A stroll with Paddington through 1950’s London

Paddington Bear is a universally loved character treasured for his optimism, his sense of fair play, and his perfect manners – and, of course, for his unintentional talent for comic chaos.
For those who need a recap on Paddington’s story, let’s start from the beginning. Paddington was effectively born in 1956, when BBC cameraman Michael Bond bought a small toy bear, left alone on the shelves of a Selfridge’s store, for his wife at Christmas. The purchase inspired the author to write several stories detailing the bear’s life, a character he named Paddington. . In 1958, the stories were published as A Bear Called Paddington, along with illustrations by Peggy Fortnum.

The book introduced Paddington like this: On one fated day, the Brown family happened upon a lonely bear at Paddington Railway Station in London. This bear was a stowaway, traveling from “Darkest Peru” to the United Kingdom after his former guardian, Aunt Lucy, moved into a Home for Retired Bears.

The Browns ie. parents Henry and Mary, along with kids Jonathan and Judy – took the bear home to 32 Windsor Gardens , and adopted him as less a pet and more a treasured nephew. As a new citizen of London, Paddington takes a liking to Portobello Road markets, taking elevenses with Mr. Gruber, aggravating Mrs. Bird and Mr. Curry, and reminiscing about his wealthy relative, Uncle Pastuzo. And, as if you didn’t know, he gobbles marmalade whenever he can.

Start: Paddington Train Station
Finish: Notting Hill Gate Tube
Distance: Approx 3.2 miles

Start at the statue under the clock at Platform 1.

Paddington Bear at Platform 1
Paddington Bear at Platform 1

To commemorate this there is a life-sized bronze statue of Paddington in the station. Designed by the sculptor Marcus Cornish, the statue was unveiled by Michael Bond on 24th February 2000.
The statue shows some of the pathos as Paddington arrives in a cold, wet London in which “hardly anyone wears a hat or says hello”, and he yearns to find a home. He wears a label round his neck with the words: “Please look after this bear. Thank you.”
“It was the memory of seeing newsreels showing trainloads of evacuees leaving London during the war, each child with a label round its neck and all its important possessions in a tiny suitcase, that prompted me to do the same for Paddington.” said Michael Bond in a recent interview.

WW2 evacuees arriving at a train station
World War II evacuee’s arriving at a train station – note the labels on their coats.

When Paddington meets the Browns for the first time he explains that he has came all the way in a lifeboat, and ate marmalade. He tells them that no-one can understand his Peruvian name, Pastuso,so the Browns decide to call him Paddington after the railway station in which he was found. Bond choose Paddington Station because it had been his first port of call whenever he travelled to London.
Many of us will associate the bear with his sensible uniform of hat, coat and boots. The latter two garments arrived in England after he did. Paddington was given his blue duffel coat by The Browns shortly after they took him home from Paddington Station, and he received the boots for Christmas. As for his old bush hat, that belonged to Paddington’s Uncle Pastuzo.
Michael Bond claims that Paddington’s hat was inspired by Bond’s father, who was “mild sort of person.” He was a manager working for the post office and a stickler for rules; Bond sees something of him in Paddington: “My father was a very polite man and he always wore a hat. We’d go on holiday to the Isle of Wight and he used to go in the sea with his trousers rolled up and keep his hat on in case he met someone he knew and would have something to raise. He would have been mortified if he hadn’t.”
Take the short escalator near the shops at Platform 1, which leads straight to the only shop in the world which is exclusively dedicated to Paddington Bear.

The Paddington Bear Shop
The Paddington Bear Shop at Paddington Station

Gabrielle Designs, a toy company, created the first toy Paddington Bear, in 1972. The sample bear was given to the owners son for Christmas – this child was Jeremy Clarkson, of Top Gear fame.These early bears are now considered collectors’ items.

paddington statue outside the paddington shop
Why not have your photo taken with Paddington outside the Paddington Shop?

Leave the station at the canal exit. Look out for interesting historical timeline/exhibition of the station on the wall near the exit.

Turn left and keep straight following the canal.

You might see some stray bears
You might see some stray bears
Canal boats moored near paddington station
Canal boats moored near Paddington Station.
Little venice
Known as Little Venice – this is a charming part of London, where the Grand Union Canal meets the Regents Canal.

Walk past the Waterside Café, under the bridge and carry on along the Grand Union Canal.

The Waterside cafe - Little Venice
The Waterside Café

Just before Great Western Road look across canal to roads – one of these is Windsor Gardens. But we won’t go and explore this area as in reality 32 Windsor Gardens doesn’t exist. The street is a small cul-de-sac leading to a medical centre with a block of low rise Sixties council housing on one side and a wall of the Windsor Castle Pub on the other.Author Michael Bond amalgamated his parents’ address at Winser Drive, Reading, with his own in Arundel Gardens. In his mindseye, Bond imagined the house like one of the ones you will see in Notting Hill – lovely terraced streets with painted doors and neat gardens.

Pass under Harrow Road and then Great Western Road.

The unaspiring Harrow Road
The uninspiring Harrow Road

Turn left into Meanwhile Gardens.

Meanwhile Gardens
Entrance into the urban Meanwhile Gardens.

