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.