Before the Westway: a North Paddington skyline

This week we have the long awaited return of my occasional co-blogger Isabel Hernandez who grew up in the area  sometimes called North Paddington and has many memories of it as it changed in the years around the building of the Westway. Like myself she has been looking closely at the photographs of Bernard Selwyn.


The city skyline changes over decades much as mountains change shape over centuries. Our small local areas, places we call home, or used to call home, places we are familiar with, are no different. These urban cityscapes seem to undergo a makeover every fifty years or so. From the overcrowded terraces of the Victorian period to the later concrete brutalism of the 1960’s, we are now witnessing the era of glass and mirrors built in angular shapes in what is now contemporary modern architecture.

Still, the shadows of the past remain in photographs and to continue with my study of the Westway (Paddington-side) I thought I would share with you a few more images of this corner of London before the infamous Westway motorway was built.

Below is a panoramic view of North Paddington bordered by North Kensington at the top. You can see the Kensal Gas Works and the St Charles’ Hospital tower, formerly the Marylebone Infirmary. [Click on the image to see a bigger view]

The Great Western Railway to the left cuts unimpeded through the built-up area.


This is the same view a a short time later. The second tower block – Oversley House – is under construction.


Below,a closer view. In the background you can see Ladbroke Grove bridge more clearly, connecting North Kensington to Paddington. If you look closely there is also a footbridge on the left that appears to have a tree growing out of it. Obviously it isn’t, but from this angle the bridge resembles a horizontal chute. It wasn’t a very appealing crossing, but it was a shortcut through to Westbourne Park and North Kensington. I made use of it many times, sometimes late at night, probably not a very wise thing to do with hindsight, but it saved time. The dilapidated Victorian houses, a stark contrast to their taunting new neighbours, await the bulldozer. Nowhere was there a more densely packed neighbourhood than in this part of Paddington.



The houses come down and a temporary wasteland is created, with the exception of these houses in the foreground. They do seem a little grander than the terraces behind them and I wonder why they are still standing at this point when their neighbours have been demolished



The strange case of the solitary houses. I suspect they were slightly more upmarket than the usual fare in the area. There is also the interesting feature of the residents coming and going as has always been their routine perhaps; shopping or simply getting from one place to another. The lady (left of the house) probably had no idea she was being included in a photographic survey.




If you like trains, then the Great Western Railway before you would have been a spotter’s delight. Below is possibly Alfred Road or Torquay Street in the pre-redevelopment period. There is a builder, or certainly a very brave man,who appears to be intently prodding the side of a roof with a stick. By contrast an elderly gentleman with a walking stick is passing by, perhaps studying the changes in his area. Although there is a lot of pixilation when studying photographs at close range, when they are enlarged there is still enough to intrigue us.


The juxtaposition of the concrete towers to the dilapidated, slum terraces is a striking image – like two Lego blocks strategically placed inside of a crowded moat. Although you cannot see it, running parallel to the two tower blocks is the Grand Union Canal.


Below is a composite image of three photos showing the lower end of the Harrow Road. None of the shops seen here along the length of the long street now exist. Many have been replaced by the various convenience stores and take-away outlets you see today. On the corner of Bourne Terrace the Stowe Club was opened, now a doctor’s surgery and offices I believe. Many residents within Paddington and North Kensington did a lot of their shopping along the Harrow Road.

Westbourne Grove, by contrast (to digress a little), was more the Bond Street of the area with William Whiteley identifying the road as having future potential once the underground railway opened in 1863 and many more transport routes being opened up. He opened a small drapery in the area, tentatively doing what is essentially market research and gaining experience before expanding to what later became the department store, Whiteley’s of Queensway, attracting and catering for the wealthier clientele residing around Bayswater and Hyde Park.


Here is another image of the same area, magnified a little to give us more detail. If you look closely you will see the ‘Tardis’, a police box, no doubt placed there to keep an eye on things whilst the area was undergoing its concrete revolution. A billboard to the left advertising glue is almost comical given the toy-like remodelling we see from this perspective




In the picture below, the Post Office Tower, the highest building in London at the time, can be seen in the distance. It is almost impossible at this point to imagine the Westway being a part of this landscape. The Harrow Road here is clearly seen under an open sky. Within a few short years all of the buildings on either side of the Harrow Road in this image were demolished, and the Harrow Road itself partially covered by the huge motorway above it. Engineering ingenuity in the name of progress or engineering folly – a question that is still debated today.


