Above: View from the north side of Paddington Green, looking south in winter.
Because London is so large, it becomes rather overwhelming when you first try to understand how it all developed. Some people live all their lives in London and probably never understand how it grew into the sprawling metropolis it is today. Although ‘they say’ that ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ it is also true that a little knowledge of a location in London will usually bring a quick and useful understanding of how it developed. It may therefore be helpful to mention a few points of historic interest to aid the appreciation of how Paddington developed.
The original ‘village centre’ of Paddington was Paddington Green. Because the general area is dominated by Edgware Road, the Marylebone Flyover and Paddington Station, it is quite easy to walk around Paddington and never notice that there is a small oasis of parkland called Paddington Green. If you have never noticed it, then it is time you took a short walk from Edgware Road Underground Station to discover it.
In 1647 a large house adjoined the northern side of the churchyard which is also at Paddington Green. It was one of two large houses and one of them was the manor house. In the 17th century Paddington was therefore a countrified village, looking rather like one in the middle of Essex or Suffolk. Around the village green were houses, a manor house, a parish church and – more than likely – a village pump. In those days it was regarded as a village in the countryside – on the edge of the built-up area which extended up to Oxford Street.
Paddington had started life on a piece of land just west of the cross-roads formed by two Roman roads – now known as Edgware Road and Bayswater Road. Like so many places in London, Paddington began in Saxon times with a farm or group of dwellings at or near the site of Paddington Green. Flowing just to the west – across what was once open land – was a small stream called the Westbourne. The rural description, along with the pleasant stream, have long since vanished – to be ‘buried’ under streets filled with shops, houses and endless streets of offices.
In the 1800s a canal system was developed in the Paddington area, only a short walk west of Paddington Green. It centred on a piece of water known today as Little Venice which became the ‘junction’ of a canal (known as the Grand Junction Canal) linking Paddington with the Grand Union Canal and another canal (known as the Regent’s Canal) linking Paddington with Limehouse and the River Thames. A third short length of canal (the Paddington Arm or Paddington Basin) runs SE from Little Venice serving what were once industries operating beside it. The Paddington Arm is today surrounded by a large recent development called Paddington Waterside.
As the 19th century arrived a new mode of transport formed a link (the Great Western Railway) between Paddington and Bristol. Its London terminus was, of course, Paddington Station. That is also a short walk from Paddington Green.
In the 1960s a rather more unwelcome link was built right through the centre of Paddington, passing within feet of the south side of Paddington Green. We are talking about Westway which links the A40 to the centre of London – forming a gigantic traffic jam every weekday morning. Fortunately it has not completely shattered the peace and tranquility to be found at Paddington Green but it does mean that the convenient pedestrian footpaths between the green and Paddington Basin have been severed for ever.
So, in spite of all the developments over the past three or four centuries, Paddington Green is still, in a sense, at the centre of modern-day Paddington. Although Edgware Road and Praed Street play a large part in the busy life of the area they are not far removed from where the original Saxon farmers decided to set up a homestead on land so open that from Paddington you could literally see for miles!
For subscription members there is an illustrated booklet explaining the development of Paddington over the centuries. A link to the booklet will be sent out by email.