Hyde Park Now-Paddington station 1838/1854

Paddington station 1838/1854

For years the exterior of the original Paddington station buildings belonging to the Great Western Railway (GWR) have looked in a quite poor condition. This is the rear of the area which is known these days as the GWR First Class Lounge. These were the very rooms which the Royal Family, especially Queen Victoria, would wait for their Royal Train onward to Windsor or other destinations.) The Queen would enter the station via the crested archway in Departures Road and then exit onto Platform one via another archway.

The work that was recently undertaken is no doubt due to the many changes including the Crossrail/Elizabeth Line construction which had put the Departures Road area out of action to all except Crossrail construction workers for more than a decade. It was only in 2021 when the area was finally cleared of all Crossrail hoardings and equipment that Network Rail could begin to look at restoring the station’s frontage. Thus these posts are a look at the station building’s history, including the Royal Waiting Rooms, from the late 1830s onward and then later the restoration of the lower part of the 1854 frontage in 2022.

It seemed appropriate to produce a series of articles about the Royal Waiting Rooms and the station itself in general in time for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. The station has of course seen major changes in the 21st Century, besides Crossrail that has included a general overhaul and upgrade of the immediate area (including the renewal of Bishops bridge and huge new developments at both Paddington basin and Paddington Central.) A brand new taxi entrance and rank had to be built as well as a new eastern side entrance direct from the canal basin into the station environs. The current work to build a new entrance piazza and Bakerloo line entrance on the Praed Street side is a separate subject however.

Network Rail indeed undertook restoration of the station in 2015-2016 following much of the work that had been undertaken around the station itself and that took eighteen months. This included restoration of the roof over platforms 1 to 8, renewal/repair of the station’s pillars and steelwork, a remodelling of The Lawn area, improved waiting facilities around the station including in the suburban section. GWR’s new ticket hall was also built as part of that programme and it opened on Sunday 17th April 2016. However the areas In Departures Road could not be included as part of that work no doubt due to the ongoing Crossrail work to build what would become the new Elizabeth line station.

After the completion of the Elizabeth Line station, Network Rail was once again able to fully access the Departures Road façade of the original GWR building and implement a programme to restore the sorry looking frontage. That began towards the end of January 2022 and work was supposed to be completed towards the end of April 2022. In the event it was finished the day before the Queen and Prince Edward visited the new Elizabeth line station to formally open it.

Hyde Park Now-Paddington station 1838/1854

The restoration work was wrapped up the day before the Royal Opening of Crossrail aka the Elizabeth line! Here the Queen arrives at the station with the newly completed GWR building as a backdrop. Source: Twitter.

The Queen these days does not use Royal waiting rooms not even when she takes the train to King’s Lynn. It seems she prefers to take an ordinary train and be treated as plausibly as an ordinary citizen as far as can be allowed. The last time any Royals had used the Royal Waiting Rooms at Paddington was possibly for the funeral of Queen Victoria in 1901. The waiting rooms were converted to dining rooms soon after so its doubtful these saw any further use in their original context.

The Royal Waiting Rooms at Paddington are now a First Class rail lounge. Yet there’s enough presence such as Royal crests and historic photographs to remind any rail users it was once a location of Regal importance.

Hyde Park Now-Paddington station 1838/1854

The part of the GWR buildings which quite a few say was Queen Victoria’s waiting room. Its an octagonal shaped room with a large chandelier. Source: Twitter

Here’s a 360 degree view of the octagonal room on Google Streets.

The Science Museum has a watercolour that depicts the Royal Waiting Room and its clear its this part of the building. Some sources suggest it was a different room however it appears this was an annexe which served as additional space to the main waiting rooms.

The Royal Waiting Rooms at Paddington were opened in 1854 and were part of a large, but somewhat smaller structure that was soon expanded considerably. Its just that small section along Departures Road that was the one and only station building directly serving the new terminus. There was of course the Great Western Royal Hotel (designed by Philip Hardwicke) which was separated from the station itself by means of a substantial lawn area. By way of later extensions, both station and hotel would practically become one.

