Before 1800 Paddington was a village, or collection of villages, not far from London. Westbourne Green and Westbourne Farm were surrounded by green fields where cows grazed.
An act of Parliament, granted in 1795, gave the go-ahead for the construction of the Grand Junction canal, which later became the Grand Union; a waterway stretching from Birmingham to London and designed to bring goods from the industrial north to and from London.
In 1801 the Paddington branch of the canal opened, which is the section of the canal we know today. Initially, the canal would have passed through open fields, however the area began developing rapidly due to increased trade, and the expansion of the west end of London. The arrival of the Great Western Railway in 1836 further added to this. This was Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s project to link Bristol and the West Country with London, and its track effectively cut the Westbourne area in two, much as it is today.
The railway, even more so than the canal, brought people to the area for employment, directly and indirectly, through associated industry. For example, the many dairies near Paddington would receive milk from Wales, arriving via the Great Western Railway.
As early as the 1840s, the area around the church had become densely populated. Unlike the houses on the north side of the canal, the streets on the south side were never built with affluent families in mind, but rather with an eye on the new working population. They were, therefore, built to a poor-quality standard, and quickly became multi-occupation dwellings. By the 1860s and 70s, when the church was built, whole families were crammed into the rooms of this terraced housing, with shared cooking and washing facilities on landings. They had already, by this point, been identified as ‘slums’.
The founders and builders of St Mary Magdalene’s were aware of this. Father Temple West, and his architect, George Edmund Street, purposefully set about creating a masterpiece which was designed to appeal to the poor. The fact that the church never had pews was an initiative to avoid social hierarchy and prevent the best seats at the front of the church being ‘bought’ by richer members of the parish.
When St Mary Magdalene’s first opened in 1878 it was very popular; a reported 400-strong congregation would attend on a Sunday. The terraced streets surrounding the church were densely populated, and there was little open space. The height, space and light within the church would have been welcome relief. An order of nuns connected with the church were also active in providing relief to the poor locally, including a home for ‘fallen’ women, and education for local children.
St Mary Magdalene Church and the Westbourne area avoided any bomb damage during the first and second world wars. The nearest bomb fell in Westbourne Square. However, by 1945, Westbourne’s poorly built terraced housing was in a severe state of disrepair. The post-war spirit of improvement and new approaches to housing soon made this ‘slum’ area the focus of the London County Council’s plans for new initiatives to house poor, urban populations. The authority bought up the entire area around the church – streets and streets of crumbling terraces – and demolition began in the late 1950s.
Families were promised replacement housing in the new estates that would soon rise from the ground. Many, however, took up the offer of more space out of London, with a great number from the area being moved to Slough. The Warwick Estate was built from the early 1960s, which began the radical transformation of the area between the Harrow Road and the canal.
To the north of the Warwick Estate, around Westbourne Square and further west into Notting Hill, dilapidated terraced housing remained. This area quickly became the fiefdom of unscrupulous landlords, the most notorious being Peter Rachman. Many people arriving from the Caribbean found themselves exploited by this housing situation.
The need for land on which to build the Westway saw further demolition of housing in the area during the 1960s. The arrival of the elevated dual carriageway was considered to have further fragmented an area which had already been divided and defined by new transports routes.
Walterton & Elgin Community Homes emerged from the struggle of residents against the sale of their homes to private developers. Using a provision in the 1988 Housing Act, designed to encourage the sale of council housing to private landlords, they transferred ownership of the estates to the community.
Warwick Farm Dairy
In 1845 Richard Welford founded what became London’s first citywide dairy, opening his first shop at 4 Warwick Place in 1848. In 1886 it moved to Shirland Road, employing 400 dairy hands, 50 female account clerks, and using 100 horses to deliver milk throughout London. In 1891 it had 20,000 customers. In 1915 Welford & Sons joined United Dairies. Project
In 1957 the London County Council bought 206 properties from the borough council and 266 from the Church Commissioners in the streets surrounding St. Mary Magdalene’s Church. The demolitions, intentionally aimed at ‘slum’ clearance, affected 6,700 residents. Creating nearly 1500 new homes, the Warwick Estate was opened in 1962.
In the first part of the 20th century, Clarendon Crescent was classed as ‘slum housing’. By 1929 Clarendon Crescent and the surrounding area had the highest population density in Paddington. A Medical Officer’s report from 1930 described ‘In two basement rooms live a man and a wife, boys of 18, 6 and 4; girls 10 and 7. Man unemployed for 6 months; boy in regular work. Rooms are infested with rats and very dilapidated.’
Warwick Estate Playground
In April 1968 a group of fifty children aged between eight and fourteen, living on the Warwick Estate, marched on County Hall demanding a playground near to their homes. A petition signed by 500 parents was handed over by 13-year old Marian Hastings on the steps of County Hall. The GLC’s housing director then promised to give the children playing facilities within three months.
