Mr Bradshaw and I picked up the tour in Paddington, at the junction of the Edgware Road with Blomfield Road where I walked along the Regent’s Canal, in the area known as Little Venice.
The Regent’s Canal was built for trade – to join the Limehouse Basin (originally known as the Regent’s Canal Dock) on the Thames with the Grand Junction Canal and the Grand Union Canal to the Midlands. The Canal was built between 1816-20 and named after the Prince Regent because John Nash was one of the Directors, and a friend of the Prince.
According to the London Encyclopaedia, Paddington ‘..did not really become part of London until the 19C when it expanded on a dramatic scale…’. Real change began in 1795, says the London Enclopaedia, when the Bishop of London’s Trustees leased land to the Grand Junction Canal Company so that the canal could be extended from Brentford to Paddington. The new section of the Grand Junction Canal opened in 1801 and was the main canal linking London with the rest of the country. Trade thrived: ‘..in 1810 the canal carried 343,560 tons of goods through London..’.
There was also a busy passenger board service between Paddington and Uxbridge, the Paddington Packet Boat Company. There were apparently five trips each week, all fully booked.
A spur of the canal leads from the Junction Basin down to the Paddington Basin and along this stretch old and new are juxtaposed.
‘Paddington was, but a few years back, a rural village, with a few old houses on each side of the Edgeware Road, and some rustic taverns of picturesque appearance, screened by high elms, with long troughs for horses, and a straggling sign-posts..’, says Mr Bradshaw.
Paddington Green is the oldest part of the area. The Manor House was on the north until 1824 but of the big Georgian houses around the Green only two remain – on the east. (British Library image.)
‘The diagonal path led to the church, then a little Gothic building overspread with ivy… It was pulled down in 1791 and the present one erected in its stead..’.
It is not a pretty site anymore: a damaged statue of Mrs Siddons overlooks busy lanes of traffic and new developments in the Paddington Basin. The garden and graveyard don’t feel like consecrated ground anymore.
And yet, if you try, there is still a hint of the past.
Mr Bradshaw tells me ‘..There are four new churches recently built in the parish – St James’s, St John’s, Holy Trinity, and All Souls‘, and it is now one of the busiest and most thickly [populated of the London suburbs..’. St James the Less is the parish church of Paddington, and was consecrated on 1 May 1843. The church was designed by John Goldicott and George Gutch. The church could seat c.800 but by the 1880s was this was not big enough for the population and the church was enlarged by G E Street. (In 1884 Constance Lloyd and Oscar Wilde were married in the church.)
In the early 1800s new housing estates included a church. St John’s Church was built in association with the Connaught Square Estate, commissioned by the Commissioners for New Churches, designed by Charles Fowler, and consecrated in 1832. The church was also known as the ‘Connaught Chapel’ and was built to seat 1,500 people – what a change from today’s congregations!
Holy Trinity Church in Bishops Bridge Road was completed in 1846 and demolished in 1984, when it was no longer needed. The remarkable photograph below was by Henry William Fox Talbot, one of the pioneers of photography, in 1845. It was apparently a very grand church, with a splendid organ.
Much of this area presents rather a ‘seedy’ image, but again it is possible to see what the intentions were, elegant town living.