What of the Royal waiting rooms as they were originally? It seems there’s little detail on how they looked however there’s this description from the Railway Magazine of 1900:

In the first place, a glance inside the Royal waiting rooms at Paddington station will not be amiss, for Royal waiting rooms proper in this country can be counted upon the fingers of one had, and the a finger or two will remain over.
The situation of these handsome apartments, occupying a central position on the departure platform, will be familiar to most of us, but possibly very few have had an opportunity of entering those formidable looking doors with their artistically designed barriers of gilded wrought iron.
Having then passed these portals, we arrive within the entrance lobby or hall from which another door of similar construction leads out to the covered entrance, where many decisive engagements are fought ‘twixt cabby and his fare.
But when once inside the Royal waiting room proper, which is of smaller dimensions that the lobby referred to, barely a sound is audible form the babel without. handsomely papered, thickly carpeted, luxuriously furnished is this room, while its lofty proportions seem to add yet another charm for the Royal traveller. A well executed portrait of the late Prince Consort is painted upon the wall just over the pointed doorway through which we entered, while a similar representation of Her Majesty adorns a doorway corresponding on the opposite side of the room.

Clearly the Royal Waiting Rooms were the centrepiece of the new 1854 GWR buildings at Paddington but only for the fortunate few who could access its interior and enjoy its luxurious surroundings. The railway’s other passengers had to do with far less, even though the new Paddington station itself was adorned with sumptuous ornamental features which were a feast for the eyes. More of that in a moment.

Passengers indeed had to put up with ramshackle surroundings when the Great Western Railway first arrived in London during 1838. The first Paddington station was anything but, being a temporary wooden structure. Clearly the GWR were unable to provide any Regal waiting rooms of any sort until a proper railway terminus could be built. It wasn’t just that – in those early years there was no station at Slough nor a branch to Windsor – thus the Royals had little need for Paddington station in those early years – not at least until November 1839 when its said prince Albert became the first Royal to use the railway. It was 1842 when Queen Victoria’s first ever use of the new railway terminus was recorded.

In fact the Royals had a special station provided for their use on the London and South Western Railway. This private station was used until about the 1860s. It was located at Nine Elms and was once a temporary terminus for the LSWR. Some poorly researched articles suggest the building was demolished in the 1890s. As this photograph shows, that one time Royal facility was in fact demolished during 1964.

The GWR’s first London terminus was slightly further north west where Bishops Road is. It opened in June 1838 and at first just a bare skeleton train service was offered. A copy of The Josser (a long forgotten unofficial, newsletter for the staff at Paddington published during the 19th Century and edited by a E.A. Searson) had this to say of the original Paddington station:

A long, low wooden construction, with roof of glass and containing two very ancient looking platforms, it was furnished with old fashioned wooden cranes, and the site now occupied by the Great Western Hotel was used for shunting.

One might be surprised the tracks extended to where the Great Western Hotel is sited. In fact that is not the case at all. That bit came later when the 1854 station had opened. Contemporary illustrations show there was a pop up goods yard south of Bishops Bridge but that was as far as the tracks went in 1838, and perhaps just a hundred yards or so south of Bishops Bridge.

The few train services on offer from the GWR’s pop-up terminus were atrociously slow. At best these did around 25-30mph. Services to Maidenhead took well over an hour. It wasn’t until late 1938 that those times had been reduced to around fifty minutes. Being a new railway the GWR was constantly experimenting, trying to improve its services, the time taken to complete journeys and the speeds attained. The one difficulty with its services was the trains and the railway they ran on were considerably different to what was being built across the rest of the country.

These were trains provided upon Brunel’s broad gauge, a vast seven foot in width. Although the broad gauge was celebrated in many ways and had new innovations, much of it ended up being a folly, including the atmospheric railway section built through Devon. The line’s early engines were also a folly for they had to be huge machines, so were perhaps less capable than they could have been. There were of course considerable misgivings about building railways with a seven foot gauge when other companies were using the standard gauge of four foot eight and half inches.