Another composite image I pieced together looking north:



I had to include this one as it’s my old address – Gaydon House. I lived there for about 26 years. That is a long time to be anywhere. The rather forlorn, gothic-looking tree in the foreground appears in quite a few of the photographs before it was unceremoniously cut down to make way for more flats and other younger saplings ready for the next generation. All remnants of what came before, almost vanished within a ten year span.


Below is Westbourne Park Villas. It runs parallel to the Great Western railway on the other side of the tracks. The spire of St Matthew’s Church can just be seen to the right of the image and in the middle you can just about make out the dome of Whiteley’s. A little behind that is the dome of the Royal Albert Hall. On the left, along Bishops Bridge Road, are a series of buildings that make up what was known as The Colonnades up until recently, before Waitrose took over. Further back, (I had to really expand this image), you can make out the four chimneys of Battersea Power Station. After being derelict for many years, and a few investors later, it is now undergoing a major redevelopment: the usual combination of luxury flats and shopping outlets so typical of London now.


Here’s another view of Westbourne Park on the other side of the tracks, looking further west towards Notting Hill and Kensington – an interesting mixture of modern flats and late 19th century villas.




And finally, a colour image of the Harrow Road most likely photographed by Selwyn from Wilmcote House, the first tower block to be built of the six now in existence. Two buses (probably the number 18) can be seen making their way north. Interestingly there existed along the Harrow Road a 2 ½ mile track from Amberley Road to Harlesden around 1888 for trams. These were replaced around 1936 by trolleybuses and later still (1961-2) by motorbuses such as the ones you see in this image.


As always Selwyn’s wonderful collection of photographs fails to disappoint. Dave and I have posted a number of them now on the blog knowing that you will probably appreciate them as much as we do. Or at least we hope you do. The posts I have written thus far about this part of Paddington are obviously a trip into a past that pre-dates my tenancy there, but in my view, still feels so very familiar and nostalgic. Now, not having lived in the area for a few years, I feel more like an outsider looking in with an abstract knowledge of a community I was once a part of. What I realise when I look at historical photographs, is just how temporary everything is, and how changeable. The only forever in these instances are images such as these frozen in time. Perhaps this is why we always find them so appealing. A record of a slither of time that we witness much as a fictional Time Lord in a Tardis would. Except we do it without having to travel very far.



Thanks to Isabel for another fascinating post. I particularly like the panoramas she has created, something Selwyn himself used to do using the medium of sellotape. Once again, if anyone knows an easy way of adding an author in WordPress I’d be grateful.

I will spend my week off working on some new posts in an unhurried languid sort of way and return next week with some of the usual stuff.



18 responses to “Before the Westway: a North Paddington skyline

  • teresastokes

    Can somebody clever tell me what is the white church in picture #2,on the skyline with dark pointed steeple?

    • Dave Walker

      Dear Teresa,
      I am not 100% sure, but there is a possibility this could be the original Our Lady Of Lourdes and St Vincent de Paul, which was demolished in 1970. The church looks to be alongside the Harrow Road. There are no historical images that I can refer to within the collection to verify this, but according to description the original church was built in the French gothic transitional style. Not sure if it had a tower, and maps only name it as a Roman Catholic Church. Most other churches with shorter names tend to be abbreviated.
      St Peter’s is another possibility, as already suggested.
      Isabel Hernandez

  • David Marstin

    Great article and brilliant pics, thank you.

  • roll

    church looks like st peters 1870 and replaced by the modern St Peters in 1977….elgin av/chippenham

  • peter Hewlett

    Very interesting photos, the perspective make it difficult to get my mind around them. So much time has passed since I lived in the area, and bits missing complicate the process in my whats left of my brain. The markers like Holy Trinity school, The red lion pub and bridge, Also streets built over.

  • David kemp

    Great pictures. Remember walking with my mum to Senior St. School over the railway footbridge every morning. This would have been 1952 and 1953 when there were bomb sites all over. The road on the North side of the footbridge was Torquay Street. We lived off Westbourne Grove in a mews behind The Alma. Mums still with us aged 96.

