Welcome to Paddington Station! Start and end of the Great Western Railway, child of the engineering genius Brunel, and, like the line itself, forever tied into the history, trade and culture and of Great Britain.
The birth of the GWR
The Great Western Railway arose from the city of Bristol’s attempt to hang on to transatlantic trade. They wanted to keep it flowing through their city and on towards London, whilst fighting off the competition from the northern port city of Liverpool, who were building their own railway line to the capital.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Britain’s great industrialist, announced the construction of the railway in 1833. At the time, he was just 27 years old. Paddington station was his line’s London endpoint – you can see a statue of him between Platforms 8 and 9.
His train sheds, with their sweeping steel arches, were inspired by the famous iron and glass Crystal Palace from London’s Great Exhibition (the first of the World Fairs). And in the 19th Century Brunel’s station was a great success.
Milk from across the country
As the 19th and 20th centuries rolled on Paddington became an important milk depot. London was growing rapidly and farms were getting pushed further from the city centre. The solution? Shipping milk in by train.
By the 20th century over 3,000 milk churns were being handled at the Paddington station every single day. Meat, fish, horses and flowers were also transported here, flowing up from Britain’s south west.
… and bears from Peru
And with them came other arrivals… in particular a polite, suitcase-carrying, marmalade-eating bear from Peru: Paddington Bear.
Michael Bond, the author of the Paddington Bear stories, has said that he was in part inspired by World War II. From Paddington station, trainloads of children were sent by worried parents away from the danger zones of London. You could see them on newsreels, sitting on platforms with labels around their necks and their possessions in tatty suitcases.
There’s a similarly attired statue of Paddington Bear, complete with label and suitcase, under the clock on platform 1.
Paddington and British culture
As for the station itself, as well as children’s books, it retains a special place in British literature, appearing in many a classic piece of fiction. Thrillers especially (Sherlock Holmes stories and Agatha Christie feature it prominently).
In fact, because of its scope and its ambition the whole Great Western Railway truly is a historic line, intertwined with Britain’s economy and culture.
Which, if you’re travelling out of London, is something you’ll soon hear more about…