The Hammersmith name was first recorded in 1294 and most likely comes from the Saxon words for hammer and smithy, a trade the area used to be associated with many years ago.
The first bridge to be built at Hammersmith was erected in the 1820’s. Built by William Tierney Clarke who is most famous for his design of the spectacular Szechenyi Chain Bridge that crosses the Danube in Budapest. The bridge was the first suspension bridge in London and lasted for 60 years until it was replaced by what you see today. The current structure was designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette and opened by the Prince of Wales in 1887.
On the Thames Path below the bridge is what’s known as Lower Mall. This area is well known for its many rowing and sailing clubs, at number 6 Lower Mall is the headquarters of the British Rowing organisation, the body in overall charge of the sport in the UK.
The Blue Anchor pub was first licensed in 1722 and is where Gustav Holst spent many hours composing most notably the Hammersmith Prelude & Schrezo (1930). It was also where Gwyneth Paltrow and John Hannah have a drink in the British comedy Sliding Doors (1998)
Further along is the Furnivall Sculling Club and Furnivall Gardens both named after the clubs founder Dr Frederick James Furnivall. Furnivall helped establish what would become the Oxford English Dictionary. He also loved to row and was still rowing from here to Richmond and back until just before his death at the age of 85. In 1896 he set up a new rowing club here, principally for women rowers, having already established the National Amateur Rowing Association, designed to encourage working men to take part in the sport. Kenneth Grahame the author of The Wind in the Willows supposedly based the character of Ratty on his good friend Furnivall.
The gardens that were named after him were built on the site of buildings destroyed during WWII, they also lie on what used to be Hammersmith Creek, an outflow river of the Stamford Brook, one of London’s lost rivers. Until the early 19th century the creek was navigable and known as Little Wapping because of the many barges that travelled up and down carrying goods. The creek was filled in in the 1930’s and the gardens were laid out in the 1950’s.
Down a small alleyway just off the gardens is a Grade II listed public house called The Dove. It dates back to the 17th century and was originally a coffee house popular with watermen who unloaded their barges near here. James Thomson, the poet, composed the words to Rule Britannia in an upstairs room in 1740. Charles II is also said to have entertained Nell Gwyn at the pub. Other famous faces seen here in the past include Graham Greene, William Morris, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Ernest Hemingway. The Dove has the smallest bar in Britain and has been owned by Fullers brewery since 1796.
At the far end of the alleyway is Upper Mall, Kelmscott House at number 26 is a substantial Georgian property that was the London home of William Morris. Morris was one of the great figures of his age, a poet, craftsman and early socialist. His style contributed to what became known as the Arts and Crafts movement. During Morris’s era this area was well known for radicals and he regularly preached political sermons from a soapbox at Hammersmith Bridge, regular attendees at meetings here included George Bernard Shaw, Prince Kropotkin and Keir Hardie (first Parliamentary leader of the Labour Party).
Going westwards the next place of interest is Laytmer Preparatory School. The school occupies Rivercourt House which dates from 1808, it stands on the site of an earlier residence that was occupied between 1686 and 1692 by Catherine of Braganza, the long suffering wife of Charles II. She has been credited with popularising the drinking of tea. Two servant girls drowned in Rivercourt House in the severe flood of January 1928. Some famous pupils of this independent school include Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, and Heston Blumenthal.
Linden House has been home to the London Corinthian Sailing Club since the 1960’s. On the river in front of the house is a strange crow’s nest style building, this is used as the starting box for the sailing clubs dinghy race. The Grade II listed house, which is set back from the river was originally built for a wealthy merchant and dates from 1733. Another rowing club The Sons of the Thames, formed in 1886, also occupies the house.
As the path comes slightly away from the river a pub called the Black Lion comes into view. The building dates from the late 18th century and is said to be haunted by the “Hammersmith Ghost”. You can read more about the ghostly tale in my post entitled “Mr Bell’s Chiswick Ghost Walk”. The pub has also long been associated with the game of skittles which was popularised by AP Herbert. Herbert was a regular in the pub living on nearby Hammersmith Terrace. He devoted a whole chapter to skittles in his popular book The Water Gypsies (1930), and the pub claim he brought film star Douglas Fairbanks Jnr here to play the game.
Hammersmith Terrace contains 17 tall, elegant Georgian houses that date from the 1750’s. The street side is actually the back of the houses with the gardens and front elevations facing the river.
The calligrapher Edward Johnston lived at number 3 and there is a blue plaque remembering him. He was most well known for creating the London Transports sans serif font in the 1930’s.
Number 7 was home to Sir Emery Walker, a prominent printer and collector. The house is usually open to the public in the summer months and boasts a perfectly preserved Arts and Crafts interior.
When the houses were built in the 1750’s this area was surrounded by countryside and outside of some of the houses are some old boot scrapers, a relic from when the road outside was just a muddy path.
The terrace continues into Chiswick Mall, the areas most expensive address where properties sell for well over £10 million. This also denotes the border between Hammersmith and Chiswick. The name Chiswick is derived from the old English words for “cheese farm”, probably a trade carried out in the medieval meadows beside the river.
Chiswick was once a small fishing village on the river but in the 18th century the Royal Palace at Kew became popular with the monarchy and Chiswick became a favoured location for second homes among the wealthier classes seeking court patronage. The island in the middle of the Thames opposite Chiswick Mall is called Chiswick Eyot, Willows were once harvested on the three acre island for basket weaving. The island was declared a nature reserve in 1993.
Just after Chiswick Lane sits Fuller’s Griffin Brewery, Fuller, Smith & Turner and its predecessor companies have been brewing beer on this site for 350 years. The original brewery was started in the gardens of Bedford House and was founded in 1701. The three original families are still involved in the business and control over 350 outlets. It’s best known for its London Pride beer.
