This is a pocket park next to a busy road that today scarce seems like it but has been around for at least 500 years, and now conceals a Cold War bunker.

The first written record of Paddington Green as a named space dates to 1549, by which time it was sufficiently well established to be given a specific name and location, so it likely dates to earlier than that written report. It was at the time much larger than today and has slowly shrunk over the centuries as the farmland around was developed as London grew outwards.

The green itself could have also been lost to development, but in 1753 when it was fenced for the first time by at the request of local residents to preserve it as an “ornament to the parish”, although it was now a private park.

The area gained certain fame after Lady Augusta Murray secretly married Prince Augustus Frederick, sixth son of King George III in 1793, without permission from the King. The following year, Parliament annulled the marriage, and Lady Murray was reported to have “been so affected by the recent proceedings”, that “her recovery is almost despaired of,” and she was removed to Paddington Green for the benefit of the air. A reminder that this was still parkland surrounded by farms and nice houses.

In 1864, Marion Mayne left £35 a year in her will for the maintenance of the park, and in 1865 it was finally opened to the public.

The green was lined with Georgian era housing on the north side, but this was demolished in 1967 for the Paddington Technical College. A couple of Georgian houses survive on the east side, next to the redbrick former Children’s Hospital. The other big change to the pocket park though came a few years later, when the modest road to the south became much larger as the flyover opened in 1970.

Next to the park was also something else that was to later gain unfortunate fame – the Paddington Green Police Station, a large late 1960s building that would be in the news after terrorist attacks. That’s because it was the main holding cell for arrested suspects, and the basement contained 16 cells and an interrogation suite for suspects. The station closed in 2018, and the site is now a housing development.

The park is roughly rectangular, with a path crossing the centre and linking to the four corners. The main trees are large old London Planes, and it’s lined with bushes to try and divert the noise from the main road next to it. Something that used to be next to the park’s entrance, is a former underground urinal.

In the middle of the park, and very overgrown, is a concrete box, and this is the entrance to a shallow underground bunker, the Civil Defence Report and Control Centre for Paddington Borough that was opened in 1953 as part of the UK’s Cold War defences. The bunker is derelict, but structurally sound and still has some of the old fixtures, such as toilets and power plant equipment intact. It may have been larger than most, as it was used as a bit of a showroom for overseas visitors to show how such things should be built. Designed to survive a modest nuclear attack, it closed in the late 1960s when it became obvious that nuclear weapons were by now so powerful that even deep bunkers wouldn’t survive.

In 1980, there was an attempt to convert the bunker into a rehearsal studio by the record producer, Billy Russell, but failed following strong local opposition to the plans.

“Everyone imagines that young musicians are thugs with leather jackets and chains and motorbikes, but it will be nothing like that. I don’t associate with such people”, he told the Marylebone Mercury, but it wasn’t enough to assuage the local residents, who presumably didn’t want the noise of the busy road next to the park to be spoiled by music in a soundproof bunker.

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9 comments
  1. SteveP says:

    A nice little park connecting through to Paddington Station – if you can find the subway under the Westway (and bridge over the canal). The rebuilt City of Westminster College added a bit of life as well,and Church Street Market is just across Edgware Road. Connections through to the Merchant Square development are poor, though, and it is obvious no thought was given to improving them despite the opportunity those works offered

    I understand there are plans to revitalise the desolate area under the Westway where Edgware Road crosses. There is a disused subterranean shopping arcade here that could have (should have?) connected the two Edgware Road tube stations, but of course did no such thing.

    In many cities, the protected area under the Westway flyover would have evolved into a vibrant street market. For some reason here it resembles more a no-man’s land from WWI. Traffic is terrible and although some minor changes have been made to better protect cyclists and pedestrians, it is still a horrible space to navigate

    BITD, Paddington Green Police Station was where locals went to report a crime (necessary so that you could get that all-important Crime Reference Number to give your insurance company). It was intimidating to put it mildly,and fortunately online reporting came along as we entered the 21st century. I will miss the squads of unmarked Volvo police cars flying past

  2. Chris Rogers says:

    Hi could you clarify your line about “a disused subterranean shopping arcade here that could have (should have?) connected the two Edgware Road tube stations”? I know the area quite well but am not aware of anything like that. Post here or contact me via my website please at http://www.chrismrogers.net Thanks

    • ianVisits says:

      It’s underneath the Westway – wasn’t built to link the tube stations, but as a glorified subway under the busy roads from the time when it was thought people would prefer to use them instead of crossing the roads.

  3. Ian Charles says:

    People working at Paddington College would use the subway to get to the M&S Food Hall between the two underground station entrances, and there was at least one shop in it.

    I recently saw a very interesting you tube description of the locations on and around Paddington Green used in the 1950 film The Blue Lamp which showed the old police station, cinema and theatre that were demolished. Well worth a look: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCUBXVkqeBE

  4. SteveP says:

    IIRC, there was a hairdresser and at most one or two other shops (dry cleaner?) still operating in the subway in the late 90s/early noughties.

    It was pretty grim down there, but I’m sure it could have been made to work by locating some Council services there (like the “One Stop” that used to be on Church Street) or merely subsidising charity shops, etc. It died a slow lingering death

    You would think it a no-brainer to use this to connect the two Edgware Road stations, and “on the surface” it seems it would have been simple enough. However, given that the short existing subway link between Hammersmith stations was closed off (anyone have info why?) there must be some reason TfL avoids subways. Security? One would think more use = more security

    Considering how unappealing the surface-level crossings at ER are – with multiple segments required to allow traffic on and off the Westway, turnings, etc. – this subway would have seemed to be preferable. Perhaps if it had been a bit more vibrant, and if the above ground crossing not quite so visible. Once people see their destination they were probably less likely to divert – even if it was safer, warmer and probably faster. The exits on the north side were not particularly pleasant (IIRC)

    Certainly as a cyclist I would prefer a direct underground route, but again (AFAIK) cycling was not permitted or provided for. I avoid the entire junction on a cycle and use quietways. The Paddington Green park still has barriers that discourage cycling (or pram pushing) on the walkways so kids just ride around them on the grass. Westminster’s version of the Maginot Line 🙂

    It would be nice to see better use made of this area. I suppose today there’s concern the Westway may fall down (if they reduce the speed limits any more it will be a parking lot) but since major works are already required, improvements below could be part of the plan. You see a bit of this toward Paddington Station, where the Sheldon Square developments have slowly crept out toward the Westway, but much of that appears quite temporary and the pedestrian access is terrible. Most of the development here “turns its back” on the Westway (for obvious reasons).

    The Edgware Road junction area is much more accessible, has the two Tube stations in proximity and the vibrant Church Street Market

  5. C J Knighton says:

    What about Pretty Polly Perkins ?
    I.M.H.O. PPP (no not The Pig Party) deserves a mention.

  6. Chris Rogers says:

    Thanks Ian and others for the comments. I must admit despite working in the area for 3 years back in the 80s and again in the late 90s I never or seldom used the subway W of Edgware Rd, only the bit east occasionally so never saw any such shops.

    TfL hate subways that aren’t theirs as they can’t control to anto social behavioir, as in the old Tott Ct Rd/Centre Point one where a sign appeared at the exact junction of relevance pointedly directing complainants to Westminster council.

    The bigger (it seems) and genuine underground shopping spaces at Charing Cross have gone for space for Coutts and the biggest one at Aldgate just…went.

  7. SteveP says:

    Thanks for the photo link – you can see the state of the place pretty well in the foreground and background

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