Hyde Park Now-Paddington station 1838/1854

Model of one of Brunel’s early locomotives Hurricane. Described as a ‘monstrosity’ it had ten foot driving wheels! The driver and his controls were at right – separate from the rest of the machine. It wasn’t very practical and communication between the driver and the firemen must have been difficult. Hurricane was withdrawn at the end of 1939 with just over 10,000 miles run. Source: Facebook.

Brunel had ordered nineteen broad gauge locomotives to his own specifications. Those specifications proved to be a disaster and the locomotives that were produced were most bizarre to say the least and not very successful in any way or form. They were a pain for the manufacturers who had to build these because the designs were practically beyond engineering capabilities of the day. Brunel wouldn’t be side-lined when others forewarned him of the folly of some of his inventions. Some of Brunel’s locomotives were real oddities such as that built in the shape of a boat which he thought would enable the engine to travel faster against the wind.

By the time the first part of the Great Western had opened to Maidenhead, eminent engineers including Sir John Hawkshaw warned both the GWR and Brunel that any further construction of the broad gauge needed to be abandoned and a standard gauge railway pursued instead. The broad gauge was extremely expensive to construct, with costs being almost twice that of the standard gauge. Brunel had said it would cost £2.5 million. That was a staggering amount of money in those days. In the event the final costs were around £5 million pounds sterling – which is somewhere around £543,736,287 in today’s money (or just over half a billion pounds.)

It wasn’t just that the additional costs in construction but also things like that of transferring goods from broad to narrow gauge stock where the two systems met. It was complicated and cumbersome and in due course the GWR had to provide a mix of both broad gauge and narrow gauge on many of its routes. Brunel had refused to heed these concerns and was most insistent the construction of the broad gauge be continued. In a report enquiring upon the merits of the broad and narrow gauges, Brunel had said that ‘railway carriages and wagons must belong to the particular line upon which they run… and it will never pay to to trust them in the hands of others.’

Hence the broad gauge continued westwards. By the time the line to Twyford had been completed in mid 1839, journey times were roughly in the order of about seventy minutes with three stops and top speeds being attained were somewhere around 40-45mph. One of these, Hurricane (that locomotive shown in the picture above) is alleged to have attained 84 mph on a high speed run to Taplow, taking just 16 minutes. There were other claims too including during one one trial run between Paddington and Twyford (locomotive unknown), speeds of over 100mph were reached. Clearly these speeds were an exaggeration.

Naturally there were differences as to how those first ever GWR engines performed – especially as they were experimental. Those with 10 foot diameter driving wheels (e.g. Ajax, Hurricane, Thunderer) were said to be capable of a fair speed but it wasn’t that fast. Some such as Aeolus (the only one of any of Brunel’s engines, it seems, to have had its exploits on the GWR recorded) simply struggled to make any sort of headway. For example on July 21st 1838, it took two and half hours on a trip from Paddington to Maidenhead. Aeolus never reached more than 24mph and often was between 4mph and 15mph, with several lengthy stops where the locomotive just wouldn’t budge. On subsequent trips days it did however attain 48 mph – when the going was good.

Only the Charles Tayleur built locomotives (eg Vulcan, Bacchus etc) were known to have reached speeds of 50mph and those were also actual recorded instances. None of these were successful locomotives of any sort to say the least, in fact none of Brunel’s locomotives were, and by 1840 Daniel Gooch had replaced all of Brunel’s designs with traditional built locomotives.

The 10 foot driving wheels from Hurricane (and also Ajax) found a later use away from the railways. They were bought by the foundry who built the huge carriage which transported the Duke of Wellington’s statue from the Wyatt Foundry in Harrow Road to Hyde Park Corner in October 1846! These former railway wheels had found a new use on the roads as the wheels of that carriage! What happened to the wheels after is not known but contemporary sketches of the time clearly show they were those wheels from Brunel’s aforementioned engines.

In terms of the stations at Paddington the site was chosen for it offered excellent interchange with the canals that surrounded the locality. Indeed rail served wharves were built and there was much trade with the canal boats because these could venture to other parts of London the GWR couldn’t reach. In much the same way other railway companies were soon building their own connections to the same canal system too in order to exploit those opportunities and to compete with the other rail companies too.

