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In Old Paddington

April 3, 2019
by the gentle author

At Paddington Green, Sarah Siddons calls upon a lifetime’s experience in the theatre to feign an appearance of interest despite her stultifyingly boring view of interminable traffic on the Westway. For years I saw her from the window of the bus and always intended to pay her a visit – a wish that I eventually fulfilled last week.

The green was once common land, formerly a place in its own right but now it has become somewhere the world passes by. Since the motorway sliced through in 1967, Paddington Green has been marooned, yet today offers a pleasing refuge from the urban chaos that surrounds it. John Plaw’s elegant church of 1791 sits upon a verdant mound enclosed by venerable magnolias, safeguarding the site where John Donne gave his first sermon, and William and Jane Hogarth were married.

Paddington was always a village defined by its position at the edge of the capital, but the escalation of change began with the arrival of the Grand Union Canal in 1801, accelerated by Brunel’s Great Western Railway in 1854. It is only a short walk from Paddington Green through the subway under the Westway and over the canal bridge to arrive at Paddington Station, but a journey through time spanning different worlds.

Paddington Station was where I first arrived in London on a school trip to be confronted with a full-scale riot in which police and football fans were charging at each other successively from either side of the station concourse. As a newcomer, I could only presume this was a normal state of affairs in the capital. It was an assumption confirmed when the rioters and their adversaries retreated obligingly, and the crowd parted like the Red Sea to permit our school party to walk through the middle with impunity, before resuming their conflict.

Over the years, the shabby streets around the station became familiar to me as it was my custom to walk from here into the centre of London to save the cost of a tube fare. Commonly, I underestimated the time it took to walk back from Marble Arch and had to run the last mile to Paddington, fearful of getting lost in the maze of small streets and missing my train home.

When I lived nearby in Bayswater, briefly in the early eighties, it was my delight to rise and walk through the streets in the middle of the night to view the drama of the mail trains being loaded with postal sacks and parcels of next day’s newspapers at Paddington. It was a different station then – a sooty black gothic cathedral in contrast to the luminous glasshouse it is now.

Nowadays I no longer have any family in the west and no reason to take the train from Paddington anymore. Although I have not been here in more than ten years, I was reassured how little the surrounding streets have changed – still lined with scruffy convenience stores, souvenir shops, cheap restaurants, massage parlours and sad hotels.

The grandeur of the tall white stucco terraces in Norfolk Sq comes as a surprise after the dingy atmosphere that prevails around the station but just another street later you come to the magnificent Sussex Gardens. On this visit, I realised that my notion of Paddington consists only of Praed St and its immediate environs – so authentically dirty old London, that the mould which became penicillin floated in a window here and gave the world antibiotics.

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14 Responses leave one →
  1. April 3, 2019

    Thank you for a springtime stroll around an area of London that I am not familiar with and for all the nuggets of information you give along the way, It’s like having a personal Blue Badge guide!

  2. Jill Wilson permalink
    April 3, 2019

    When I worked at Selfridges we used to have a warehouse in the canal basin just off Praed Street where our carpentry workshop was based and so I spent quite a bit of time in the area in the early eighties.

    That particular Victorian block has been knocked down to be replaced with – surprise surprise – luxury apartments in a classic modern spreadsheet architecture style – grrrrr!! Another bit of old London gone forever…

  3. Paul permalink
    April 3, 2019

    Does anyone remember the documentary series ‘Paddington Green’ set round here in the late 1990′s? I think it ran for a couple of series and followed various shopkeepers, tradesmen and characters who lived and worked in this area. It was a great series and a real slice of Paddington life at that time. Think there may be a few episodes on You Tube.

  4. April 3, 2019

    There is/was a song about ‘Pretty little Polly Perkins of Paddington Green’, involving a broken-hearted milkman?

  5. Milo Bell permalink
    April 3, 2019

    I too lived around there throughout the 80′s and it was great to see the photos (though i couldn’t quite place the pub)?

  6. Lucy permalink
    April 3, 2019

    Fantastic picture of an overlooked place ! Trumans pubs were like chains of Wetherspoons.

  7. April 3, 2019

    I was always amazed at the calm of Paddington Green, despite the bedlam of Westway or the horrors of Praed Street over the canal.

