23rd September 2014:
Archaeologists from Oxford Archaeology in partnership with Ramboll UK have been excavating the remains of some of the earliest structures of the Great Western Railway, built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in the mid-19th century. The work is being carried out as part of the Crossrail project through Central London, and is revealing important information about the history of the railway.
The London section of the Great Western Railway originally crossed the open fields to the west of Paddington village and south of the Grand Union Canal. The broad-gauge railway lines (designed and championed by Brunel, but ultimately abandoned due to cheaper narrow-gauge) terminated at the first Paddington Station immediately to the east of Bishops Bridge, which was opened in 1838.
By 1854 Brunel and Matthew Digby Wyatt had replaced the original temporary building with the existing station (slightly to the south-east). Prior to construction the locomotive support structures – among them turntables, workshops, and traversers – were relocated just up the track to a depot at Ranelagh Bridge.
In 1906 a new locomotive support facility was built at Old Oak Common by the GWR Chief Mechanical Engineer G J Churchward. Rapidly becoming known as the 'Factory' this comprised turntables, lifting gantries, an attached traverser shed, inspection and maintenance pits, carpenters', coppersmiths' and blacksmiths' shops all under one massive roof. Old Oak Common was one of a number of such depots constructed by Churchward, but was the first and largest.
OA/Ramboll has carried out a wide variety of works to record the surviving elements of some of these structures, including wooden setts, the basement of a 19th-century railway superintendent's house, the foundations of the engine shed, and the iron turning circle and supporting bricks of the turntable in front of the shed.
The remains will be analysed using the latest technology to create a model of the original structures. Jay Carver, Crossrail's Lead Archaeologist said: "Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Great Western Railway is the most complete early mainline railway in the world. Whenever we expose parts of the original infrastructure it is vital to record these for posterity and the history of rail in this country. Using the latest 3D scan technology provides a permanent and accurate model Brunel's distinctive architectural legacy."
The discoveries have generated much media interest. Click here for a story on the project on the Culture 24 website. A story also appeared in the Western Morrning News. Click here to read it.
Further information about the archaeology of Crossrail can be found on the Crossrail website. Click here to read more.