Hyde Park Now-Paddington station 1838/1854

The Bishop’s Bridge Road GWR terminus in 1838. The actual station itself was on the other side of the bridge’s arches. The goods depot to the right didn’t actually go as far south as some sources implied. The Grand Junction Canal can just be seen on the far side of the valley. Source: Wikipedia

Thus in terms of any new stations at Paddington, Brunel not only had to build a railway station but also to build alterations to the said canal, including those wharves and a new cast iron bridge over the said canal which consisted of interlocking sections and was a great advancement for its time. This structure was in fact Brunel’s first major use of cast iron and the said bridge survived until 2004 when it was removed and taken away for preservation.

Hyde Park Now-Paddington station 1838/1854

The new station at Paddington 1854

Once the GWR had moved from Bishops Road to its new Paddington station in 1854, this heralded more frequent, faster railway services. All of the older rolling stock and locomotives designed by Brunel had been discarded and better designed trains were the norm. Indeed the broad gauge railway was doing more the job it had been expected to do. There was a shift in travel opportunities and for the first time people could make trips to Bath or Bristol and return within the same day easily having spent a few hours at those locations.

The new Paddington station opened at a time of great innovation and part of the new terminus station opened on 16th January 1854 – this being a limited use of the departures side. A full official opening of the station was conducted in May 1854. The GWR’s directors announced thus:

Notice is hereby given, that the New Paddington Station will be open on MONDAY next, the 29th inst, for all the passenger trains arriving in London. Carriages and other conveyances to meet the up trains must enter the arrival station, by the gateway leading from the present road of approach to the Old Station, and leave it by the New Departure Road leading into Conduit Street, at the Eastern side if the great Western Hotel. (The Sun, London, Saturday 27th May 1854.)

Next is a description from the Railway Magazine as to the endeavours of Brunel’s new terminus:

£650,000 was the approximate cost of this terminal, which, with its appendages, covers an area of over seventy acres. The style is a mix of Italian and Arabesque. There are now nine platforms, varying from 730ft to 850ft, in length, spanned by three semi-elliptical roofs, and one flat span, about 700ft in length. Five of those platforms are used for departure trains, and four for arrivals. The permanent staff of officials actually thinking that they are, strictly speaking, trespassers in the truest sense of the word. And what really ‘world famous trains’ many of the trains running into and out of Paddington are – known the wide world o’er. (Railway Magazine Volume 7, p228-29.)

The buildings that were intended to complement the new Brunel terminus were designed by Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt (with largely uncredited input from Owen Jones on styles and colour schemes) to complement Brunel’s trainshed. Wyatt had been employed it is said because Brunel had neither the time nor the inclination to design the station other than its famous trainshed. Brunel said ‘For detail of ornamentation I neither have time nor knowledge, and with all my confidence in my own ability I have never any objection to advice and assistance even in the department which I keep to myself, namely the general design.’ As a result of the differing designs the station’s styling is indeed very unusual for its time.

Brunel however didn’t totally abstain from the station’s design. He told Digby he would act as an assistant and the drawings Brunel produced (example shown below) were evidently a note to Digby how the engineer would like to see the station designed. Of course it was up to Digby to conduct the refinements, the embellishments and so on. Owen Jones was brought in as consultant.

Hyde Park Now-Paddington station 1838/1854

Brunel’s original sketches for the new station including the GWR buildings at left. These basic designs were taken up by Digby Wyatt/Owen Jones and the station’s appearance made so much more elaborate. Source: Ebrary.

Hyde Park Now-Paddington station 1838/1854

The new Paddington station in 1854 with its spectacular three arched train shed. The old Bishops Bridge viaduct – which formed the original 1838’s station entrance, can be seen in the distance. The 1854 buildings, the subject of this article, can be seen on the left. Source: ArchiMaps.

