Paddington, Westminster

Once a parish and metropolitan borough stretching as far as West Kilburn, but now a compact, densely built-up commercial locality surrounding the station that bears its name

Andrew H - Paddington Basin

A ‘farmstead associated with a man called Padda’ was first recorded in 998, but the settlement at Paddington Green did not begin to grow until the 16th century, which was relat­ively late for a place so close to London. From 1524 the White Lion pub stood on Edgware Road, opposite what is now the end of Bell Street.

The parish church of St Mary was built in the 17th century and rebuilt in 1791, when the village had become popular as a rural retreat. The landscape gained a predictable smattering of gentlemen’s seats in the 18th century but was also much disfigured by gravel workings.

Brunel in bronze at Paddington station, by John Doubleday (1982)

From the start of the 19th century the village became the focus of a series of trans­port­ation initi­atives that hastened its urban devel­opment. The Paddington branch of the Grand Junction (now Grand Union) Canal opened in 1801 and the canal company sponsored the construction of Grand Junction Street (now Sussex Gardens) and Praed Street, named after the company’s chairman, William Praed. London’s first horse-drawn bus service began operating from Paddington Green in 1829.

The Great Western Railway arrived in 1838, at first using a temporary terminus building that later became the site of a goods depot. Queen Victoria alighted here in 1842 after her first-ever train journey, which had begun in Slough, Berkshire. A permanent station opened in 1854, designed by the railway’s chief engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

By this time the surrounding area was densely built up, mostly with working-class terraced housing. The White Lion was rebuilt twice, becoming the Metropolitan Music Hall in the 1860s. The village had become a crowded, semi-indus­trial suburb, and St Mary’s Hospital had been built on Praed Street. The south-eastern part of the parish had meanwhile been built up as fashionable Tyburnia.

Hidden London: Exterior view of the room at St Mary’s Hospital in which Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin
Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in the room in the middle of this picture

In 1863 Paddington (Bishop’s Road) station became the western terminus of the world’s first under­ground railway line.

Piecemeal rebuilding from the late 19th century to the present day has left central Paddington with a streetscape that ranges from fine Georgian terraced houses to some seedy flats above shops.

The Metropolitan Music Hall was demol­ished in 1962 as a consequence of construction work on the Marylebone flyover and was replaced by Paddington Green police station. This well-known landmark is the fortress to which suspected terrorists are usually taken for questioning in London. The IRA exploded a bomb outside the police station in 1992. The flyover and the elevated section of the Westway divided the station and its environs from the settlement that had grown up around the green.

A large-scale mixed-use devel­opment at Paddington Waterside has recently taken shape in the shadow of the Westway.

The area around the station is the developers’ next target, notably in the form of the Paddington Cube, which is shown in the CGI below and is proposed to replace a former Royal Mail sorting office. The ‘floating’ 14-storey block, designed by Renzo Piano, is intended to be a more acceptable scheme than a previ­ously proposed 72-floor tower dubbed the Paddington Pole.

Hidden London: Paddington Cube CGI

Former Paddington residents include the American polymath Benjamin Franklin and the German poet Heinrich Heine.

The Victorian music hall song ‘Pretty Polly Perkins of Paddington Green’ became a big hit before the First World War and was probably based on a real girl called Annette Perkins: “She was as beautiful as a butterfly and proud as a queen /​ Was pretty little Polly Perkins of Paddington Green.”

Paddington is perhaps most famous for the children’s book and television character Paddington Bear, who was found at the station and went to live in the suburban Brown household. The bear made his first appearance on the big screen in 2014.

Postal district: W2
Station: First Great Western, Heathrow Express, Heathrow Connect, Chiltern Railways, Bakerloo, Circle, District and Hammersmith & City lines (zone 1)
Further reading: Brian Girling, Bayswater to Little Venice Through Time, Amberley, 2016
Website: This is Paddington
Twitter: In Paddington
* The picture of Paddington Basin at the top of this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Andrew H, at Flickr, made available under the Attribution 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.