W2 is Paddington and when you say Paddington it usually means one of two things: the station or the bear. We will certainly cover both but there is of course a lot more to W2. So pack up those marmalade sandwiches and off we go.
We start our walk at the Post Office at 118/120 Queensway which is immediately opposite our first stop.
Stop 1: Whiteley’s
This was once a very big store indeed. Founded by William Whiteley who was apparently inspired by the Great Exhibition of 1851 to create his own vast emporium. He worked for various other people but in 1863 managed to open his own premises on Westbourne Grove. By 1900 he had expanded round the corner into Queensway. The whole store was rebuilt with a new frontage on Queensway between 1908 and 1911.
Sadly Mr Whiteley did not get to see his new store, as on 24 January 1907, he was shot dead in his office by a young man who claimed to be his illegitimate son.
Queensway never developed into a major shopping street – much like Wigmore Street did not in W1. Whiteley’s struggled on until 1981 when it was finally closed. However it was rebuilt as a kind of mall in 1989.
Amazingly the building still has its original stairwell and staircase in the centre.
But all is not what it seems with this building. It may have an impressive facade along Queensway but Whiteley’s never quite got around to finishing the store at the northern end. Thus when it came to redevelop the site, a modern structure was built at the northern end behind the facade. If you walk down the length of the “mall” you can see how it changes.
It s good to see this building still in use but it has still not become a shopping destination. Even though it has car parking, it just does not have the critical mass of shops to attract people. Hard to see how this will change especially with the Westfield London Mall not so far west of here.
Now walk the full length of the store and to the end of Queensway. Here at the end across Bishops Bridge Road is our next stop.
Stop 2: Former Queens Cinema
The Queens Cinema was built for a small local chain called W C Dawes’ Modern Cinemas. It opened in October 1932 but within three years it had been taken over by the ABC chain. It seems to have kept its name until 1962 when it became known as the ABC. At this time the facade was covered with blue metal sheeting masking all the distinctive original decoration at the top – a deco zig-zag pattern and the name ‘Queens’ set out in multi-coloured terrazzo. Cannon Cinemas took over in April 1986 but the cinema was closed in August 1988.
The building lay unused for several years until it became a TGI Friday’s Restaurant in 1995. The metal cladding which had covered the facade for around 30 years was removed. TGI Friday’s closed in early 2007 and after some years empty and unused, redevelopment of the site started in February 2013. The auditorium has been demolished but the central section of the facade is being retained for the entrance to a new block of flats. Currently the facade is covered by sheeting with a print of what is behind.
Walk a little way along Bishops Bridge Road and take the first right (Inverness Terrace). Go down to where Porchester Gardens crosses Inverness Terrace.
Stop 3: Statue of George Kastrioti Skanderbeg
Just by this corner is a little garden and a bust on a plinth.
The little garden this is in is dedicated to Beatrice, Viscountess Samuel who was born and died in W2. She was the wife of Viscount Samuel, a Liberal politician. He by the way is credited with making the first party political broadcast on television – in October 1951 when he was leader of the Liberal Party in the Lords.
The bust is a bit of a curiosity – it is of George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, a 15th-century nobleman who is a national hero to Albanians and said to be one of the key players in Christian resistance to the expansion of the Muslim Ottoman empire. Quite why this bust is in this quiet corner of Bayswater I know not – it is not even close to the Albanian Embassy which is in Pimlico and presumably Skanderbeg never visited the UK, let alone Bayswater, so that cannot be the reason.
Now go right into Porchester Gardens and then turn left into Queensway. Our next stop is just after Bayswater Station on the same side of the road.
Stop 4: Queens Ice Rink and Bowl
Queens boldly claims to be London’s only ice rink and bowl. Now I pondered on what this meant – we know Queens is not London’s only ice rink. There was one in Streatham as we saw in the SW16 walk and which has just been replaced. So you have to read it as “ice rink and bowl”. I thought that there was some unique feature called an ice bowl which went along with the rink. But no. It turns out the “Bowl” bit means a 10 pin bowling alley. So that is why it is unique in London because no one else has an ice rink and a bowling alley in the same premises.
It is quite hard to find any information as to its history, but I have established the ice rink dates from October 1930. Not sure when the bowling alley was added but I presume it was in the late 1950s or early 1960s.
Queens has quite a modest entrance on Queensway and seems to be in the basement of a block of flat which has shops on the ground floor. Perhaps if it had been a separate building it would have been too valuable a site and it would not have survived.
Now keep going down Queensway to the end and turn left on Bayswater Road. Continue until Porchester Terrace when you should turn left.
