Paddington Waterways and Maida Vale Society
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The history of PW&MVS




A BRIEF HISTORY – Peter Jay and Lord Norwich

The Society was founded in 1961 by Colonel Peter Flower and Lord Norwich - who remains our Patron - to oppose a proposal to build six ten-storey blocks of flats along and on top of the Regent's Canal between Maida Vale and Warwick Avenue.  Soon afterwards The Society became involved in a struggle to block another proposal - this time to fill in Paddington Basin for the enlargement of St Mary's Hospital.  In the 1960's, Colonel Peter Flower succeeded Lord Norwich as Chairman and continued to be active in opposing plans for commercialisation of the canal area.   

At about the same time there came news of the decision by the Church Commissioners to demolish St Saviour's church, which stood at the northern end of Warwick Avenue.  It was admittedly far too large for its 1960s congregation, and The Society did not object to the body of the church, i.e. behind the central tower, being replaced by a block of flats.  The Society simply asked the Commissioners to keep the tower, a fine building of Kentish ragstone which closed off Warwick Avenue at the far end, where it is one of the broadest streets in London and desperately needed a strong vertical feature.  One of The Society’s members, Noel Tweddell, a practising architect, actually produced a scheme whereby the tower could be kept and an additional flat inserted; however, the Commissioners and their architects Biscoe & Stanton of Croydon, refused to consider it.

Soon afterwards Lord Norwich was approached by the Vicar of St Saviour's to discuss the behaviour of the Commissioners' agent who was mercilessly bullying the humbler residents.  They in turn, not understanding the situation, blamed the Vicar and his church, and he was rapidly losing his congregation.  Colonel Flower and Lord Norwich accordingly wrote a letter of complaint to the Commissioners, suggesting that the Agent might be asked to treat these people with a little more consideration.  They were surprised indeed when the Agent replied by demanding an official enquiry and briefing a QC to defend him. This led to a nightmare witch-hunt, with members of the Society - they included the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard - ringing doorbells and asking for firm evidence.  They produced a good deal, and when the enquiry opened, the Society thought it had a pretty unanswerable case.  They were surprised and disappointed - particularly having gone to the expense of briefing a QC themselves - when the Commissioners found for the plaintiff; but the moral victory was theirs:  within a few weeks the Agent had disappeared.  He was never seen again.

The struggle became acute in the mid 1970's following the Church Commissioners' proposal to 'improve' what was then their Maida Vale Estate, including the total reconstruction of Warrington Crescent behind existing facades together with the replacement of some of the communal gardens with mass Car Parking, and the introduction of large office blocks described by the Commissioners as a gateway to the neighbourhood.  At the time, the Society was not recognised by the City Council as having specific responsibility for the Maida Vale area as a whole, but this did not prevent it pursuing policies of Conservation including improvement where appropriate. 

The planning and conservation experience of Chairmen Peter Jay and Leslie Ginsburg were invaluable. At the time, although Maida Avenue and Blomfield Road were considered moderately desirable as they overlooked the canal, Warwick Avenue, Sutherland Avenue and other streets were in a poor state of repair and many of the buildings were cheap lodging houses or poorly converted flats.

Following the defeat of the Church Commissioners' plans to commercialise the neighbourhood, the Society played a prominent part in their decision to sell off the freeholds to the existing occupants.  In due course, this led to a greatly improved maintenance and repair of all the buildings, and the area started to 'go up' although a high proportion of former residents were able to remain in their homes.

In the early 1980's, the City Council recognised the Society's activities in the whole area by choosing it as the Authorised Amenity Society for Westminster, North of the Canal and West of Edgware Road, excluding Queen's Park, and its name was changed accordingly.

The Society continues to defend the area from pressures by commercial interest and was instrumental in ensuring that a large proportion of the area is now a Conservation Area.  This has led to a marked improvement in housing standards, particularly in Sutherland Avenue and neighbouring streets.  At the same time, the Society has been active in promoting measures for traffic calming and in diminishing the attractions of streets like Warrington Crescent as commuter 'rat-runs'.

For many years, the threatened development of Paddington Goods Yard has been a source of concern and the Society has consistently opposed the proposals for the erection of intrusive towers, which will impair the view over the basin.  It must be admitted that our success in this respect has been limited but several of the more outrageous proposals have been defeated.  The maintenance of the canal and the Pool of Little Venice in beauty and tranquillity is of continuing concern to the Society. However, the Society's influence depends very much on our ability to convince the City Council that our views are truly representative of all residents in the area, and to this end, it is important that as many as possible of those who wish to preserve the character of a unique part of London should join and lend their voices in support.

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