  • Terry Andrews

    Interesting seeing these photos, they bring back so many childhood memories, of the changing landscape at the time.
    I was born at 94 Talbot Rd, in 1956. And lived and played in the whole area right up until the late 1960s. Looking at the detail in the photos I can relate a lot from footbridges, bomb sites, Portobello Rd, and the demolition of the houses around the area, and the subsequent planners ideal, that we would prefer living in tower blocks, than houses, which was wrong on all counts.

    My parents family lived at Royal Oak, so I spent a lot of time around there as well, and we’ll remember the building of the West way flyover as well.
    Regretfully no photos but plenty of memories.

  • keeganden

    Thankyou for posting these pictures – i can remember playing in these street as they were transformed. I lived with my family in one room in Waverley Walk, just off the Harrow Road until I was three and we then moved to Gaydon House in 1964 – it seemed like heaven! If you’d like to see the area during the ’60s in moving film then watch ‘The Boys’ from 1963 or ‘The Strange Affair’ from 1967ish.

    Thanks again

  • Cathy Heap

    Cathy Heap
    The very last photo in this brilliant collection, in the bottom centre is where my family moved to in 1963 the block is Oldbury House and we were at number 21 which was the first flat you come to on the top floor. I even remember our telephone number (Cunningham 2826). Underneath the flats facing onto Harrow Road were the shops, D.E.R. Television, the Post Office which had the most amazing collection of sweet jars which my Dad took me down to every Saturday morning. The space in between Oldbury House on the right and the block facing was on Bourne Terrace, the block on the left faced onto Senior Street and was opposite the Adventure Playground. My Dad was quite famed with a lot of the kids from those blocks, all waiting downstairs at the back of the block where the red van is but more along to the back of our flat on Bonfire night as my Dad would spend a small fortune on fireworks, which he set up in the Adventure playground. One year I remember the rows indoors because Dad spent £5 on a super dooper massive rocket, doesn’t sound much now but the 4 bedroom maisonette cost £4.10.06 a week (£4.53) in today’s money. It was the climax of the night, big bonfire blazing the playground full of kids all waiting for the rocket to go into space, Dad made sure all the kids stood well back, all holding our breath, Dad lit the taper it was burning up to the rocket and just when it should have burst into space the taper went fizz and then nothing, the damn thing was a dud. I wonder if anyone remembers that night.
    I am sure that the large white building on the other side of the road and slightly up, was Copydex which was No.1 Torquay Street, which was a Fabric Glue Company (although I don’t suppose any of us knew that at the time).
    Thanks very much for bringing up such vivid memories of my childhood.
    Now it’s back to the real world, at least for a while.

    • George Kambouroglou

      Hi Cathy, what a great memory! My name is George and I work for a social enterprise in Paddington, we are currently doing an oral history project of current and former residents on the local area, to preserve memories of the past for a new heritage centre that will be built in Mary Mags church as part of the restoration.

      Would you be interested in being interviewed as part of the project? If so please email me at

