Great Western History
Michael L. Roach
Part 23 of the series '1962'
Nothing to do with '62 but this series is a convenient place to put it. As only an occasional visitor to London and beyond I have always felt that Paddington Station is special when passing through it. Arriving at the station on the way home and waiting for our train to appear on the departure board the whole ambience of the station lifts the spirits especially when one looks up and sees the wonderful roof structure designed by the legendary Isambard Kingdom Brunel 170 years ago. The present station opened in 1854 – there is interesting information on the history of the station on the Network Rail website under iconic infrastructure. The station replaced an original temporary structure dating back to the opening of the line in 1838.
It was 185 years ago today on Monday 4 June 1838 that the first length of the Great Western Railway opened for passengers. It was the 23 miles from Paddington to a temporary station at Maidenhead. Considering that the GWR's Act of Parliament only received the Royal Assent on 31 August 1835 to build 23 miles of railway in less than 3 years, including the magnificent Wharncliffe Viaduct was a major achievement. The man driving the construction was Isambard Kingdom Brunel who had been appointed the Engineer to the railway on 7 March 1833 just 6 weeks after the company was founded on 21 January 1833. Brunel was 27 years of age but had already made his mark in civil engineering. Three years later the final length was completed and passenger trains could run the whole length to Bristol on 30 June 1841. The newspapers of the day were effusive in their praise of the GWR. Here is some typical wording from the Windsor and Eton Express - “The first portion of this stupendous and important undertaking have been opened to the public …........ and the ease with which the various journeys were conducted, added to the rapidity of the trains, was such at once to inspire the public with confidence in the safety of the engines. Immense multitudes flocked to witness the passing of the trains and every bridge was thronged with spectators …..... whose countenances bore evident signs of astonishment at the velocity with which the ponderous machine shot through the bridge arches.” The first timetable showed trains leaving Paddington at 08.00, 09.00, 10.00, 12 noon, 16.00, 17.00, 18.00 and 19.00. On the first day the railway carried 1,479 passengers and took £226 in fares. For the first week the figures were 10,360 passengers and £1,552 .
It is worth saying a bit about the first station at Maidenhead which was a temporary affair where the line crossed the Great West Road (now the A4) on a skew arch bridge built of brick where the railway was on a high embankment. The bridge is still there exactly as built except that it has been widened to take four tracks. The first station was east of the crossing of the River Thames where the bridge over the river was still under construction in June 1838. The entrance to the temporary station was on the west side of the A4 in the bridge abutment with a flight of steps leading up to the platform. The first station was only in use for two years until the line was extended to Reading and the permanent Maidenhead station opened. 183 years after it closed the huge arched entrance to the temporary station is still quite obvious on the south side of the bridge and can be seen on streetview.
MLR / 28 May 2023