In May 1997 Farrell & Partners produced a Paddington Basin Master Plan to revitalize the neglected waterfront area which 'lacked public activity, permeability and a sense of place'.
For 200 years Paddington Basin had blocked the way in all directions. It was a place of work. Only those employed there had access, while everyone else had to walk round. When the canal trade collapsed it was still a barrier. In 1970 Westway sliced through the area, turning Paddington Green into a motorway nightmare, inhuman and dangerous. Now Paddington Basin was to become the hub of pedestrian life, uniting a district long chopped into separate pieces.
It would be possible to enter the basin from Praed Street and walk on either side of the Basin to Little Venice and from there to Kilburn or St John's Wood. One would cross the Basin from St Mary's Church, across Harrow Road by pedestrian crossings, under Westway, down a refurbish Hermitage Street, across the canal footbridge, to Praed Street and Paddington Station. It would be the way to the shops in Edgware Road , Paddington Railway Station, the Tube and St Mary' Hospital. It would also provide miles of car-free tow path for walking and exercise.
The Master Plan was designed to be robust and appropriate to canal side environments, with the towpath in York Stone and Granite sets, attractive and hard wearing.
This is the impressive entrance building to the Basin from Praed Street.
This is the modern Head of the Basin with Praed Street to the right behind the buildings and North Wharf Road behind to the left. This is the main entrance to the Basin, but there are ways in and out further down the Basin to the right to Praed Street and via the footbridge to the left to North Wharf Road.
A reminder of the same site in years gone by
Paddington Canal Basin, drawn by Henry Milbournd and engraved by Joseph Jeakes.
This is an engraving of the same site in 1801 when the Canal first reached Paddington and linked the Industries of Birmingham and the Midlands to London . The loading building was the only construction on the Basin at that time.
This is a modern picture (circa 1990) of the Loading Bay which was seen in the earliest engravings of Paddington Basin . It was listed as an building of historical interest in about 1990. The photograph, taken from an upper window in the Metropole Hotel, shows the old loading building before demolition and storage. The loading bay was preserved for later use.
This picture shows the Basin at a time when it was surrounded by warehouses and factories. It appears to be peaceful but at this time it was full of activity. The picture, which is in the Brighton Pavilion, is enormous.
Changes to the Basin after 1990
Paddington Basin Building, Demolished in 1999
By 1999 all the buildings at the head of Paddington Basin , from Harbet Road ( Irongate Wharf Road ) to the St. Mary's Hospital car park in Praed Street , had been totally demolished. The site was protected by hoardings decorated with pictures advertising the new flats which Regalian, the development company, planned to erect in the next few years. The site guard, sitting there in a portacabin, the sole commander of absolutely nothing, gave me permission to go in. For an hour I was free to wander on the site with the Goad Insurance map of 1891 (below) in my hand.
I was reminded of a time when the archaeologist Flinders Petrie, came to a site which had been leveled and destroyed by robbers. Anything saleable had been stolen and the rest smashed to pieces. He collected the pottery fragments, as valuable to him for dating purposes as complete pots, and swept the site. There he found the original foundation lines, set out by the builders millennia earlier. Using these and with his knowledge of mud brick buildings elsewhere and the dimensions of foundations required for walls of different heights, Petrie was able to calculate these wall heights and draw the lost buildings.
The Basin site was equally bare, mostly leveled and with a few dangerous pits boarded over for safety. The roof of the old loading shed had been carefully dismantled and stored, ready for re-erection at the far end of the Basin as part of a new Facilities Building . All other buildings had suffered a rougher fate - bulldozed to rubble and carried away.
I could make out the walls of buildings and the cobbles of the roadway from Praed Street to the Basin, shown beside Phillips Mills and Co. on the Goad map. Floor levels varied in height, with connecting slopes running up and down. Some parts were in smooth concrete, painted red or pale grey. One could imagine how these floors had been swept daily, scored by the wheels of trolleys, repainted and cared for by generations of people, perhaps even a line of fathers and sons. Now the whole area would become the anonymous foundations for new buildings and the Basin be converted from a stretch of stagnant water into a boating marina and restaurant complex.
A view from the footbridge at the other end of the Basin. The picture shows the beginning of the Boarded Walk which the developers built in front of St Mary's Hospital.
++TRY TO OBTAIN A PICTURE WITH THE BRIDGE VERTICAL
(The second one replaces the first when you move