Steven Brindle, Paddington Station, Its History and Architecture.
Brindle's book on Paddington Station provides a detailed history of the development, building and the architecture of one of London's busiest mainline terminuses. Starting with Brunel's early conception of the station, the book follows the story of the building and subsequent rebuilding of Paddington as the headquarters of the Great Western Railway and also gives a sense of Brunel himself. This is all set within the context of the development and later decline of railways in Britain and an ever changing and expanding London, and the differing challenges that the station had to cope with throughout its lifetime as a result. There is also a nod to the social side of the station, the people who worked there, providing small snippets of daily life on the platforms and offices. Highly detailed, the book is richly illustrated with high quality reproductions of photographs and drawings, including many reproductions of plans for the station and original ideas from Brunel's own sketch book.
The book is clearly well researched and thanks to its detailed and wide ranging style manages to hold a good narrative throughout the early chapters, adopting a roughly chronological approach. Brindle is good at portraying the impact that each company had on the station, as well as other influences such as the changing fortunes of railway transport and the growth of London. This all helps to not only give a detailed history of the architecture, but also an overall feeling of how the building has operated as a working station.
Readers of the first edition will notice a larger format which lends itself well to the lavish and in many cases larger reproductions of many more images. There is also an extra chapter separating details of the associated buildings from the station itself which allows for more detail and provides a better layout that the first edition. Another small, but noticeable, improvement was that of the English Heritage plans of the station, which in the first edition were hard to read thanks to their colour palette. In this edition however they were thankfully much clearer and easy to read.
There are however a few issues with the latter two chapters where there is a noticeable occasional loss of the narrative when compared to the first half of the book. The latter two chapters often refer to illustrations and information earlier in the book which results in having to turn back a few chapters to see what the author is referring to. This issue gives the impression that the book may have been designed as two books, one for the history and one for the architecture, therefore allowing the reader to pick and choose which half to use as a reference. Whilst this approach is useful for those readers looking for specific detail, this change in the narrative may result in distracting the casual reader.
The book does well to compile the history of the development and origins of the station, however there is nothing to alter our understanding of that. Brindle has shown how Brunel intended the station would be automated and run with hydraulics. One new finding is Brindle's rediscovery and subsequent saving of what was Brunel's earliest iron bridge, a fascinating discovery and a terrific addition to the narrative. The book however does have a strong focus on the earlier history of the station, especially the near-constant focus on Brunel himself. The result of this is that the later history and architecture are only partial and the book could have benefited by this later history being expanded.
Overall the second edition provides an excellent overview of the story of one of London's premier mainline terminuses from its humble beginnings to its most modern improvements and is suitable for readers with a wide range of interests, either of stations in general or those with Paddington in mind. The early chapters are especially good for those with an interest in early railways and the development of Great Western Railway; however those who are researching the architecture of Paddington may only find the book useful as a starting point to detailed research elsewhere. The book holds a good narrative throughout, mostly thanks to Brindle's detailed yet accessible style of writing, and except for the small issue with the last two chapters is executed well. Highly recommended and well worth a read.
University of York
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|Publication:||The Journal of Transport History|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2014|
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