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. It is possible that the transepts were simply to allow clear views across the platforms – without the obstruction of the curved roofline. One row of transepts does align with the original Director’s Balcony (which is on Platform 1).
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’).