  8. Helen Breen permalink
    April 3, 2019

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thanks for the tour around Paddington Green & Station, a part of London I am not familiar with. Wonderful pics too. I do not have the courage to “Tube it” from Heathrow so I take a car service to the Strand Palace where I hunker down. But I might take a day jaunt from Paddington to Oxford on my next visit. Great transportation in London…

  9. Paul Loften permalink
    April 3, 2019

    There was once a time, around 1974, when I found myself out of work so I took a job as a mini cab driver . I found it easier to get around at night due to the lack of traffic and also enjoyed driving and talking to the offbeat characters that you would come across in the hours that most of us are well abed. On my travels around the empty streets of Central London, I would, when in the Paddington area, take a break at a late night German Bratwurst cafe that was open all night in Praed street. They served a large variety of Bratwurst and Brockwurst in a roll topped with onions and sauce that you could pick from the counter. The cafe would attract the late night revellers and also those of us who prefer the night hours. It would draw in the customers withe the aroma of the grilling sausage which spread into the street. Being in Paddington it was a sometimes a pleasure to sit and savour and simply watch the variety of customers for an hour or more, as they would pass through . However at other times you may want to consume your Bratwurst despite the hot mustard, and head straight for the door as not all the customers would live up to the aroma offered outside . I love Paddington. Alas the cafe has long gone but the station gives it a lifelong guarantee of it being London’s hub of humanity.

  10. Gary Arber permalink
    April 3, 2019

    My earliest memory of Paddington Station was in the summer of 1939 going with my parents for a holiday at Paignton. My father took me down to see the engine which was to pull us there in the “Torbay Express” to find to y delight that we had the GWR’s best engine in front, the”King George V”
    Gary

  11. Ros permalink
    April 3, 2019

    Nice to see this undersung part of London featured in your post today, with photos to bring a little pride back to ‘mournful ever-weeping Paddington’ as Blake memorably wrote and which always comes to my mind when I’m in Praed Street, surely one of London’s ugliest. Mind you, Blake also had ‘golden builders’ at work in the area, a far cry I suspect from what the phrase might conjure up in relation to the developers of today. The pub, Milo Bell, is itself in Praed Street just past St Mary’s hospital and is not long demised. In the first picture, behind Sarah Siddons on the left, is a red-turreted building, which until the late 80′s was Paddington Green Children’s Hospital, a place as loved and respected as Hackney Children’s hospital but which pre-deceased it by about 30 years. It was known for its compassionate attitudes and forward thinking in the fields of children’s physical and psychological health. I expect it’s now….luxury flats.

  12. Catherine permalink
    April 3, 2019

    “She was as beautiful as a butterfly and proud as a Queen
    Was pretty little Polly Perkins of Paddington Green”

    Unfortunately, Polly did not fare well after rejecting the milkman:

    In six months she married, this hard-hearted girl
    But it was not a viscount, and it was not an earl
    It was not a baronite, but a shade or two worse
    It was a bow-legged conductor of a tuppenny bus

  13. Richard permalink
    April 7, 2019

    Great article. To expand on Ros comment, the Paddington Children’s Hospital was where Donald Winnicott practiced for many years and carried out his seminal work.

  14. Adrian Risdon permalink
    April 9, 2019

    Thanks for this – very nostalgic for me as I grew up in Chilworth Mews, just a stone’s throw from the station. My childhood was stranger than I realized at the time. Then I was Adrian Flick, all unawares that my biological grandmother was living and working just round the corner in Spring Street. Grayson Perry recently said on television that “it takes a village to raise a child” – and, partly because of my Risdon grandmother’s secret local presence, partly because I was sent to boarding-schools in Kent from age 7-16, Paddington was never (for me) really a ‘village’ in that sense. But I do recall going with my ‘father’ to have my hair cut in the Great Western Hotel. Later as a teen I tried to have my hair cut at the barber’s on the opposite side of Praed Street – he occupied a small space in the Circle Line tube – only to be chucked-out because I had eczema on the back of my neck (“We’re not allowed to!” he snarled). My best friend in Paddington, David Bradley, lived in Sussex Gardens and (though I didn’t know this at the time) the poet-to-be Sebastian Barker lived on the corner of Sussex Gardens and Westbourne Terrace. We should have met in Paddington but didn’t – he was a contemporary of mine at The King’s School, Canterbury. Does anyone know if Praed Street is correctly pronounced Pride Street ? The pub at the top of Spring Street where it meets Praed Street/Craven Road is called “The Pride of Paddington.”

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