Paddington

One of London’s original metropolitan boroughs, Paddington has a station, a green, a basin and a bear, and also an important hospital.

Paddington Town Hall, Harrow Road, c.1910
(demolished in the 1960s to build Westway)

Paddington’s name is self-evidently Anglo-Saxon, as the “-ington” bit (“settlement of the clan of”) makes clear. The mystery is who or what the “Padd-“ bit means. Best guess is that it was a Saxon clan chief called Pæd or Padda, but it’s also been suggested that it could have meant it was a meadow for horses, or even that it was from “padre” meaning father.

Paddington Green in 1750

The southern and eastern boundaries of the old metropolitan borough, and before that the parish, were both Roman roads: the Bayswater Road, part of the Via Trinobantia, and the Edgware Road, which was part of Watling Street. The junction where the two met was the site of Tyburn Tree, the famous public gallows. The exact spot is marked by a plaque in the pavement.

A public execution at Tyburn in a 1747 set of
prints by William Hogarth

The first person known to have been hanged at Tyburn was the political agitator William Fitz Osbert in 1196, for the heinous crime of demanding fair do’s for the poor, and that the rich should actually pay their taxes. The last person hanged there was a “footpad” (mugger) and murderer called John Austin in 1783. In between, all sorts of people stretched the hemp at Tyburn Tree, from Cornish rebel leader Michael An Gof in 1487 to the gallant French highwayman Claude Duvall in 1670, and the exhumed dead body of Oliver Cromwell in 1661. Public executions were of course a popular and fun day out for all the family, and death was not caused by a long drop and instant broken neck, but by slow strangulation while the crowd cheered and jeered.

Paddington station (photo by LusitaniaD225)

Paddington station was the London terminus of the GWR (Great Western Railway or, popularly, “God’s Wonderful Railway”), a service much loved by its passengers, and not to be confused with the post-privatization franchise operator which uses its name today. The station’s design, by the GWR’s chief engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was inspired by the Crystal Palace. It opened in 1854 to replace the original 1838 station on Bishop’s Bridge Road. In the station today, you’ll find a statue of Brunel, on a chair holding his top hat.

Some of Michael Bond’s
Paddington books

Of the statues on its concourse, however, the one that attracts most attention is of Paddington Bear. Paddington was of course named after the station, where he was found by the Brown family after arriving from Darkest Peru in Michael Bond’s 1958 A Bear Called Paddington, the first of nearly thirty books by Bond about Paddington and the Browns. In true Peruvian style, Paddington always kept a marmalade sandwich under his hat. Our intrepid researcher once spent a day in Lima trying to find just such a traditional Peruvian marmalade sandwich, while leg-pulling locals kept joshing him with the ridiculous claim that their national dish is in fact raw fish, which obviously no bear would ever eat. Despite not wearing glasses, Paddington must be a spectacled or Andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus), since that’s the only bear species native to South America.

Paddington, Bond, Turing & Seacole in St 
Mary’s Sq, photo Loz Pycock (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The statue in the station is not Paddington’s only monument to its eponymous bear, as there’s a two-dimensional representation of Paddington and his creator in St Mary’s Square, just north of the Westway by Paddington Green. Part of a series of such tributes to local heroes, by walking and cydling charity Sustrans at locations across town, it stands alongside similar 2D-statues of two other local heroes: codebreaker Alan Turing, born at 2 Warrington Crescent, off Little Venice, and nursing pioneer Mary Seacole (you’ll find more on her here), who lived her last years at 3 Cambridge (now Kendal) Street, just off the Edgware Road by Park West Place.

Paddington Green police station

Paddington Green is also known for its police station, on the Edgware Road at Harrow Road. Now closed, and with an uncertain future, it was used in the 1990s and twenty-Os to hold terrorism suspects, including the far-right Islamists who tried to bomb the tube in a follow-up to the 7 July 2005 bombings which had killed 52 people. Luckily this time, only the detonators went off; the bombs themselves fizzled out, and the would-be murderers claimed no further victims. The same police station was earlier used to house IRA bombing suspects, and in 1992 the IRA exploded a bomb in a phone box outside it. Luckily again, no-one was seriously hurt.

St Mary’s Hospital in 1851
Wellcome Collection (CC BY 4.0)

On the other side of the equation, Paddington has long been associated with people – like Mary Seacole, mentioned above – who wanted to save lives rather than end them. St Mary’s Hospital opened on Norfolk Place in 1851, and was immediately at the forefront of major medical advances. It was at St Mary’s that the immunologist Almroth Wright created a typhoid vaccine in 1903 (his politics were dubious, though – he was also known as “Almroth Wrong”), and it was at St Mary’s in 1874 that Charles Wright first synthesized heroin – a drug of addiction, yes, but also an important medicinal pain-killer of last resort.

Fleming with a petri dish

Still more importantly, it was here in 1928 (in what’s now a little museum inside the hospital) that Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, the first antibiotic, which saved countless lives, and contributed to the Allied victory in World War Two. Indeed, as the birthplace of both Alan Turing and penicillin, Paddington can claim no small part in that victory.