W6 is Hammersmith, famed for its flyover and the Apollo music venue but it was also home to William Morris and some other interesting artistic folk. We start our walk at Hammersmith’s main Post Office which is W H Smith in Kings Mall in King Street.
Our first stop is located inside the building that houses the Kings Mall shopping centre.
Stop 1: Lyric Theatre
It is hard to believe but two floors up in this concrete hulk is a theatre with an interior dating from 1895. Today’s theatre it is not actually on the original site. That was on Bradmore Grove, a street which no longer exists. The Lyric started life in 1888 as a Music Hall but was reconstructed to become the Lyric Opera House in 1890. Five years later the Theatre was again reconstructed, this time by the well known theatre architect, Frank Matcham.
The original Theatre was demolished in 1969 but the Matcham auditorium was preserved and then completely reconstructed in 1979 inside the modern building we see today. Although the auditorium was recreated, it was slightly stretched to fit inside the new space. The proscenium is about 4 feet wider and the height was extended to match. A small studio theatre was also built. The Lyric is currently undergoing a major redevelopment project, with new facilities for young people and the local community due for completion in November 2014. It is great that this interior survived but it is kind of sad that it has to be in what looks like a building that somehow escaped from communist East Berlin.
Now head down King Street (past the William Morris pub) and soon you reach the swirl of traffic that is Hammersmith Broadway. Across one road (to the left) is the Hammersmith & City/Circle Line station and across the road ahead is the District/Piccadilly Line station. The two stations are about 200 feet apart door to door. All most confusing for those who do not know the area and want to change trains.
Stop 2: Hammersmith Stations
The first station in Hammersmith was opened in 1864 by the Hammersmith and City Railway which was backed by the Metropolitan Railway and the Great Western Railway (GWR). Their line started from the GWR’s main line a mile west of Paddington station and looped through Shepherd’s Bush to Hammersmith. Initially the station was a little further north of the present day one but it was moved to the current location in December 1868. It is now used by both Hammersmith and City and Circle line trains.
The other station was first opened on 9 September 1874 as the western terminus of the Metropolitan District Railway when it was extended from Earl’s Court. In 1877, Hammersmith became a through station when there was a further extension west to link at Ravenscourt Park with the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) line from Richmond. The L&SWR line actually ran on to join the Hammersmith and City line just north of their Hammersmith station with a third station called Grove Road – long since disappeared. Once the more direct route via the District was opened, the link through Grove Road was not so attractive. But it carried on for a few more years, eventually closing to passengers in 1916.
In 1908, the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway (now the Piccadilly Line) opened with Hammersmith as its western terminus and the final piece of the jigsaw was the extension of the Piccadilly line westwards in the 1930s. When this extension was made, they went round the remains of the disused viaduct which had carried the line which went through Grove Road station. This is still visible from the trains just west of the Piccadilly and District Line station – a reminder of the link between the two lines that used to exist.
In the early 1990s, the District/Piccadilly line station buildings were demolished along with the neighbouring bus garage and a modern shopping centre and bus interchange was built over the station. Some of the tiles from the old facade were salvaged and incorporated in the northern ticket hall by the designers Minale Tattersfield.
They now form a frame to a tile mosaic of Hammersmith Bridge.
Now go though the shopping mall past Tesco’s and follow the signs for the Apollo. Outside you can cross the road on the level and ahead under the flyover on the right is our next stop.
Stop 3: Eventim Apollo (former Gaumont Palace/Odeon cinema)
This is one of the Britain’s largest and best-preserved super cinemas, designed by prolific cinema architect Robert Cromie. It was a joint venture between Israel Davis and the Gaumont British Picture chain and when it opened in March 1932 it was known as the Gaumont Palace.
It is large with almost 3,500 seats. It is very wide and the circle covers almost all the stalls apart from the front dozen or so rows which makes for a relatively intimate venue given the size. It was equipped with full stage facilities which proved useful for live shows and has allowed this to wonderful building to remain in use.
It was renamed the Odeon in 1962 and operated as a cinema until 1984. It then became a theatrical venue full time under the Odeon name. Then in 1992 it became the Apollo. Since then it has had various owners and sponsors which has led to various prefixes to the Apollo name. Currently Eventim Apollo – Eventim is a german ticketing company who jointly own the building with the american company AEG.
Last year the theatre was underwent a major renovation costing some £5 million, bringing the building back to its original 1932 condition. This included restoring the original foyer floor mosaic panels, long covered by carpet and removing black paint from the circle bar and foyer windows. The theatre’s interior has been repainted in the original colour scheme of green, mauve and black.
Now head back under the flyover keeping the Church on your left and main road traffic on your right. Ahead on the corner you will see a modern office block.
There was once a cinema building on this corner, known as the Broadway. It was designed by none other than Frank Matcham. It opened in December 1912 and sometime in the late 1920s it became owned by Associated British Cinemas (ABC). It closed on 12th September 1977 after the collapse of part of the ceiling, and was demolished in June 1978, to be replaced by this commercial development.
Turn left here and go down Hammersmith Bridge Road.
Stop 4: Hammersmith Bridge
Ahead is Hammersmith Bridge.