  • Eddie B

    Some excellent pictures and posts on here. I too have vivid memories of this area. It was back in 1961 when my family moved to the area. We lived on the Harrow Road, at Amberley Road. My earliest memory of here was when I was about five, not long having moved in, I crept out from the house in the dark searching for my three older brothers who I thought were out but instead were hiding from me, I went over Lock Bridge and then down Clarenden Crescent to look for them, asking an older girl if she had seen them. She said they had all been taken away by a man in a car, which instantly led to tears, and then her mother chastising her for being cruel. Fortunately my mother not long after came and found me, but I still can feel that horror and panic.
    Amberley road also had Foscote mews, Abourne Street, Amberley mews and Braden streets, and were areas where I went when very young cutting through on my way to school at St Saviours on Shirland Road, and had a few friends in these streets. Braden Street had Foley plastics in one corner and a sweet shop at the end. Abourne Street had a pub on the corner with Amberley Rd and a carpenters shop on the other, and here sometimes men gambled with poker dice on the pavement outside, and was told a few times to look out for the law. There was also a little paper and sweet shop down near the mews and another on the corner with Shirland Road. At the end by the school was Formosa street and at the top end below the bridge by the canal, was Scotties the rag man, I vaguely remember him having a beret, black curly hair with thick lenses in his glasses. but I could be wrong. This site is now The Waterway bar formerley The Paddington Stop, (I think naming it Scotties would have been be more appropriate). In between Braden and Abourne was Alf Butlers car parts shop. There was also someone on Amberley who regularly used to walk about with a continual dripping nose, his little white Scottie dog and an old pram full of crap, this being the reason for them being referred to as Snotty and Scottie. Then there was Snowball, he owned a house along there and it seemed to have permanent scaffolding and work that was never ending. it was said on more than one ocassion someone tried running him over for not paying for work done on his house. The Earl of Derby pub was there as well and can remember sometimes hearing singing from there at closing time. Morrissons sweet shop was a little way further down. Hildas ice cream stall was on the corner outside the oilshop on Harrow road selling Apicellas ice cream who were down Foscote mews. The other end of the mews was Sutherland avenue, and on the both corners of the mews was Trutti’s grocery shop and his wife Hannah who was a bit handy with the broom if you was cheeky. The canal was always popular especially the hospital side. and Jacks little chip shop by Lock bridge. Another favourite was climbing into the disused timber and rag wharfs also Mathew Halls old buildings on Amberley rd. In the early 60’s, On Guy Fawkes night, It was also common practice to light bonfires on the streets thoughout the area. with kids during the day asking for old furniture to put on and looking for any other wood to put on it. The Fire brigade were all over the place at night hosing them down.

    Names I remember from this area were The Wilkinsons, Bascotts, Scales, Jackie Barnes, Jimmy Low, the Kavanaghs, Dennis Berry, Keithy Gardner, Richard Cowling, Charlie Betts, John Quinn, Steven Uncles, Carol, Derek and Gary Ball, (Gary introduced me to the delights of smoking, at 9 years old spending his pocket money on a pack of No 6 every Friday). Most of the families were moved to other locations when the bottom half of Amberley up to North Paddington upper school was demolished. The school itself has now been replaced as well. Thanks for provoking these memories.

    Here’s a useful link is to a map site that shows historical street maps along side present day layouts.

    • George Kambouroglou

      Hi Eddie! My name is George and I work for a social enterprise in Paddington, we are currently doing an oral history project of current and former residents on the local area, to preserve memories of the past for a new heritage centre and community space that will be built in Mary Mags church as part of the restoration.

      Would you be interested in being interviewed as part of the project? It certainly sounds like you have a lot of memories that would be really great for our community heritage archive.

      If so please email me at

    • Jillian Foley

      Eddie B. I am absolutely over the moon Eddie. The first ever mention of my late husband’s factory in Braden Street mentioned by yourself in your amazing article which was compulsory purchased in 1969. His entire business was destroyed and the move to Lewes in Sussex was a disaster! I visited the area recently and could not believe the change – just a grass verge where his factory was and surrounded by gloomy blocks of flats. Just one house in Braden Street remaining on the far corner and the school gone and luxury flats built costing millions. A rather sad looking playground is in Braden Street – all the lovely little houses gone as were all the other beautiful houses in the area which were demolished. Thank you so much for your memories – I have been searching for years for a mention of lovely Braden Street and Foley Plastics – its like winning the Lottery! Best wishes.

  • Alan suffling

    Hi George i lived Bourne terrace 1963 66 .then I went to live at Beauchamp lodge till 1971 ,when my parents split up.moved back with my old man till 1974. Then moved away to my sister’s in Worcester i was born the old padd gen harrow rd.good old times miss my past.

  • jillian foley

    A message to Eddie B. Just a long shot Eddie – can you let me have any memories of Braden Street which is no longer there except for the beautiful building on the corner. My email address is i would be so grateful to hear from you as I cannot get any memories from anywhere else! My late husband’s factory was compulsory purchased in 1969 and I would love it if you could contact me. Thanks so much. jillian.

  • David B. Neale

    I never lived in London; but looking at the photos of what was left of the houses, and then looking at the unbelievably grim tower blocks that replaced them, I cannot believe that this was in any way “progress”. If the money spent on those hideous towerblocks had instead been spent modernising the old terraces, and most unpleasant era would have been avoided, alongside the concomitant destruction of social contacts, and increases in crime and mental problems. What is absolutely certain is that the “architects” who designed those towerblocks, and the Council leaders who enabled construction, never, ever lived in one themselves. Call me cynical, but …

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