Walpole House dates largely from the 18th century and is named after its former occupant Sir Robert Walpole. Among others, Barbara Villiers, The Duchess of Cleveland and mistress of Charles II lived here for the last two years of her life. It is said her ghost still haunts the house. Today Walpole House is a Grade I listed building, one of only three in Chiswick. In 2008 it sold for over £12 million.
Other notable houses along Chiswick Mall are Said House which was rented out to the BBC in 2005 as the home to the contestants taking part in the first series of The Apprentice. The landlord made complaints that over £12,000 worth of damage had been done to the house by the contestants, including a fire resulting from an indoor BBQ.
The actor Michael Redgrave lived in Bedford House for about 10 years with his family after buying it in 1945.
At the end of the Chiswick Mall just by Church Street is the Church Street Causeway which leads down to the Thames. This was the site for many centuries of a ferry, and also where the local industries would load and unload their goods, including the hops used at the Fuller’s Brewery.
It was also near here that the dead body of Montague John Druitt, one of the main suspects for the Jack the Ripper murders, was found floating in the water on December 30th 1888, just weeks after the last of the infamous Whitechapel murders.
Just up Church Street is St Nicholas Chiswick, the heart of the original village of Chiswick. The church was first formally recorded in 1181 but is thought to have its origins in the 7th century. The tower you see today dates from the 15th century, although most of the current structure is from the late 19th century.
The church graveyard is the last resting place to many notable people including the artist William Hogarth, the memorial on his tomb is written by the famous actor William Garrick.
The old timbered house on the right hand side of Church Street called Old Burlington dates from the 15th century and was once the Burlington Arms. It is said that the 18th century highwayman Dick Turpin had his marriage breakfast here. The building is also supposed to be haunted by a man who wears a wide brimmed hat and rearranges the pictures.
Behind the Old Burlington there is a large tall red brick building with signage that tells you it was once part of the Lamb Brewery, a major rival to Fullers. The brewery originated around the site of Bedford House in the 18th century and was owned by the Sich family until they sold out in 1920. Brewing ended here in 1922.
Coming away from the river will take you onto the A4, a major road into central London. Just along here is Hogarth House, named after its most famous resident, the great artist and engraver William Hogarth. He purchased it 1749, and spent most summers in what he called his “little country box”. It’s hard to believe it was then surrounded by quiet countryside.
One of Chiswick’s biggest attractions is Chiswick House. Designed by the 3rd Earl of Burlington the house was built in the 1720’s and its design was influenced by the buildings of Classical Rome. It is one of the finest Palladian buildings in the country with gardens designed by William Kent that are considered the birthplace of the English landscape movement.
The house has been many things in its time including the home of future king Edward VII and also an asylum. It is now open to the public and is worth a look inside.
Back on the Thames Path is a small fountain dating from 1880 that was funded by an individual bequest, in conjunction with The Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association. The association provided free drinking water when the majority of the population did not have clean water supplies.
Near the fountain are some pretty cottages that were originally built as almshouses in the 1720’s. There are a number of plaques on the wall facing the river that trace the history of subsequent renovations.
This part of the river is now Strand on the Green, one of the prettiest parts of the Thames with many buildings that date from the 18th century or earlier. Until the middle of the 18th century this area was little more than a line of wharves, fisherman’s cottages and pubs that stretched several hundred metres from the Kew Ferry. The area gained popularity with wealthy businessmen with the completion of the original Kew Bridge and the leasing of the Dutch House (renamed Kew Palace) by Queen Caroline in 1728. Today it contains some of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in West London.
Many of the houses have miniature doors raised up to avoid flooding, the river here is still tidal and the water level can rise and fall by about 7 metres. Most houses here have anti flood devices like steel watertight doors and glass screens to protect the property.
There are some great pubs here, the first of which is the Bull’s Head which was first licensed around 1722. Oliver Cromwell was a frequent visitor here as his daughter the Countess of Fauconberg lived nearby.
Opposite the pub is a little island now known as Oliver’s Eyot where apparently he sought refuge on occasion. The island is currently leased to the London Natural History Society.
The Kew Railway Bridge dates back to 1869 and carries the District Line and London Overground. It featured in the 1964 Doctor Who episode The Dalek Invasion of Earth.
The second pub is the City Barge which has its origins in the late 15th century and was originally called the Navigators Arms. The pub features in the 1965 Beatles film Help! when the band find refuge in the pub after being pursued by Klang.
Behind Ship House at number 56 is a cottage that Dylan Thomas once occupied while staying with his friend Professor GM Carstairs. Ship House which dates from the 1690’s, is probably the oldest house on the Strand.
At number 60 is Dutch House with its rather ornate frontage. This was occupied from 1959 to 1964 by director John Guillermin, who is best known for films including The Towering Inferno, King Kong and Death on the Nile.
German artist Johann Zoffany occupied number 65 in the late 18th century. He is best known for his portraits and theatrical paintings. Sitcom writer Carla Lane also once lived there.
Zachary House at number 70 is a Grade II listed Georgian house dating back to 1790. It features the prominent “Captains Lookout”, added by the first owner Captain Zachary. Pop star Midge Ure used to live here, and it was in his studio here in 1984 that he and Bob Geldof co wrote the Band Aid song “Do They Know It’s Christmas.
The Bell & Crown is the third pub and it has been licensed since 1787. It is rumoured to have been used by smugglers in the past and has a resident ghost that turns on the beer pumps during the night. The current building dates from 1907 after the owners Fuller’s Brewery decided to demolish the original.
Kew Bridge was built in 1903 but there has been a bridge here since the 18th century. It is here that my riverside stroll ends, in my opinion on one of the nicest parts of the Thames. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it as much as I enjoyed walking it.