This was the first suspension bridge in London originally dating from the 1820s but rebuilt in the 1880s by Sir Joseph Bazalgette reusing the old piers and abutments. Apparently Irish republicans have tried to blow up this bridge three times: first by the IRA in 1939, when the bomb was spotted and thrown in the river; second in 1996 when the detonators of the IRA bomb went off but the bomb itself did not. And thirdly in June 2000 a bomb planted by some dissident republicans actually did explode and caused the bridge to be closed for three week for repairs.
Now just before the bridge take the roadway on the right and when you get to the river, turn right along the riverside.
Soon on the right is our next stop.
Stop 5: Lower Mall
Number 9 was home to George Devine from 1956 to 1965.
George Devine was an actor but is most famous for being one of the founders of the English Stage Company in 1955 and then artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre. The English Stage Company took the lease on the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square with the aim of producing new plays. One of these early production was John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger which premiered in May 1956.
Several more of John Osborne’s plays were staged at the Royal Court and George Devine was appearing in one, A Patriot for Me, when he suffered a heart attack. This was followed soon afterwards by a stroke which eventually led to his death at the early age of 55.
The play was a bit of a cause celebre. It was deemed too sexually transgressive by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office who licenced theatrical productions. The play was denied a licence for performance and in order to produce it, the Royal Court was forced to become a private members’ club. This was one of the plays that finally led to the abolition of theatrical censorship by the state in the UK.
Keep walking along the riverside, passing a couple of pubs (The Blue Anchor and The Rutland Arms)
You will come to a green and over in the distance across the Great West Road is the back of the Town Hall which we will come to in due course.
Ahead is a small alley way, down which you will see our next stop, The Dove.
Stop 6: The Dove
This is a delightful pub and my favourite on this stretch of the river.
There has been a pub here since the seventeenth century and the brewers Fullers have owned this pub since 1796.
It has an unusual claim to fame. The pub says it is the birth place of the patriotic song “Rule Britannia”. I think more strictly it was that poet James Thomson wrote the poem ‘Rule Britannia’ here which was then set to music by Thomas Arne. This by the way was part of a masque (a play with music and dance) called Alfred which was first performed in 1740 at Cliveden, the country home of Frederick, Prince of Wales.
And the building also has another unusual claim. There is a small space to the right of the bar which is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest bar room in the world.
Keep walking along the riverside and soon on the right is our next stop.
Stop 7a: Upper Mall (Number 26)
Number 26 (also known as Kelmscott House) is a lovely Georgian brick mansion overlooking the River Thames. It was the London home of designer, artist, writer and socialist William Morris from April 1879 until his death in October 1896
Morris renamed this house after his Oxfordshire home (Kelmscott Manor) where he had lived from June 1871. Just along the way at Number 16 Upper Mall he started his printing operation, the Kelmscott Press in 1891.
The headquarters of the William Morris Society are in the basement and coach house. They can be visited Thursday and Saturday afternoons.
Prior to Morris ‘ time this building had been known as the Retreat and it has two other claims to fame. It was once owned by Sir Francis Ronalds who constructed the first electric telegraph in the garden in 1816 and there is a stone plaque at the side to commemorate this.
From 1867 to 1877, it was also the family home of victorian writer George MacDonald.
Now walk a little further along Upper Mall.
Stop 7b: Upper Mall (Number 48)
Just at the corner with Weltje Road is number 48 which was home to artist and designer Eric Ravilious.
Ravilious grew up in Sussex, and is particularly known for his watercolours of the South Downs. He lived here between 1930 and 1932. In 1932 he and his family moved to rural Essex. He also did a lot of work for Wedgwood in the 1930s and amongst his designs was the 1936 celebration mug for the coronation of King Edward VIII. This was withdrawn and revised for the coronations of George VI and Elizabeth II.
Fascinating fact: His woodcut image of two Victorian gentlemen playing cricket in top hats has been used on the front cover of the Wisden’s Cricket Almanack since 1938.
He served as a war artist, and died in 1942 when the aircraft he was on was lost off Iceland.
Keep walking along the river past the sailing club and little watch house. Black Lion Lane comes in from the right and ahead you will see a terrace of houses which runs by the river side. This street is called Hammersmith Terrace and is our next stop, where there are in fact three blue plaques.
Stop 8: Hammersmith Terrace
First at Number 3 comes the home of Edward Johnston, creator of that most famous London icon, the London Transport typeface. Unfortunately the building had scaffolding up when I passed and so I could only just see a bit of the blue plaque!
Johnston was commissioned in 1913 by Frank Pick, Commercial Manager of the Underground Electric Railways Company of London to create a typeface to strengthen the company’s corporate identity. Pick wanted a typeface that would ensure that the Underground Group’s posters would not be mistaken for advertisements. He said it should have “the bold simplicity of the authentic lettering of the finest periods” and belong “unmistakably to the twentieth century”. It certainly met this brief. One of the typefaces distinctive features is the dot over the lower case letters i and j is in the form of a diamond.
