Not many areas of London can boast about having a big-screen film namesake, but thanks to an adventurous Peruvian bear, Paddington can claim global notoriety. The district is located in central London, north of the River Thames and nestled between two popular parks. Formerly a Metropolitan borough but now within the City of Westminster, Paddington is a cosmopolitan and vibrant area. While you are there make sure you check out these things to see and do.
Quite fittingly there is a bronze statue of the fictional bear at Paddington Mainline Station. This is where he supposedly arrived, carrying a small suitcase and sporting a bush hat, after traveling from Peru to London. The statue, which is based on the original illustrations by Peggy Fortnum, is the work of British sculptor Marcus Cornish and was unveiled in 2000.
Further along Platform 1 at Paddington Station is an imposing figure of a World War I soldier. The monument is a memorial to the staff of Great Western Railway who lost their lives during the war. The soldier is looking down and appears to be reading a letter. In 2014, to mark the centenary of the Great War, a nationwide project Letter to an Unknown Soldier was launched inviting people to write the letter.
St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington may be famous for its royal births including, most recently, Princess Charlotte, but it is also where Alexander Fleming discovered antibiotic penicillin in 1928. The laboratory where he worked has been restored to how it was nearly a century ago and is open to the public. Fleming’s pioneering research revolutionised medicine and together with two other scientists, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1945.
St Mary’s Hospital, Praed Street, London W2 1NY +44 020 3312 6528
A combination of functionality and art, the Rolling Bridge and Fan Bridge are situated in the redeveloped Paddington Basin. When in action, both open up in very innovative and unique ways to allow boats to go through and then return to being pedestrian pathways. The Rolling Bridge, which was completed in 2004, ‘curls’ into a hexagonal shape, while the more recent Fan Bridge has five steel beams that open and close like a traditional hand-held fan. They can be seen in operation at specific times on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Just behind the main station you will find the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union canal at Little Venice. This oasis of calm and tranquillity is a contrast to the nearby busy roads. Several operators offer boat trips that go to Regents Park or the bustling Camden Market. Alternatively, the canalside is a great place to stroll and take advantage of the many waterside cafes. A welcome station staffed by volunteers is usually open on Saturdays and Sundays between 10.30AM and 3PM.
A converted barge may seem an unusual venue for a theatre, but the Puppet Theatre has been putting on shows for children and adults for over 30 years. The company’s aim is to raise the profile and status of marionette performance and the repertoire is a mix of original works, traditional fairy tales and plays by great writers such as Shakespeare and Federico Garcia Lorca. The 55-seat floating theatre is moored at Paddington and is open all year round, but travels further west for several weeks during the summer.
Puppet Theatre Barge, Bloomfield Road, London W9 2PF +44 020 7249 6876
These life-size, two-dimensional steel figures offer an eerie encounter with three important people who have had strong links with Paddington. Michael Bond, author of the Paddington series of books, Alan Turing, codebreaker and computer scientist who was born in the area, and the Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole, who cared for soldiers during the Crimean War and spent her final years in Paddington, are all represented by the artworks situated in the open park space at St Mary’s Square, Paddington Green. The constructions were part of a social history initiative – Sustrans Portrait Bench series – that celebrates local heroes.
Established in 1979, this small theatre sits on top of the Bridge House Pub and hosts the long-running NewsRevue. The talented team of writers is always on the lookout for new contributors and past writing alumni have included Alistair McGowan, Rory Bremner and Bill Bailey. The zany live comedy show runs every Thursday – Sunday.
Canal Café Theatre, Delamere Terrace, Little Venice, London W2 6ND +44 020 7289 6054
The regeneration of the area has led to the creation of a unique waterside garden square. A focal point is the water maze which has jets of water arranged in three concentric circles that rise and fall in blocks at different times. The challenge is to get through to the centre without getting wet – good luck!
Originally launched in 2014 as a London-wide hunt for statues of Paddington Bear that had been placed around the capital to raise funds for the NSPCC, the trail is now limited to the mainline station and surrounding areas. Starting with the shop in the station, which has all things Paddington, make sure you grab some marmalade sandwiches and set off on your search to find various models of the bear, via a hotel and garden squares.
Paddington Bear Shop, Station Concourse, London W2 1RH +44 020 7402 5209