Stop 5a: 23 and 24 Leinster Gardens (rear)
Between numbers 23 and 25 Porchester Terrace opposite Fulton Mews, there is a gap in the buildings. Stand there long enough and you will hear the rumble of an underground train. There is a wall but even though I am tall I could not see over the parapet – but my camera could and this is what it saw. That blank wall over the tracks is actually the back of the facade of 23 and 24 Leinster Gardens.
Now we shall go round the corner to look at that blank wall.
Return down Porchester Terrace and turn down Craven Hill Gardens (19/19A on sign). At the end turn left into Leinster Gardens and cross over. Stop at the end of Craven Hill Gardens (23 to 47 on sign)
Stop 5b: 23 and 24 Leinster Gardens (front)
At first glance this is just a terrace of stucco houses much like many hereabouts. But look very closely between the Henry VIII and Blakemore Hotels and you see the roof line is different and the windows are blanks, with grey paint instead of glass with curtains behind. The reason is two of these houses are just facades. They were built by the Metropolitan Railway in the 1860s to hide the railway from the street, and a very effective job they do too. Without this artifice, the street would not look right. So this is the other side of that blank wall over the railway.
Now retrace your steps along Leinster Gardens and turn left into Craven Hill Gardens (13 – 16 on sign). Go down Craven Hill Gardens and it becomes Craven Road. As we go down Craven Road our next stop is on the left hand side.
Stop 6: 32 Craven Road
This was the home of Tommy Handley, a comedian, mainly known for the 1940s BBC radio programme ITMA (“It’s That Man Again”).
Handley worked with people such as Arthur Askey and Bob Monkhouse, and wrote many radio scripts, but it is ITMA for which he is remembered. ITMA became known for a number of catchphrases. Mostly now forgotten but one that occasionally resurfaces is “TTFN” (Ta Ta for Now) which was said by Mrs Mopp, the office cleaning lady.
Another catchphrase was D’oh! which was the parting shot of a character called Miss Hotchkiss from 1945 to the demise of the programme in January 1949. D’oh! was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2004, largely in response to its much later use in the television programme The Simpsons. But it is a 1945 BBC radio script for ITMA that is the earliest recorded use of the phrase.
Continue walking along Craven Road crossing when convenient. At Eastbourne Terrace, Craven Road becomes Praed Street and ahead on the left is Paddington Station and the Great Western hotel.
Stop 7: Paddington Station
Paddington station is a bit of a challenge to get into from the street at the moment because the area to the west of the station is being dug out for the new Crossrail station. But it was always an odd layout because unlike most main line stations the concourse is hidden behind an impenetrable barrier of the station hotel which you have to go round.
There are a couple of things to see inside the station so go in front of the hotel and down the side street which slopes away from Praed Street. But as go down near the end there is an office building, today called Tournament House. This was built for the GWR in 1933 and if you look up you will see the words GWR Paddington in huge letters atop the building.
Once on the station concourse, have a look at the train shed. Paddington station was the terminus of the Great Western Railway – which was masterminded by the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The first section of line from Paddington dates from 1838, but the station we see today with its wonderful train sheds (and the hotel at the front) dates largely from 1850 – 1854. There were originally three bays to the train shed but this was expanded in the same style in 1913 – 1915. The newer section is over the higher numbered platforms.
Now go across the concourse with the platforms on your right. To your left is a glazed courtyard and beyond that is the Hotel. This glazed courtyard is called “The Lawn” for no obvious reason – there is no sign of grass here!
Just inside this area which is full of food outlets at the foot of an escalator is a little statue of Paddington Bear
Paddington Bear was created by Michael Bond. He was inspired to write the first story after he noticed a lone teddy bear on a shelf in a London store near Paddington station on Christmas Eve 1956, which he then bought as a present for his wife. Apparently Bond wanted Paddington to have “travelled all the way from darkest Africa”, but his agent advised him that there were no bears in darkest Africa, so it was amended to darkest Peru.
There is of course a Paddington Bear shop just upstairs from the statue but as far as I can see none of the food outlets offer marmalade sandwiches.
Now go to platform 1.
Walking along Platform 1 you will see an alcove on the left and in this is a statue of the great man Brunel plus a display about Crossrail. This area will I assume become a way into the Crossrail station when it opens in a few years.
One might have though this statue was old but it is not particularly. It only dates from 1982 – and is by John Doubleday.
Retrace your steps out of the station and up the slope back to Praed Street. At the top do a U turn around the Bakerloo line station entrance.
Note how this has the distinctive red tiles of the Leslie Green designed stations, but there is no building as such here. It is just a subway entrance.
Go down London Street and follow it round into South Wharf Road.
Stop 8: The Mint Building
We are now approaching St Mary’s Hospital which is spread amongst a number of buildings hereabouts. Take a right turn where it says “Mint Building”.
Although the Mint Building is now used by the hospital, it was actually built by the railway as stables for the GWR’s road delivery department. In 1910/11 concrete ramps and galleries were added so horses could be accommodated on the upper floors. At its height this stables could accommodate 600 horses.