Network Rail’s archives gives a good description of Brunel’s aspirations for the GWR’s new terminus:

Brunel was deeply influenced by the design and construction of the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851, and this can be seen in his use of wrought iron and glass in the three-span roof at Paddington.
At the time, this was the largest train shed roof in the world with a main span (102’ 6”) and two smaller ones to the north (70’) and south (68’). These spans are crossed by two transepts, all overlooked by three oriel windows in the station building on today’s platform 1. The station decoration, including the iron tracery on the train shed screens, was provided by Matthew Digby-Wyatt, Brunel’s architect on the project.
Fox Henderson & Company, were contracted as builders for the station. The main station building, which included offices, the new boardroom for the GWR and a royal waiting room, was constructed along Eastbourne Terrace. The Great Western Hotel was built along Praed Street, and opened in conjunction with the new Paddington Station in 1854.
Source: Network Rail.

They do not mention Jones however. Despite his apparent uncredited contribution a fair number of sources do recognise Owen Jones as having made important contributions to the design of the new Paddington station. Apparently Jones’ work is all over the station as the following social media accounts point out.

Evidently Owen Jones had substantial influence how the GWR’s new station frontage should look. This would have to include the stylish architraves and decorations that abound the frontage on both sides. Jones would argue that the workers who had painted the station’s cast iron columns and roof spans had got the colour scheme wrong and this was corrected.

Whether Jones had any influence as to the appearance of the Royal Waiting Rooms I could not tell you. But it is without a doubt the fancy ironwork that surrounds all the arches of the original sections of the GWR’s buildings were no doubt influenced by Jones, as well as the splendid patterns that can be seen at the ends of the huge station roofs.

Owen Jones didn’t actually do any work at Paddington. He was merely a consultant as to how to certain parts of the station should be rendered. But what some argued at the time was that this work was a salute to both Imperialism and the British Empire.

In 1851 Brunel had made it know that he wanted the new station to have a great deal of ornamentation – this following the work that had been done at the Great Exhibition of that year. Jones was a versatile designer who had travelled to Egypt, Italy, Greece, Spain and Turkey to study the art and culture in those countries and he gained a vast knowledge of the artworks of those countries.

Jones was appointed both the Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace’s interior designer, thus he was the appropriate authority to consult in terms of any ornamental decoration intended for Paddington. As has been recognised by many, both the Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace were no doubt intended to reinforce notions of the British Empire. Brunel, Digby Wyatt and Jones had worked together in collaboration on those huge schemes hence it was no surprise Paddington station would be seen as a celebration of Britain and its empire too.

Instead of being a place of art and science which people could pass through and admire the many successes of the British Empire in wonder and awe, Paddington station was a railway station rather where elements of art that had been featured at the Great Exhibition were displayed and it was hoped that would enhance the station’s appearance.

Thus Jones, who had wide experience in terms of Arabic, Greek and Moorish cultures, was able to indicate to both Brunel and Digby Wyatt, especially the latter, how he thought the station’s ornamental appearance should be procured. The large glass screens at the ends of the station roofs embellished with a very decorative ironwork, and the roofs’ splendidly detailed columns and support beams were all a result of Jones’ consultation.

This was especially important because both the Great Exhibition/Crystal Palace and Paddington station were all part of one important scheme – to give the country a notion of pride in terms of the British Empire. Its said the wow factor (to coin but a modern term) would be a reason for people to visit these places. Nevertheless there were those who thought both the Great Exhibition/Crystal Palace and Paddington station somehow too imperialist and harked to a certain style of propaganda.

An example of a critic who held such views on Paddington station was the notable John Ruskin. He complained for example the use of elements such as leaves at the GWR’s station was an appropriation of nature. That is, taking something out of its original purposeful context and placing it in a new and artificial one altogether. And this, as Ruskin implied, was in fact what the British Empire was doing.

There were concerns that both locations served a subconscious notion of imperialism upon those who used these places. In other words, it was the use of oriental themes that drove those imperialist slants and gave way to the idea that both structures were flagbearers of a new future – the industrial age – which was of course part of the British Empire too. It was that the use of artistic elements from other countries and causing the British peoples to think those elements was of their own country – but was in fact part of an imperialist slant that helped to sustain notions of an Empire.

Evidently this makes some sense for a number of biographers would agree Brunel was a flagbearer of the British Empire. His grand plans fitted in perfectly with the equally grand visions the British Empire pursued. For example Brunel designed large and powerful steamships which would enable merchant venturers to speed half way round the world in search of fabled riches and to control other lands.

