Paddington is rather different from other parts of the tunnels. Its surface area, viewed from above, would appear quite limited. With its tunnels no longer than 14 metres / 46 feet and each with a defined end, it sounds unspectacular. But climb down to layer three and be amazed .. Paddington is all about depth.
The Paddington tunnels were rediscovered by an FoWT digging team in 1999, while new student accommodation was being built alongside. The tunnels hadn’t been seen since before WW2 and it wasn’t known with any certainty whether they still existed or had been destroyed.
Happily they were largely intact apart from some parts close to the surface, but they’d been back filled with tons and tons of rubble. Just as they were described by previous generations of explorers, the Paddington tunnels are a series of chambers stacked on top of each other. That’s why you’ll see reference to Level 2, Level 3 and so on.
One old account said that the tunnels were as deep as the building up on the surface was tall, and the shop building which used to be there was four storeys tall . After many years we gained the necessary clearance to excavate them and have found the tunnels to be even deeper than that.
Over a hundred skips have been filled with rubble and taken away. Where visitors used to touch the ceiling in Level 3, they now peer down into something of an abyss; one which is extremely well constructed and completely intact.
On level 2, there’s an interesting area of bedrock underneath the steps we installed. It’s clearly a spot where Williamson’s labourers were cutting out rectangular blocks to build walls with – either for use inside the tunnels or perhaps for building houses or walls above ground. But the cutting has stopped, apparently quite abruptly, with plenty of stone left.
It makes one wonder whether the men were working in the Paddington tunnels at the start of May 1840, when Williamson sadly passed away. The tunneling stopped forever that day, but we have the great fortune to be able to witness Joseph and his workers’ achievements in a spectacular form to this very day.
But has Paddington yet to reveal its greatest secret? Look at this, from the Lancs. & Cheshire Historic Society’s exploration of the tunnels in 1926:
We think there’s a single very long tunnel branching off Level 1 at Paddington and indeed we think we know where it is. This will shortly be a focus of our investigations and, hopefully, excavations.