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.