Two centuries of top tech in Paddington
Five miles west of Silicon Roundabout, Paddington Central is fast establishing itself as a key player in the capital’s digital tech scene. But this is just the latest chapter in the area’s 200-year history of technological innovation.
First came the Grand Junction Canal, linking London with the industrial north and the Midlands. In 1801, the 13-mile Paddington Arm created an important trade route into the heart of the capital, and its wharf-lined basin transformed the area.
But it was the Great Western Railway that really put the country suburb of Paddington on the map. The merchants of Bristol wanted a faster way to get their goods to the capital and, inspired by the opening of the world’s first public steam railway in the north east, appointed the brilliant young engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel to build a solution.
Paddington was chosen as the terminus and the first section of line – to Maidenhead – opened in 1838. When the track was completed three years later, Brunel had cut the London to Bristol journey time from nearly three days to mere hours.
Fast forward to 1863 and Paddington chalked up another engineering triumph when the world’s first underground passenger train pulled out of the station at 6am, bound for the City.
The Manchester Guardian’s report on the birth of the London Tube system sounds all too familiar: “By nine it became evident to the authorities that neither the locomotive power nor the rolling stock at their disposal was at all in proportion to the requirements of the opening day. Every station became crowded…and the constant cry, as the trains arrived, of ‘No room’, appeared to have a very depressing effect upon those assembled.”
The wooden, gas-lit carriages of the Metropolitan Railway – as the original seven-station line was called – transported more than 30,000 passengers on day one. Within a year, the number of journeys topped 9.5 million.
Paddington has remained a centre of transport innovations. The arrival of the Heathrow Express in 1998 not only slashed travel time between central London and the airport by two-thirds, but also gave airline passengers check-in facilities at the rail terminus.
Today, a dramatic new station is growing deep beneath Paddington’s Eastbourne Terrace. It’s part of yet another extraordinary engineering project, Crossrail, which will link east London to west London.
And beyond transport, the area is home to many exciting tech pioneers...
Nissan Design Centre
Automotive designers are working on the cars of the future at Nissan’s European Design Centre, housed in the Rotunda building near campus. Two of the carmaker’s most innovative models, the best-selling Qashqai and the trend-setting Juke, have already come out of Paddington. The area was chosen as the location for one of four Nissan design studios worldwide because of its long history of creativity and proximity to world-class art, architecture and fashion. Designers in Paddington also created the Nissan Concept 2020 Vision Gran Turismo. The team was given free reign to create their ultimate fantasy racing car for the Playstation driving franchise.
The American software giant set up a base at Paddington Central in 2016. Here, teams are working on some exciting virtual reality experiments, including the HoloLens headset – a self-contained holographic computer that appears to project images on to the world around you.
Leading the global war against cybercrime from their European HQ on Kingdom Street are the tech wizards of Kaspersky Lab. The Paddington research centre monitors the cyber-threat landscape 24/7, analysing hundreds of thousands of malware samples daily, and providing real-time threat intelligence to financial institutions, infrastructure organisations, and other customers worldwide.
Fledgling tech businesses are spreading their wings in the shared workspaces at Paddington Central. Central Working at 2 Kingdom Street is now the London home of Techstars, an international community of tech founders, innovators and investors, which has made Paddington Central the epicentre of its start-up activity. Central Working’s early east London sites helped build the tech scene around Old Street roundabout, and now the company aims to do the same for Paddington.
Next-generation payment solutions are being developed at the new European headquarters of Visa in Sheldon Square, which houses the largest of five innovation and design hubs. Here, Visa collaborates with partners and clients on new and secure ways to pay. It also gives visitors the chance to experience the future of retail with advanced wearables, and discover how the Internet of Things is changing the world, with interactive screens, cars, kitchens and more!
And there’s more...
- Global customer services software company Zendesk can be found right by Paddington Railway Station.
- Networking and telecoms giant Huawei is based in Sheldon Square.
- The Virgin Group, an active technology-focussed venture investor has its HQ in the Battleship Building.
Look out for fun talks and events at Paddington Central, celebrating technological innovation.