Dreams of the Westway 3: The view from the high rise

This week features the return of guest blogger Isabel Hernandez who has subjected our recently acquired collection of pictures of the construction of the Westway to close scrutiny.

 

Below are a few images taken from a set of photographs I have been working on showing the construction of the Westway from the Paddington perspective. Quite a few of the photographs were taken from the roof of my old home (Gaydon House) which certainly was of personal interest as I looked through them.

As a child growing up with the Westway in close proximity perhaps I should feel some sort of affinity for it. I certainly never thought it attractive. It was just always there: a city structure, part of the landscape…the truth is, I never gave it much thought. Such edifices are often described as eyesores for the most part – much like electricity pylons are along country fields – it was to me a modernism that (literally) passed me by. The Westway was a fixture I grew up with. I knew nothing of its history or the controversy surrounding its construction, let alone the disruption and the displacement it caused. It was simply concrete: imposing and strangely pragmatic. It was many years before I really got to know the story behind one of London’s more contentious projects.

The image below shows the south of the Harrow Road, opposite Lord Hill’s Bridge being filled around 1966. The middle building directly behind the corrugated iron is Gaydon House with the Victorian school, Edward Wilson, next to it. The difference in size is evident. The school is not a small building and yet it is dwarfed by the 21 storey block. Many of the aerial views for the area during the project were taken from the roof of this high-rise block.

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In some ways I am a child of the concrete era, when Brutalist architecture, as it was known, became the progressive force in the construction business. Laing was one of seven major construction companies responsible for much of the redevelopment in the Great Britain of the sixties and seventies. It was in their interest to champion “the strength and simplicity of concrete” (White Heat: A History of Britain in the Swinging Sixties 1964-1970 ~ Sandbrook). It was considered the answer to the ailing, defunct, overcrowded Victorian slums that were being cleared as the redevelopment boom took hold in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Concrete was the new emperor, running roughshod (as perceived by many) over history and traditional Britain like a lava flow. But I was oblivious to all this. By the time most of this had happened I was already a part of this infamous megastructure: I resided in a tower block on a housing estate with a massive motorway next door – you can’t get more concrete than that!

In this photograph we see the beginnings of an area in transformation. A large section of what will become a part of the Warwick Estate is being prepared to hold the materials and moulds for the soon to be motorway that will run parallel to the Great Western Railway. The white arches (top left corner) are part of Paddington Station with the Westbourne Bridge just before it.

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Here we have an image of the Harrow Road at ground level facing west a few months later.

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This view (below) would have been a familiar one from my balcony, except it predates me by several years and the Westway has yet to appear. I suspect some form of long lens was used here to photograph this section of the Harrow Road with Lord Hill’s Bridge just off it. You can also see Royal Oak Station serving the Hammersmith & City line on the left of the bridge. Today it remains largely unchanged with the staircase leading down on to the platforms. Now, with the Westway present, you cannot really see it this clearly anymore from the lower floors of Gaydon House.

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Three months later and we see the beginnings of a subway. This served pedestrians who wished to cross the busy Harrow Road over to Lord Hill’s Bridge that leads on towards Porchester Road and Queensway. In subsequent years most of us residents would still risk the busy road rather than venture below deck, so to speak. But to be fair it was never threatening or particularly dangerous during my time living in the area. Occasionally the compulsory graffiti would decorate the dirty, dull walls, but overall it was thankfully devoid of harder criminal activity. It is only in recent years that it was decided to seal off the subway for safety reasons. Not so much because of its insalubrious elements, but more to do with the fact that people preferred the more direct route on ground level, risking life and limb.

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Below, looking east towards Paddington. This is the route of the Westway. The Great Western Railway and the Harrow Road follow on either side of it. In the distance you can just about make out the spire of, what I think was, Holy Trinity Church on Bishops Bridge. The church itself was demolished around 1983/84 but the spire was taken down earlier C. 1972. There are now some unremarkable flats built in its stead called (to rub salt in the wound) Trinity Court.

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Here you see Bourne Terrace in June 1967 (bottom right) leading on to the Harrow Road. Anyone who has read my previous blog called Familiar Street: A Paddington Estate might recognise some of the streets. Many old streets were abolished and new ones created. This aerial view is taken from Gaydon House (my old residence) pre-Westway with construction underway all around the Warwick and Brindley (soon to be) Estates. The Westway has yet to parallel the rail track of the Great Western that will encroach from the west. Up ahead is Westbourne Park Road which you can reach over a pedestrian bridge walkway. It’s the first bridge you see by the wasteland. An area that is now the Westbourne Green sports complex. North Kensington is in the distance. If you look closely you might be able to make out the tower of St Charles’ Hospital (extreme top right).

