diamond geezer

 Sunday, May 22, 2005

A slight detour: Paddington Basin
At the foot of the Grand Junction Canal, on what used to be the edge of town, lies Paddington Basin. It's a golf-club shaped stretch of water, more a putter than a wedge, which 200 years ago was the final destination of narrowboats and barges crossing the country from Birmingham and beyond. A thriving docks were established, and goods completed their journey by transferring to the "New Road" (now the Marylebone, Euston and Pentonville Roads). But tradesmen soon tired of all this land/water interface hassle and so the new Regent's Canal was constructed, branching off from the old canal slightly to the north at what is now Little Venice. With its trade diverted Paddington Basin was left to wither slowly, like a watery appendix. [see map]

Within the last five years, Paddington Basin has undergone a renaissance. Gone are the rundown warehouses and in their places has risen a gleaming new development of high-rise offices, hotels and very expensive flats. Apparently "nowhere else balances so much eclectic charm with corporate and lifestyle convenience so near a waterside environment", for which read "it's beside an old canal just behind Paddington station". Without the canal this would just be another mixed use development, but one tiny strip of mucky water suddenly makes this a "premier business, residential, healthcare and leisure district".

Many of the new buildings are architecturally adventurous, and you can even lease office space on one of six (fake) barges moored up along the edge of the basin. Three impressive footbridges have been built, including the Rolling Bridge (which can curl up like a snake) and the Helix Bridge (a giant retractable metal-and-glass corkscrew). Two other bridges, however, cut across the waterway like a scar - Bishop's Bridge (in the midst of a mammoth three year replacement project) and the A40 Westway (vaulting the canal on ugly concrete stilts). Maybe the whole development will look lovely when it's finished but at the moment there's still a whiff of the building site hanging over the area, and more a feeling of isolation than of community. It's good to see an old canal brought back to life, but I wonder what those 19th century bargemen would make of the modern cappucino lifestyle.
by tube: Paddington (Hammersmith & City)


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