Paddington Goods Yard
In 1868 Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, pursued a stag on horseback all the way from Denham to Paddington Goods Yard, where the stag was killed. The decline of rail freight saw Paddington Goods Yard demolished in 1986. From 1998 the site (called Paddington Basin) has seen the development of over two million sq ft of office space.
Conceived as a ‘motorway on stilts’, the Westway opened in 1970 and cost £30 million. As well as houses, many landmarks, including Paddington Town Hall, the original Paddington Green Police Station and Bayswater Synagogue, were demolished to build it.
32 St. Stephen’s Gardens was the first of many houses acquired by Rachman. From the mid-1950s the notorious landlord forced out sitting tenants through intimidation. Free from rent controls, he then carved up houses into tiny rooms with high rents. Few landlords would let to newly arrived West Indians, so Rachman particularly exploited them.
Bayswater Road, Edgware Road, and Harrow Road
These routes have been there for a very long time. Bayswater and Edgware Roads were Roman roads, and Harrow Road was a Celtic track. The cattle drovers continued to herd their cows along these roads until the mid-19th Century, when transportation by train took them directly to Smithfield Market, and trams ran along the Harrow Road.
The River Westbourne
The River Westbourne is one of London’s ‘big three’ lost watercourses north of the Thames. Running through Hampstead, Kilburn, Westbourne and on through Sloane Square to the Thames, its waters were once pure. By the 19th century it had become filthy. With the area around Paddington becoming quickly built up, it was buried and converted into Bazalgette’s Ranelagh sewer.
In 1976, on land left over from the construction of Trellick Tower, a community garden was created by volunteers. Originally granted only temporary permission by the local authority (Westminster at that time), the garden continues to this day. The gardens feature wooded areas and wildlife gardens, as well as its famous skateboard pit; the first of its kind in London.
The Welsh Chapel, Shirland Road (now The Amadeus Centre)
Built as a Welsh Presbyterian Chapel in 1874 to serve the local Welsh community. Poverty in Wales in the middle of the 19th century saw thousands migrate to London (dairymen among them), many settling close to the Great Western terminus at Paddington. The chapel closed in the 1980s and was renovated as The Amadeus, a multi-purpose venue.
St. Sophia, Moscow Road
The Greek Orthodox Church built in 1882 to serve the many Greek merchants who settled in Bayswater in the 19th Century. During World War Two it was the seat of the Greek Government in exile, and was bombed in the blitz but restored to serve the next wave of Greek migrants in the 1960s.
Dr John Alcindor’s Surgery (now the Grand Union Health Centre)
Alcindor was a Trinidadian doctor who qualified at Edinburgh University in 1899, and worked in London. From 1913 until his death in 1924 his practice was at 209 Harrow Road. Awarded a Red Cross medal for his work with wounded soldiers returning home, he served as Senior District Medical Officer for Paddington from 1917. He led the African Progress Union.
Al-Manaar Mosque & Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre
Al Manaar, the Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre, was opened by Prince Charles in 2001, as the first purpose-built mosque in the area, in a neighbourhood with a longestablished North African population. It was at the centre of relief to Grenfell Tower survivors.
Cochrane, an Antiguan, was murdered on Golborne Road in 1959, whilst walking home from Paddington Hospital. Vast numbers lined the streets for Cochrane’s funeral. Denying any connection to the attack Oswald Mosley nevertheless held a meeting on the murder site in his general election campaign.
Paddington General Hospital
The sick wards of Paddington Workhouse became Paddington Infirmary in 1886 (renamed in 1929). The Lock Hospital (for venereal diseases) built next door in 1842, was absorbed in 1952. In 1968 it became part of St. Mary’s Hospital. After years of protest and ‘work-ins’ by staff, the site was closed in 1986 and redeveloped for housing.
Maida Vale Studios
As broadcasting took off in the 1930s the former roller skating palace was acquired by the BBC and became home to the BBC Symphony Orchestra. It was also famously home to John Peel’s Radio 1 Peel Sessions and the Radiophonic Workshop, whose experimental music and sound featured in early series of Doctor Who.
The school was created, along with nearby Paddington Academy, following the closure of North Westminster Community School. They moved into their purpose-built premises in 2007, designed by architects Allford Hall Monaghan Morris. In 2018, students at the school had 78 different nationalities and spoke 75 different languages, including Arabic, Bengali, Albanian, Somali and Portuguese.
Grand Junction Heritage Pioneer Volunteer Group
Volunteers have been instrumental in exploring and unlocking stories and sources to bring North Paddington’s heritage to life.
Beginning in 2017, Grand Junction’s Heritage Pioneers have undertaken thorough historical research, conducted in-depth oral history interviews, and created a diverse range of interpretative resources which provide fresh insight into the past, and explore indications of continuity and change.
This research has since informed the development of two volunteer-led heritage tours of St Mary Magdalene’s, and will guide the curation of themed exhibitions which celebrate the area’s rich narrative.