenchman by birth, was determined that Brunel should have access to the high-quality education he had enjoyed in his youth in France. At the age of 14 young Brunel was enrolled first at the University of Caen Normandy and then at Lycée Henri-IV in Paris.

When Brunel was 15 his father Marc, who had accumulated debts of over £5,000, was sent to a debtors’ prison. After three months in the prison, with no prospect of release, Marc let it be known that he was considering an offer from the Tsar of Russia. In August 1821, facing the prospect of losing a prominent engineer, the British Government relented and issued Marc £5,000 to clear his debts in exchange for his promise to remain in Britain.

In 1822 Isambard completed his studies at Lycée Henri-IV. He then studied under the prominent master clockmaker and horologist Abraham-Louis Breguet who praised his potential in letters to his father. Having completed his apprenticeship Isambard then returned to England.

What Isambard did next is the stuff of legends – except, in his case, it is all true. Isambard helped his father with work on the Thames Tunnel, the first subaqueous tunnel in the world. Isambard was responsible for building the large suspension footbridge across the Thames – known as the Hungerford Suspension Bridge. Its life was short because it was demolished to build Charing Cross Railway Bridge on the same site to carry trains into Charing Cross Station. The suspension bridge was taken down and the supporting chains were used on Isambard’s Clifton Suspension Bridge, at Bristol.

Isambard built the Great Western Railway, with Paddington Station as the London terminus. It was, therefore, felt that the station was the most fitting site for Isambard’s bronze statue.

Isambard was responsible for designing the ‘Great Eastern’ on the slipway at Napier Wharf, Millwall, on the Isle of Dogs. The ship was so huge that it was built ‘sideways’ to the river and eventually launched with the aid of enormous hydraulic rams. The work on the ship took a heavy toll on Brunel’s health, being eventually launched in January 1858. Just over a year and a half later Brunel died on 15 September 1859. He was only 53.


Posted in Paddington | Leave a comment

Two Figures (Public Art), Paddington Basin

The public art called ‘Two figures’, also called ‘Walking Man and Standing Man’, are situated beside the Paddington Arm in the area now called Paddington Central. The figures are probably life-size or possibly a little larger and have a great realism to their appearance and the way that they are portrayed.

The sculpture by Sean Henry shows two figures set apart by several metres, suggesting an unseen narrative. The two large bronze figures have their surfaces painted in oil to convey natural and living figures, a combined technique which revives the tradition of multicolour sculpture, prevalent within ancient sculpture through to the Renaissance period in Europe.

Standing near the side of the canal at Paddington Central, Sean Henry’s sculpture – which he calls ‘Two Figures (Meeting Place)’ – was commissioned for that very space in 2003. Familiar with the Westway and the well-used pedestrian routes due to the nearby location of his then studio, Henry placed the works to provide a link between Little Venice and Paddington Station.

In an interview given by Sean Henry, he said “I decided to create a work in which two figures could stand together as if about to meet whilst walking along a pathway. I chose the location near Westway and hoped it would resonate with people’s day-to-day life in the then very new Paddington Central development.” When asked if there was any dialogue between them he replied ”Yes, there’s a connection between the two and a sense of potential dialogue. You can see that they are about to meet – the standing figure is waiting, alert, while the walking figure remains locked in his own movement and train of thought, he’s yet to look up and realise there’s someone else there.”

Sean Henry sometimes makes figures that are as large as real people or even larger but he also makes figures that are only six to eight inches high. Regardless of the size, they are all remarkably life-like and his attention to detail is quite remarkable. In the case of the two figures at Paddington, they are so true to life that, with other people standing around, if you came upon them for the first time, you could well miss the fact that they were two statues situated among other real people.

Sean Henry’s sculptures are modelled in clay before being painted by the artist, using oil and other paints, on either a cast bronze or ceramic surface. Henry studied in Farnham and Bristol during the 1980s before undertaking a role as Visiting Artist at the University of California. His first solo exhibition was in London in 1988 and he has since gone on to exhibit his work widely in both solo and group exhibitions throughout the UK, USA, Sweden, Germany, Holland, Italy, Australia, Greece and Switzerland. Henry was awarded the prestigious Villiers David Prize in 1998.


Posted in Paddington | Leave a comment

Point, Paddington Basin, The

Above: The pointed western end of the offices seen beside one of the footbridges that cross the Paddington Arm of the waterway.

One of the more remarkable modern offices that stand by the Paddington Basin is a large block called ‘The Point. It was the first building completed at the basin as part of the 1996 masterplan drawn up by Terry Farrel and Partners. It comprises 222,000 square feet of office space over 10 storeys in a wedge shape, which is rather like the bow of a ship. The plan suits the site because it is situated on the waterfront, beside the ‘knee’ of the Paddington Basin. The headquarters building was originally commissioned for Orange Telecommunications and over 2100 of their staff.

