The unadopted (eg private) road that’s part of the Jubilee Greenway leading from South Wharf Road to the canal basin at Paddington is lined by huge stone blocks on either side and whose origin have been debated from time to time.
Each stone has two holes which were used to anchor railway tracks. Many early railways used stone sleepers such as the Surrey Iron and Stockton & Darlington lines.
Later railways like the Liverpool and Manchester, the London and Birmingham lines, used stone for their sleepers too.
Francis Coughlan’s The Iron Road Book and Railway Companion of 1838 tells us: “The rails are supported by cast-iron chairs, or pedestals (of an average weight of about25lbs) fixed to stone blocks or wood sleepers; piece of felt being placed between each chair and block.”
Coughlan’s book gives more detail on these stone sleepers:
Each stone sleeper weighed between 150 and 200 pounds and were used diagonally. They were often responsible for rail breakages & misaligned track, as well as being extremely heavy. A mile of single track used around 280 tons of stone.
Extra manpower and increased costs were reduced by the use of wooden sleepers which were better able to withstand the tough rigours demanded of rail tracks.
Curiously the Great Western Railway did not use stone sleepers at all so where did these stones come from – and how did they get to Paddington?
The clue to the stones’ origin lies in the Grand Junction canal company. They purchased the stones from the London Birmingham Railway and stored them at Paddington.
Some of the stones were used on the company’s locks or as canal edging. The company ultimately realised it had bought far too many of these stones and a quick way of using them up was to simply line its own access road at Paddington!
There are approximately 252 stones between South Wharf Road and Paddingon (Hammersmith line). Thats enough for about two standard lengths of 60ft track. The stones’ combined weight must be somewhere around 17 to 20 tons! No wonder there’s been hardly any effort at removing them and they remain a unique part of Paddington’s history.