Cut through the gardens onto Golbourne Road and Trellick Tower.

Trellick Tower
Trellick Tower (photo taken from Golbourne Road Market.

Trellick Tower – a 31 storey tower block designed by Erno Goldfinger in 1972.
Golbourne Market is not as elegant as Portebello where you are heading but still interesting. On Friday and Saturday the market really comes alive with a busy second hand and bric-a-brac section During the week the market offers mainly fruit, vegetables, takeaway food, and household goods.

When you reach the junction with Portebello Market turn left into it. As you walk under the Westsway it becomes more elegant. Look out for Blenheim Crescent – this is the location of the Travel Bookshop – star of the film Notting Hill.

Today Portobello is known for it’s eclectic stalls and shops that are rich in antiques, oddities and vintage. There are many cafes and resturants to choose from. The market is open Monday – Saturday, with Friday’s and Saturday’s being the busiest day’s. Open around 9.00’ish to 5 .00’ish -weather dependent.

Portobello market
Always something interesting to see at Portobello market

Paddington Bear was known for driving a hard bargain at the market and would happily pull one of his special “hard stares” if someone upset him. Perhaps you could give it a go – make the crossest face you can, fix your eyes on the person who has upset you and without blinking, stare for as long as you can!
In the books, Mr Gruber (a family friend) is a central character in Paddington’s life. Mr Gruber is a Hungarian refugee and he tells Paddington about how he came to London as a boy during WWII. he has an understanding of the young bear’s unfamiliarity with his new home. His antique shop in the Portobello Road is an oasis of peace and quiet in Paddington’s life: a retreat where every day he can share his elevenses, discuss the world in general over cocoa and buns, and seek sound advice from his friend whenever the need arises.”
Bond based the character on his agent, Harvey Unna, who had escaped Germany just before the war .Unna was a successful lawyer but discovered that he was to be sent to a concentration camp so fled the country with just about£10 in his pocket”.
Alice’s Antiques at number 36 stood in for Mr Gruber’s shop in the film.

Alice's Antiques - any sign of Mr Gruber?
Alice’s Antiques – any sign of Mr Gruber?

“And so a bear was named and rescued by the Browns, “an immigrant in a strange country with no money and nowhere to go”.
Paddington was not the only new arrival in 1950’s London. Workers from Trinidad, Jamaica, St Lucia and other Caribbean islands were encouraged to come to the UK, because the second World War had badly affected the economy. But they were not necessarily made as welcome as Paddington.
The first boat to come was the SS Windrush from Jamaica in 1948 By 1961 there were over 100,000 Caribbean people living in London.

Passengers on the SS Empire Windrush waiting to disembark.
Passengers on the SS Empire Windrush waiting to disembark.

Caribbean migrants often found homes in areas of slum or poor housing. One of these areas was Notting Hill in North Kensington. At that time poverty, rootlessness, violence and crime were a part of life in North Kensington. White families competed with Caribbeans for housing, a situation that was often exploited by unscrupulous landlords.
From the early 1950’s, young White working-class ‘Teddy Boys’ began to turn hostile towards the growing numbers of Black families in the area. Right-wing groups exploited the situation.On the morning of 24 August, nine White youths assaulted five Black men in separate incidents in Shepherd’s Bush and Notting Hill, seriously injuring three of them.
After two weeks of civil unrest in Nottingham, rioting erupted in Notting Hill. It began at around midnight on 30 August and lasted a week. Crowds of up to 400 white youths chased Caribbeans in North Kensington. Petrol bombs and milk bottles were thrown at houses.
Some 140 people were arrested, largely white, but including some of the Black victims who had armed themselves in self-defence. The nation generally was shocked at the events and the riots sparked long-running debates about racial prejudice, community harmony and the scale of Commonwealth immigration in the inner cities.
It was the efforts to bridge the cultural gap between the communities that gave life to the Notting Hill carnival that takes place every August bank Holiday and is Europe’s biggest street festival With a Caribbean theme that sees West London packed with steel bands, Calypso music .

Notting Hill Carnival
Notting Hill Carnival

typical Paddington optimism: “In London nobody’s alike, which means everyone fits in.”

Portobello road
A terrace of charming houses along Portobello Road

At the end of Portebello Road, turn right along Pembridge Villas, which leads you to Notting Hill Gate Tube .Turn right and then take a left into Hollad Park. Find the entrance to the park.
Holland Park. This is where Paddington’s creator, Michael Bond, would wander around during his breaks from writing Paddington.
This former estate provides a good alternative to busy Hyde Park and shade-lacking Kensington Gardens. It is active enough to feel well-loved but peaceful, and offers a surprising range of experiences, from a decent cafe, to a nice Japanese (Kyoto) garden, an extensive playground, sports grounds, and such extras as an opera / theatre location and a municipal “ecology centre.”

Kyoto Gardens in Holland ark
Kyoto Gardens in Holland Park

Look for bears! Bond originally wanted Paddington to have “travelled all the way from darkest Africa”, but his agent advised him that there were no bears in darkest Africa, and thus it was amended to darkest Peru, home of the Speckled Bear.
Walk back to Notting Hill Gate Tube, where your walk ends.

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Historical self guided walks around London