Above: Looking west at the ‘flat’ eastern side of The Point from one of the boardwalks beside the Paddington Arm. Another footbridge is seen in the view.

In the middle of the unusually shaped building is a huge glass atrium providing natural daylight down through the open plan office levels. At the top, also in the same shape of the external plan, but much smaller in size, is a stunning glass roof, with the minimum amount of structure, to let the maximum amount of light filter through to the lower levels, whilst appearing as if it floated over the atrium well when viewed from beneath.

Above: A model of the development showing overall shape of The Point. Notice the roof of the model and centre ‘boat’ shape glass cover over the top of the atrium. The two footbridges, beside which the two pictures above were taken, can also be seen on the model.

Apart from the external shape being able to be seen by the public as they walk along the footpaths, the impressive internal features of the office block are never seen by the general public because it is not accessible. From the flat eastern side, the building looks rather like any other office block. It is only the western side, with its curved walls coming together to a point that make these offices unusual.


Posted in Paddington | Leave a comment

Helix Bridge, Paddington Basin

Above: The Helix Bridge seen from its western side. It is seen spanning the Paddington Basin. Although it may not look like it, there is another stretch of the canal behind the bridge.

The Helix Bridge was completed late 2003, designed by sculptor Marcus Taylor and engineered by the Sheffield-based firm Davy Markham. It spanned the arm of the canal and could be retracted, to allow canal barges to pass through. The mechanism to operate the bridge was mounted under the raised steps at the northern end which made the bridge retract by the spiral and the glass exterior rotating. The walkway inside the glass remained horizontal at all times.

It was one of the most unusual footbridges anywhere in London. The old Paddington Basin, which had once seen heavy use by narrow boats bringing materials for use or storage into the warehouses alongside, was being redeveloped at the start of the 2000s – to become office accommodation as well as small business units, cafes and restaurants. The footbridge provided pedestrian access to both sides of the basin for workers and for residents in the new blocks of luxury housing that were then being built. The only traffic on the water was from occasional narrow boats being used for leisure activities.

Above: The Helix Bridge in its ‘open’ position seen during one of the weekly tests to check on the mechanism which is hidden from view below the steps on the left.

Bridge engineers seem to like designing footbridges because such bridges really only have to be strong enough to support their own weight. The additional weight of a few pedestrians is only a very small percentage of the total weight of the bridge and therefore they can be elegant structures. Bridges designed for cars and lorries have to carry more weight and are not such a delicate structure.

Sadly the Helix Bridge was not considered to be suitable and it was removed around December 2013. At the time of writing (2017) a temporary bridge is in place. Plans are in hand for a new type of lifting bridge to be erected on the same site. It is a great shame that the Helix Bridge is no more because its unusual design added a point of interest to a part of the Paddington Basin that is otherwise surrounded by rather overbearing office buildings.


Posted in Paddington | Leave a comment

Shillibeer’s Bus

Above: The street name is the only reminder in London of George Shillibeer.

George Shillibeer was born in St Marylebone and christened in St Mary’s church, St Marylebone, on 22 October 1797. He worked for the coach company Hatchetts, in Long Acre which was the centre for coach-building in London.

In the 1820s Shillibeer was offered work in Paris, France, where he was commissioned to build a much larger horse-drawn vehicle than a normal stage coach. He was asked to build a coach capable of transporting over 20 people within the vehicle. His design was very stable and was introduced on the streets of Paris in 1827.

Once back in London Shillibeer was commissioned to build a vehicle, similar to the one in France, for the Newington Academy for Girls, a Quaker school in Stoke Newington which had a total of 25 seats. It is now regarded as the first school bus.

Shillibeer took over premises in Bury Street, Bloomsbury, where he intended to build a new vehicle called an ‘omnibus’ although many people at the time called them ‘Shillibeers’ and later they were called ‘buses’ – which how we have the word today. These vehicles were for fare-paying public with multiple stops. His first London ‘Omnibus took up service on 4 July 1829 on the route between Paddington and the Bank of England via the New Road. The Paddington terminus was a pub known as the Yorkshire Stingo which stood on the south side of what is now Marylebone Road, towards the western end. From there it travelled along the New Road – now called Marylebone Road and Euston Road – to Somers Town. The last part of the route was via City Road and Moorgate to the Bank of England.

Above: A print showing Shillibeer’s wide single-decker coach, drawn by three horses.