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At first this picture confused me. I thought I was looking at the foundations of what would become part of the Westway. But on further study I realised this was actually the precast yard for the motorway (where large sections of concrete would be moulded) as well as being a storage area for all the heavy materials and machinery that would be used for this section of it.

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A closer view. Note the crane on tracks.

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This view faces south with the spire of St Mary Magdalene and Princethorpe House in the background (one of the six sibling tower blocks in the area).

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Below, Brinklow House in construction and to think that double-glazing was never even considered with the Westway looming next door. I can remember listening to the motorway traffic whizzing by. Eventually it became background noise along with the trains, the planes and the automobiles. The sirens too get a special mention. When the towers were eventually refurbished around 2004/5 double-glazing was put in. I had left by then.

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March 1968 and here we can see the beginnings of the motorway rising up off the ground. If you want perspective take a look at how small the cars are, driving along the Harrow Road.

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The Westway encroaching from the west. By April 1968 the Paddington section was rising fast.A diesel train heads towards Paddington Station and behind that, blocks of flats along Westbourne Park Villas adds to the strangely linear synchronicity of the whole image.

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I can only describe this as chaos.

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But somehow, eventually, the engineers manage to bring a semblance of order to the scene.

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The Westway is taking shape as the traffic below continues to ebb and flow as normal. The chaps on the motorway, probably inspecting sections of it, look like they’re exploring a playground. It was not unusual to find workers of the period (depending on their assignments) not wearing the required hard hats or safety gear compulsory today. Below left you can also see a number 18 routemaster heading west towards Harlesden, possibly Wembley. It still continues on a similar route to this day.

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See the caption on the picture below. What is an epox pipe you may ask yourselves? The truth is I have no idea. But I think it has something to do with a strong, protective coating that can be used on piping or bars in concrete to reinforce it. All those dials and conducting cables make me think of physics lessons. It was a science that flummoxed me. As do epox pipes.

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Here is my own blurry photograph of the Westway taken in the early 1990’s during the autumnal season. It was taken with one of those incredibly daft 20th century inventions – the throw-away camera. I snapped this from my balcony, which incidentally, boasted one of the best views of London. The small park below – once a slum, then a wasteland converted into a temporary building site – gives this particular corner of Paddington a lighter, less congested feel, hinting back to its former rural history and remarkably, the Westway, despite its initial ugliness and awful connotations, actually doesn’t look so out of place here. Not anymore. Something natural to balance out the progressive, intrusive advance of technology seems to be the secret here. Concrete used unwisely is a monster. But, temper it with an intelligent creative flair and you could be looking at a masterpiece. Love it or hate it, the Westway is here to stay.

Westway, Gaydon House view early nineties

Postscript

Despite the fact that I’ve had plenty of time to prepare for this I still haven’t managed to work out how to add an author on WordPress. Anyone?

My thanks to Isabel for another excellent post.

 

 


6 responses to “Dreams of the Westway 3: The view from the high rise

  • chelseaharbouramatueroperaticsociety

    An excellent post full of poetry. The birds eye views are amazing. What a fab collection of images. Well done xx

  • teresastokes

    This is all fascinating to me, living as I do right by the Westbourne Bridge.

  • Karen

    Brilliant post, thank you.

  • Bill Benbow

    I have just read your piece on Paddington and have found it most fascinating. My family moved from South London to Harrow Road at the corner of Amberley Road, in September 1961. I grew up in my primary and secondary school days witnessing the transition from so-called slum terraced housing to the replacement by the high-rises & Warwick Estate. A magnificent terrace of houses (Clarendon Crescent) that fronted the Grand Union still stood then. I often think back to those properties and imagine if they had been bought by property developers and transformed properly. Your photographs bring back vivid memories of the construction sites that surrounded our home. Our playgrounds were at Edward Wilson School and an “adventure playground” on the corner of Senior Street/ Bourne Terrace. My favourite film “The Blue Lamp” covers so many of the streets of Paddington that was part of my childhood memories. The website http://www.reelstreets.com/ has invaluable information about the film and up to date pictures comparing views. Thank you for rekindling some vital memories.

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