Now return to South Wharf Road and turn right.
Stop 9: St Mary’s Hospital
St Mary’s is a real jumble of building and plans for a major redevelopment were abandoned, so it looks like it will have to make do with this odd collection of the old and new. There are however a couple of things worth pointing out.
First just along from the Mint building on South Wharf Road is the Lindo Wing.
This doorway became rather familiar last summer when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge took home their first child, Prince George, who was born here on 22 July. This by the way is the same hospital where Diana, then Princess of Wales, gave birth to Prince William and his brother, Prince Harry in 1982 and 1984 respectively.
Now cut through the hospital complex and you reach Praed Street coming out opposite Norfolk Place. Cross over Praed Street and look back to the left of the walkway you have you used.
Here is a plaque telling us that Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in the second floor room above the plaque. We kind of take this for granted but how different the world would have been without penicillin. And how worrying it is that drug resistant strains of bacteria might mean it would not be possible to treat some things or even do complex operations in future.
Now go down Norfolk Place crossing Sussex Gardens where the street becomes Radnor Place. Our next stop is on the right after the northern road of Gloucester Square joins Radnor Place.
Stop 10: 35 Gloucester Square
Although we seem to still be in Radnor Place the houses on the right are actually numbered as Gloucester Square as their other side faces onto the Square.
Number 35 was the house where Robert Stephenson civil engineer and only son of George Stephenson lived at the end of his life. He was rather in the shadow of his father but many of the achievements popularly credited to his father were joint efforts. Stephenson by the way died just one month after Brunel in October 1859.
Obviously this building was not the actual building of Stephenson’s time and there is a second plaque explaining about the refixing of the plaque in 1937.
Fascinating fact: Stephenson was god-father to Robert Baden Powell, founder of the scouting movement. Baden-Powell’s full name was Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, the first two names in honour of his godfather, the third his mother’s maiden name.
Now go to the end of Radnor Place and turn left into Southwick Place. Take the first right into Hyde Park Crescent and then the next right into Hyde Park Street.
Stop 11: 12 Hyde Park Street
Some of this street has been redeveloped but on the left at Number 12 is an original house.
This was the home of William Henry Smith who was the son in the company W H Smith and Son.
The business originated by his grandparents Henry Walton and Anna Smith. The business passed to their two sons, Henry Edward and William Henry Smith, in 1816 and in due course, as William Henry Smith was the more capable businessman of the two brothers, the concern became known as W H Smith. William Henry’s son, also William Henry, was taken into partnership on his 21st birthday in 1846 and so the business changed its name to W H Smith & Son.
In 1848, the company opened its first bookstall at Euston. Other station bookstalls followed and became outlets not just for newspapers but also for cheap editions of other publications which were produced for railway travellers. The company also became the principal newspaper distributor in the country.
In 1868 the younger W H Smith became an MP and in 1874 he decided to devote himself to politics. In 1877, he became First Lord of the Admiralty, despite a lack of any relevant experience. It is often said that Smith’s appointment was the inspiration for the character of Sir Joseph Porter, KCB, in Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1878 comic opera, H. M. S. Pinafore which has the song with the famous line “now I am the Ruler of the Queen’s Nav-ee” It has however also been suggested that the Pinafore character was as much based on Smith’s predecessor as First Lord, Hugh Childers.
Now go to the end of Hyde Park STreet and turn left at the end into Bayswater Road.
As we walk along Bayswater Road, have a look out for number 23 Bayswater Road. This building served as a club of Dutch people who had escaped from German occupied Netherlands during the war. It was named Oranjehaven and I can’t find out much else about it apart from what it says on the stone outside!
Stop 12: Tyburn Convent
Just after St George’s Fields you will see on your left the Tyburn Convent. Tyburn famously was a place of execution and according to a sign on this building there were 105 Catholics who lost their lives at Tyburn between 1535 and 1681. It was predicted in 1585 that a religious house would be set up here. It only established in 1903 and of course it is a little way from the actual location of the Tyburn Gallows.
The inscription on the stone is difficult to read because a ramp has been built in front of it.
This is what it says:
“The circular stone on the traffic island 300 paces east of this point marks the site of the ancient gallows known as Tyburn Tree. It was demolished in 1759.”
And to find that stone, continue walking along Bayswater Road. At the Marble Arch junction on the traffic island in the middle of Edgware Road outside the Odeon Cinema you will find this stone.
This is in W2 – just. The nearest street signs (for Bayswater Road and Edgware Road) both show W2, even though Marble Arch itself across the road is probably in W1.
Well we have now reached the end of our W2 walk and we find ourselves at Marble Arch where there are plenty of buses plus a tube station for onward travel.