Travelling by train from Devon to London invariably means arriving at Paddington, and so I thought it was about time I put on my anorak and take a closer look at the history and working operations of this iconic station.
It was originally designed by the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel as the London terminus for his Great Western Railway (GWR) from Bristol, and although the line was opened in 1838 it wasn’t until 1854 that Brunel’s station actually came into use.
Inspired by the design of the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, and with the help of Matthew Digby Wyatt, he created a station that had four platforms protected by a glass roof. This roof had three spans and was supported by wrought iron arches and cast-iron pillars.
Although the original station has been enlarged since, principally by the adding of a fourth span, Brunel would still recognise his creation if he was to come back tomorrow.
In 1863 the station’s status as a major transport hub was given an extra boost when the Metropolitan Railway started running the world’s first underground railway between Paddington and Farringdon using a cut and cover system, and if you want to see how it was done there are some old pictures near to the Hammersmith & City (H&C) underground station.
The concourse at today’s main line station covers platforms 1-12: 1-8 are under Brunel’s original three spans, and 9-12 are under the later fourth. There is no platform 13, but platform 14 is within the old Metropolitan Railway’s Bishop Rd station and alongside it are platforms 15 and 16 which serve the H&C underground station.
Using the main line station is straightforward as electronic signboards give all the information about train times and platform numbers, but using the underground system is less so.
The first thing to remember is that there are two underground stations located at opposite ends of the platforms and not interconnected. The one next to the concourse is at the Praed St end and is served by the Bakerloo, District and Circle Lines. The other is the aforementioned H&C station which is served by the H&C and Circle Lines.
You’ll notice that both stations use the Circle Line, but the line stopped going around in a circle several years ago, and it depends where you’re going as to which is the best station to use. To keep it simple, the trains travel in a clockwise direction via Kings Cross from the H&C station, and anti-clockwise via Victoria from Praed St.
If you think that it sounds a bit complicated imagine what Paddington Bear thought when he arrived from “deepest darkest Peru”.
Things probably won’t get any simpler when the new station that will serve Crossrail’s Elizabeth Line opens at the end of 2018, but at least it should cut journey times across London. My only fear is that all the extra passengers will make it nigh on impossible to find a table at the Mad Bishop and Bear. What we could really do with is an engineer that can design pubs with the same skills that IKB designed railway stations. Then perhaps I could take my anorak off and have a pint in peace before heading back home to Devon.