Four services were provided in each direction daily. This service was described in the first advertisements as being ‘upon the Parisian mode’ and that ‘a person of great respectability attended his vehicle as Conductor’. An account of the new service was given in the Morning Post for 7 July 1829 stating: ‘Saturday the new vehicle, called the Omnibus, commenced running from Paddington to the City, and excited considerable notice, both from the novel form of the carriage, and the elegance with which it is fitted out. It is capable of accommodating 16 or 18 persons, all inside, and we apprehend it would be almost impossible to make it overturn, owing to the great width of the carriage. It was drawn by three beautiful bays abreast, after the French fashion. The Omnibus is a handsome machine, in the shape of a van. The width the horses occupy will render the vehicle rather inconvenient to be turned or driven through some of the streets of London.

Shillibeer’s main problem was that Hackney Carriages had an exclusive monopoly on licensing in Central London, forcing him to run his route outside the area of jurisdiction – which is why he chose the route from Paddington via New Road to Islington and via City Road to the Bank of England. The fare was one shilling which was a large amount of money in 1829. His second problem was that competition was close on his heels – mainly from passenger vehicles carrying 15 people, which attracted less vehicle tax. The competition soon led him to bankruptcy, although he somehow managed to remain operational.

The hackney carriage monopoly ended in 1832 and Shillibeer ran a service to Greenwich in addition to his existing London to Brighton service. His problems soon mounted up, not only was there competition from many omnibus rivals but also from steam riverboat operators and the new London and Greenwich Railway. Shillbeer’s omnibuses really too large for London’s narrow streets. He was also in default of his road taxes but this time his property was seized and he absconded to Boulogne with angry creditors chasing him. On his return he was sentenced by the debtors’ court to several months in the Fleet prison. Soon after his release the authorities discovered 130 gallons of smuggled French brandy in his premises in Camden and he was returned back prison.

Shillibeer spent the rest of his career as an undertaker. He invented an undertaker’s vehicle which combined a hearse and mourning coach into one vehicle – called the ‘Funeral Omnibus’. It was modelled on a French design.

George Shillibeer died at Brighton, East Sussex on 21 August 1866 but he was buried in the churchyard of a parish church at Chigwell, in Essex. The only reminder of George Shillibeer in London is Shillibeer Place in Marylebone, near where he had his depot and stables. It is only a narrow side turning that runs north off York Street, at its western end.


Posted in St Marylebone | Leave a comment

Paddington Station

Above: Paddington Station’s remarkable roof. Notice the transept opening on the left of the curved ironwork.

Paddington Station first opened in 1838 with a temporary terminus for the Great Western Railway (GWR) which was the railway line that, when completed, ran west to Bristol. The engineer for the line was Isambard Kingdom Brunel who used a ‘Broad Gauge’ railway track with a spacing of seven feet and a quarter of an inch (2,140 mm) between the two lines. The gauge initially proposed by Brunel was 7 ft (2,134 mm) exactly but this was soon increased by one-quarter of an inch (6 mm) to accommodate clearance problems identified during early testing of the trains. The gauge was retained until 1892 when the ‘standard’ spacing of four feet eight and a half inches (1,435.1 mm) was adopted. It is still in use throughout Britain today.

The first station was a temporary terminus for the GWR on the west side of Bishop’s Bridge Road, opened on 4 June 1838. The first GWR service from London to Taplow, near Maidenhead, ran from Paddington. After the main station opened in 1854, this became the site of the goods depot.

The large station that we see today was not erected until 1854. Taking four years to complete the station was opened officially on 29 May 1854. A plaque inside the station, on the wall near Platform 1, commemorates the centenary of the station and is dated ’29 May 1954′. As well as the railway line, the station was also designed by Isambard Brunel although much of the architectural detailing was by his associate Matthew Digby Wyatt. The glazed roof is supported by wrought iron arches in three spans – with widths of 68 feet (21 m), 102 feet (31 m) and 70 feet (21 m). The roof is 699 feet (210 m) long and the original roof spans had two transepts connecting the three spans. Evidence for the transepts still remains. It is commonly believed that these were provided by Brunel to accommodate ‘traversers’ to carry coaches between the tracks within the station. However recent research, using early documents and photographs, does not seem to support this belief and their actual purpose is unknown.

The Great Western Hotel was built 1851–54 beside Praed Street – being added in front of the station – by architect Philip Charles Hardwick, son of Philip Hardwick (designer of the Euston Arch). The station was substantially enlarged in 1906–1915 when a fourth span of 109 feet (33 m) was added on the north side, parallel to the others. The new span was built in a similar style to the original three spans, but the detailing is different and it has no transepts.

