When Paddington Railway Station opened in 1854, it was called a modern marvel. Its designer, the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was a giant of Victorian society, although in reality he was tiny and tried to compensate for his diminutive height by wearing enormous hats. Paddington was one of the London stations built during the 19th century’s Golden Age of Steam, which began in the 1830s. Connecting the capital with the city of Bristol to the west, it was considered the finest station in London.
The station began life as a gas-lit construction of iron and glass, inspired by medieval religious buildings. Some of Britain’s most stunning architecture can be found in railway stations, and Paddington is a perfect example. As one 19th-century journalist commented: “Railway termini are to the 19th century what monasteries and cathedrals were to the 13th century.”
Paddington saw important updates in the 1870s, 1910s and 1960s, but Brunel’s original design is still clearly recognisable. Queen Victoria adored steam trains and frequently used the station to travel to Windsor Castle. She even had her own luxurious royal waiting room, which is now the first-class passenger lounge.
Non-royalty who had to catch an early train could spend the night in the Great Western Hotel (now the Hilton), which also opened in 1854. The largest and grandest hotel in London, with 103 bedrooms, it began the tradition of luxury hotels fronting large railway stations. The 1870s saw another important addition to the station, when enormous, multi-storey stables were built to accommodate the horses — all six hundred of them — used to deliver packages to their destinations as well as fresh milk in thousands of churns to dairy companies around London.
The station also played an important role in the development of the London Underground. The city’s first trains, on the Metropolitan Line, set off from Paddington in 1863. Today, one hundred and sixty years on, the station now has two tube stations providing connections to the Bakerloo, Circle, District and Hammersmith & City Lines, plus the recently-finished, state-of-the-art £22 billion (€25.6 billion) Elizabeth Line. Brunel would have been delighted to learn that the Paddington area has recently been the beneficiary of the largest local regeneration scheme in London of the last fifty years, and his creation, Paddington Station, received part of the £10 billion (€11.5 billion) budget to give it a facelift making it worthy once more of being one of the historic gateways to the city of London.
a bear called Paddington
On Christmas Eve, 1956, author Michael Bond spotted a teddy bear in a shop close to the station. He could not bear (sorry!) to leave it there and took it home as a present for his wife. Inspired, he started writing A Bear Called Paddington, which was published in 1958. Now one of English literature’s most popular creations, Paddington is also one of London’s most cherished mascots, as witnessed by the statue surrounded by admirers on platform 1.