As Andrew Thompson (The Empire Strikes Back 2014) points out, the empire was of considerable benefit to Brunel. Indeed several of the people who had worked under him ‘were given important colonial commissions.’ Further, as Annabel Gillings noted (Brunel, 2006) the rapidly expanding British Empire brought new opportunities for Brunel which went ‘far beyond advising on a few railway lines.’

One can see why Owen Jones was brought in to consult on the ornamental decorations intended for Paddington station. It was intended to ensure any notions of imperialism and empire could be reinforced through judicious and artistic detail within the station’s roof and structural elements – and that would enhance the Victorian obsession with Orientalism. Fortunately the station too served as an important transport route and over time, the soot of steam trains blacked the vast structure completely and any notion of the British Empire soon receded into the past.

Hyde Park Now-Paddington station 1838/1854

Paddington station in the 1880s (as evidenced by the broad gauge). Digby Wyatt’s buildings are on the right and its clear these saw various uses including offices & cafes, thus the Royal waiting areas were merely a small part of it. The section over the Royal section consisted of substantial GWR directors boardrooms. Source: Twitter.

Another collaborator in the grand scheme of things – the Great Exhibition/the Crystal Palace – had been no other than Joseph Paxton. He too had an indirect hand in the design of Paddington station. His ridge and furrow design of roof was employed over much of the station environs. Most of Paxton’s roofing was removed progressively in stages between the 1880s and the period after WWII, however some sections survived until at least 1968.

Hyde Park Now-Paddington station 1838/1854

The Departures Road with its original ‘Paxton’ roof at the turn of the century. The large overall roof was demolished by bombs in WWII. The original 1854 GWR station buildings can clearly be seen with their third storey added on top. Source: Pinterest.

What of the GWR’s buildings themselves as seen in the above picture? The structure originally consisted of a large detached block consisting of thirty two bays, however the south western end of this, consisting of six bays along with part of an additional section built in circa 1881, was bombed in 1941. The surviving section had an additional storey added during the 1930s – and much of the decoration that originally adorned the first and second floors of the original GWR buildings was removed after WWII, which leaves them looking somewhat different from the original appearance. Its just the ground floor elevations which remain more or less as they were in 1854.

Hyde Park Now-Paddington station 1838/1854

Larger view of the central 1854 section of the station buildings. This is in fact a shot taken from the gallery of pictures featuring the station’s history which can currently be seen on the approaches to Paddington (Hammersmith & City/Circle line station.)

One would naturally assume the Royal Waiting Rooms which were part of the original GWR building of 1854 were very much as they had been built. In a way this is partially true. The styling influenced by Owen Jones still exists although mostly these days its a replica of the original, having been replaced in sections at various times. A couple of the windows appear to have the same frames they had in 1854 including an unusual style of vent at the top. As for the main entrance to the Royal Waiting Rooms sited on Departures Road, it seems this is largely as it was when built in 1854. Indeed as the view below shows, just over a hundred and twenty years ago the main entrance to the Royal Waiting Rooms still had its original appearance and this is basically how it looks in 2022. Even the exquisitely iron framed decorated windows either side of this doorway – and seen in the picture below – still exist today.

Hyde Park Now-Paddington station 1838/1854

The entrance to the Royal waiting rooms in 1896. It clear there is a direct thoroughfare from the Departures Road to Platform one of the station. The Octagonal Room is at the centre of this thoroughfare.

Its no surprise then that the GWR structures, especially the 1854 section has been given Grade 1 listed building status in view of the building’s heritage and the fact several original features remain. In fact the entire area around Paddington station is classed as a conservation area because so many original features remain. These besides the station buildings include the large train sheds, the GWR’s horse hospital, the GWR Hotel in Praed Street, the 1930s art deco extension to the rear of the hotel, the GWR offices in Bishops Bridge Road and so on.

Next we look at the station’s progress as the 20th Century passed and the first steps undertaken to restore the GWR’s 1854 buildings.

Continued in part two.