Considerable modernisation has taken place over the last 20 years but the intrinsic design, with the remarkable glass roof, is still to be seen. The terminus is served by two underground stations – one beside Praed Street and a second one at the northern end of the station’s platforms. From 2018 the station will also become an interchange with the additional station of Paddington Crossrail (on the newly named ‘Elizabeth Line’).


Posted in Paddington | Leave a comment

Paddington Waterside

Above: Looking north beside the Paddington Basin (towards Little Venice) in 2003. Paddington Station is on the left (just out of sight) and Westway is seen ‘in the sky’, crossing the canal. Most of the old sheds on the right have been removed.

When the canal system around Paddington was laid out, Paddington Station had not been thought of. The Paddington Basin opened in 1801 as a branch of the Grand Junction Canal which had also opened the same year. The Regent’s Canal was then proposed in 1802 with work commencing in 1812 and the whole length – extending east and then south to Limehouse – not being completed until 1820. In passing it might be of interest to mention that the Chairman of the Grand Junction Canal Company was William Praed, which explains why the nearby street bears his name. The street was laid out about 1828.

The Grand Junction Canal provided a link from the Grand Union Canal by water to West London and the Paddington Basin became a centre for small businesses which set up premises and large warehouses beside this short stretch of water. The Paddington Basin is like the letter ‘L’ and most of the land beside the water – as well as along North Wharf Road and South Wharf Road – became a sort of large industrial estate. The vestiges of that way of life were still visible in 2003 (when the top picture was taken).

Above: Looking east from the ‘elbow’ of the  Paddington Basin. The north wall of Paddington Hospital is on the right. The buildings on the left are part of Paddington Waterside.

The ‘writing was on the wall’ however. One large estate of offices – called Paddington Central – was then half completed. It lies on the west side of the Paddington Basin, just north of Paddington Station. Another estate was just beginning – known as Paddington Waterside – which took shape during the decade starting in 2003. Parts of it are still being completed at the time of writing. Paddington Waterside, as its name implies, was a development to remove any warehouses beside the canal and erect towering offices along the edge of the old Paddington Arm, leaving just enough room for a pedestrian footpath along with a handful of cafes and restaurants. The development was ‘centred’ on the bend in the Paddington Arm. With Paddington Station and two underground stations just a minute’s walk away it was an obvious site for a Canary Wharf style development. As if those transport links were not enough, it should also be pointed out that the new transport link in the form of Paddington Crossrail will be opening in 2018.

As any developer will tell you, it is not the fact that the land is situated in a busy part of town that makes the site so valuable. The ‘added ingredient’ is the fact that the canal runs through the property and that adds another dimension to the development potential.

Paddington Station first opened in 1838 with a temporary terminus for the Great Western Railway. The engineer for the line was none other than Isambard Kingdom Brunel who designed the route to run to Bristol. The large station that we see today was not erected until 1854. A further extension was built on the eastern side in the early part of the 20th century. Until the turn of the 21st century, access to the Paddington Arm from the station platforms was not something that interested anyone because most of the warehouses were still in place and the location was anything but scenic. With the coming of the two developments just described, new possibilities for pedestrian access became a reality. Two or three unusual foot-bridges over the old canal have been built which have made it easier to get around the area. There is also pedestrian access from the platforms of Paddington Station directly onto a wide footpath that gives access to the whole of the Paddington Arm. In addition, it is now only a short walk from the station to Little Venice giving further amenities for those who work in the office developments or are just visiting the area.

Unlike Charing Cross Station – which is used by thousands of office workers each day but is also used by Londoners on shopping trips or theatre visits – Paddington Station is never thought of in similar terms. Many office workers use Paddington Station for commuting and many travellers use the station to go on holiday to the West Country. Few people have any desire to use Paddington Station for a trip to a restaurant and there are no theatres in the area. The mainline terminus is therefore used in a different way to other large London railway stations. In fact, there are many Londoners who seldom venture to the Paddington area at all.

Having its origins in a country village on the edge of London’s West End, Paddington has been subjected to considerable change – with the coming of the waterways and then the construction of a large railway terminus. The tiny village gradually became a very industrial area which continued up to the time of the Second World War. As transport systems changed and most of the goods were being moved by ever larger lorries, road systems emerged around Paddington making it anything but an attractive place to walk. The recent development of the Paddington Arm and the imminent completion of Crossrail means that Paddington will become an important hub, in the growth of London as a whole, with the industrial area of the 20th century growing into the office development of the 21st century. It is also attracting pedestrians who enjoy socialising in the many new restaurants that are opening up for the use of office workers and visitors alike.


Posted in Paddington | Leave a comment