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The Bath and Bristol Stations—The Paddington Station—The Great Western Hotel

The roofs of the Bath and Bristol stations are of large span, and are handsome architectural structures. They are each in the form of a Tudor arch; the Bristol roof is 72 feet span, and the Bath roof 50 feet span. The framing is an example of a peculiar form of construction, somewhat analogous to that adopted in the large shipbuilding sheds in the dockyards. There are no cross tie-rods, but each principal of the roof is formed of two frameworks, like cranes, meeting in the middle of the roof; the weight being carried on columns near the edge of the platform, and the tail ends of the frames held down by the side walls. As the two frames do not press against each other at their meeting point at the ridge of the roof, there is no outward thrust. The side walls being on a viaduct could not without difficulty have been made to resist a horizontal thrust.

At the Bristol station Mr. Brunel introduced hydraulic machinery for working lifts. By these the waggons were lowered to and raised up from the goods shed, which was placed at the level of the ground, about 12 feet below the railway.

Although the works already described were completed in 1841, the permanent terminus at Paddington was not commenced till the year 1849. It was completed in 1854. Previously to that time a temporary station had been used, the booking offices being under the arches of the Bishop’s Road bridge.

As the level of the railway was lower than that of the surrounding land, no exterior architectural effect could be produced; but Mr. Brunel took this opportunity to carry out his views as to the proper structural use of metal in works of this description.

In the design of the ornamental details, he obtained the assistance of Mr. (now Sir Matthew) Digby Wyatt.

The interior of the principal part of the station is 700 feet long and 238 feet wide, divided in its width by two rows of columns into three spans of 68, 102, and 68 feet, and is crossed at two points by transepts 50 feet wide, which give space for large traversing frames. The roof is very light, consisting of wrought-iron arched ribs, covered partly with corrugated iron and partly with the Paxton glass roofing, which Mr. Brunel here adopted to a considerable extent. The columns which carry the roof are very strongly bolted down to large masses of concrete, to enable them to resist sideways pressure.

This station may be considered to hold its own in comparison with the gigantic structures which have since been built, as well as with older stations. The appearance of size it presents is due far more to the proportions of the design than to actual largeness of dimension. The spans of the roof give a very convenient subdivision for a large terminal station, dispensing with numerous supporting columns and at the same time avoiding heavy and expensive trusses. The graceful forms of the Paddington station, the absence of incongruous ornament and useless buildings, may be appealed to as a striking instance of Mr. Brunel’s taste in architecture and of his practice of combining beauty of design with economy of construction.

The goods station was erected at about the same time as the passenger station, and is remarkable for the completeness of its arrangements, and for the great use made of hydraulic machinery. This is also applied in the passenger station. [1]

In connection with the Paddington station mention may be made of the Great Western Hotel, which was built at the extremity of the land belonging to the railway company.

When, in 1854, no tenant could be found for it, a few of the shareholders of the Great Western Railway, being unwilling that the building should remain empty and be a loss to the proprietors, formed themselves into a company to lease and work the hotel. Mr. Brunel became a Director, and shortly afterwards (in December 1855) the chairman. He occupied this post till his death, by which time the hotel had become very prosperous. He found attendance at the meetings of the Directors and the supervision of the management of the hotel a very agreeable relaxation from the more important duties which took him to Paddington.

[1] Sir William Armstrong’s hydraulic machinery at Paddington is described by him in a communication printed in the Report of the British Association for 1854, p. 418: ‘I have also applied it [water pressure machinery] extensively to railway purposes chiefly under the direction of Mr. Brunel, who has found a multitude of cases involving lifting or traction power in which it may be made available. Most of these applications are well exemplified at the new station of the Great Western Railway Company in London, where the loading and unloading of trucks, the hoisting into warehouses, the lifting of loaded trucks from one level to another, the moving of turn-tables, and the hauling of trucks and traversing machines are all performed, or about to be so, by means of hydraulic pressure supplied by one central steam engine with connected accumulators.’

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