There has already been a blog about Paddington Station but this one concentrates on the original station roof. There are two London termini with famous station roofs – Paddington Station and St Pancras Station.
Paddington Station took four years to complete and opened on 29 May 1854 – serving as the London terminus of the Great Western Railway. The station was designed by Isambard Brunel although much of the architectural detailing was completed 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 length of the roof is 699 feet (210 m) long. What makes the design unusual is that the three arches are ‘linked’ by two sets of transepts adding great architectural interest to the overall design.
St Pancras Station opened in 1868, built for the Midland Railway, as the London terminus of its main line which connected the East Midlands and Yorkshire. The station is listed Grade I. When inaugurated, the arched train shed by William Henry Barlow was the largest single-span roof in the world. The arch rises directly from the station level, with no piers at the sides. Additional advice on the design of the roof was given to Barlow by Rowland Mason Ordish. The span width – from wall to wall – is 245 ft 6 in (74.83 m), with a rib every 29 ft 4 in (8.94 m) The shape of the arched roof is a slightly pointed design.
While the St Pancras roof is, without a doubt, a magnificent sight, the three smaller decorated roofs at Paddington are also well worth a second look. The sad fact of life is that most people visit railway termini for mainly one purpose – to get on or alight from a train. In this frantic world in which we live these days, places like Paddington Station are busy places and you are surrounded by crowds leaving no time to ‘stand and stare’. One of the joys of taking photographs is that you need time to work out what views need to be taken and that means that you do quite a lot of looking before you finally take the picture. Looking is what is required at Paddington Station – so that you see all the exciting shapes of the steel arches and notice the detailing of the pillars, the capitals and the ribs of the roof.
In fact, it would probably be possible to visit Paddington Station every day for a year or more and see a new unusual view on each occasion. Because they are now over a hundred years away from us in time, the Victorians are fading into history. Victorians, for the first time in the history of architecture, were able to fully utilise steel and create buildings that were larger than anything that had gone before. Interestingly, we are still using steel – now reinforced with concrete – to erect the enormous offices of our time. However, Victorians emerged from the Georgian era, where everything was decorated and ornamental. When Brunel designed the station using rather utilitarian steel arches, there was still the urge to add decoration which is how we still see it today. Now that the station has been renovated and re-decorated, the arches are seen in their full glory.
For subscription members, there is a pdf in ‘Big Album’ format showing a collection picture pictures of the station roof. A link will be sent out by email to all members.