It was first introduced in 1916 and was taken up for by the newly formed London Transport in 1933. The type face which is used today is a slight variant of the original. This created in 1979 and is known as “New Johnston”. It has been slightly tweaked since. This by the way was the type face used for the wayfinding signs at the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.
Second comes Number 7, home of Sir Emery Walker and one of the best preserved original Arts and Crafts domestic interiors.
Sir Emery Walker was an engraver, photographer and printer. He was a pal of William Morris who as we have seen had a house not so far away, although Walker moved here a few yeats after Morris’ death. They shared both socialist beliefs and an interest in printing. Walker’s collection of 16th century typefaces is said to have inspired Morris to create the Kelmscott Press. After Morris’ death, Walker set up his own printing enterprise, the Doves Press.
When Sir Emery Walker died in 1933 he left the house to his daughter Dorothy, who had grown up with William Morris and Philip Webb. She kept 7 Hammersmith Terrace as much as she could as it had been in her father’s time as did her friend Elizabeth de Haas who inherited the house from her in 1963. Just before Miss de Haas’ death in 1999, the Emery Walker Trust was set up “to conserve, maintain and display 7 Hammersmith Terrace and its contents, and so promote the advancement of the study and appreciation of the Arts and Crafts Movement.” The house is open during the summer months – see link: http://emerywalker.org.uk/
Then finally at Number 12 we come to the home of writer and MP, Sir Alan Herbert, better known as A P Herbert.
In 1935 he became an independent Member of Parliament for Oxford University and held this seat until the University seats were abolished in 1950. He lobbied for reform of several laws that he felt to be outdated, often using his satirical writing. His targets included laws on divorce, obscenity, licensing and gambling.
Much of his humorous writing appeared in the magazine Punch, in particular his series of Misleading Cases in the Common Law – the work for which he is best remembered. These were in the form of “law reports” or “judgments”, on various aspects of the British legal and judicial system. Many featured the tireless litigant, Albert Haddock. One of the best-known is Board of Inland Revenue v Haddock, also known as “The Negotiable Cow”. Here Haddock tries to pay his tax bill by presenting a cheque in the form of a cow with the following words stencilled on its side:.
To the London and Literary Bank, Limited
Pay the Collector of Taxes, who is no gentleman, or Order, the sum of fifty seven pounds £57/0/0 (and may he rot!)
Fascinating fact time: In his novel ‘The Water Gypsies’, A P Herbert features the Dove pub under the pseudonym ‘The Pigeons’.
Now retrace your steps along Hammersmith Terrace and turn left into Black Lion Lane passing the lovely Black Lion pub.
Cross the Great West Road by the subway. Take the little road which parallels the Great West Road and soon you will be in St Peter’s Square.
Stop 9: St Peter’s Square
This is quite a surprise. A wonderful square dating from 1825 with a garden in the middle. Apparently in 1912, the area in the centre of the square was threatened with development, so it was bought by the borough council and a garden was created, opening in 1915.
Architectural historian Pevsner suggests this square has the flavour of a suburban Belgravia. Maybe but one odd thing is that whilst the buildings cohere in design, there is no uniformity in the finish. Some are plain grey stucco, some stucco with marking as if they were stone and others painted white or cream. Makes for an odd assortment. How amazing this would look if it were consistently finished as one sees in Belgravia.
In the centre of the gardens is a statue of a bronze runner by Sir William Richmond, dating from 1926.
Now cross the square to the far corner and take the road on the left out of the Square
At the corner turn right into King Street. At this corner is the site of the Commodore cinema, replaced by this dull looking office block.
Keep walking along King Street.
Stop 10: At the sign of the Bull
As we head down King Street, at the corner of Vencourt Place, there is a modernish pub called the Ravenscourt Arms set back off the road just before the Premier Inn.
In the forecourt is a rather strange beast – a bull on a plinth. This came from the Black Bull Inn in Holborn which was demolished in 1904. The sign indicates the inn was mentioned by Dickens in his book Martin Chuzzlewit.
It was brought here by William (later Sir William) Bull, the local MP to what was then the offices of Bull and Bull, which I assume was the family solicitor’s business.
One question does occur. Why is the pub (presumably built subsequently) not called the Black Bull?
Continue walking along King Street, stopping on the corner by the Cineworld Cinema.
Stop 11: Hammersmith Town Hall
The older part of Hammersmith Town Hall is a late 1930s big brick box and OK in its own ungainly way but the bit of the Town hall facing King Street added in the early 1970s is just plonked down in front making no attempt to relate to the neighbouring building. However not for much longer. Hammersmith & Fulham Council approved a redevelopment scheme last November which will be see this building and the cinema replaced by new structures, including new offices for the council an a new three screen Curzon cinema.
The present cinema by the way dates from 1936. Built by Associated British Cinemas, it became the ABC in 1964 and has been called various names since, currently it is Cineworld. It is looking a bit shabby now but then I guess it has not got long left before it is demolished.
Keep walking along King Street. Our next stop is on the left just before the Kings Mall.
Stop 12: 84/88 King Street
This was the site of the Cinematograph Theatre opened in 1910 as the eighth in the chain of cinemas operated by Montagu Pyke. Montagu Pyke was declared bankrupt in 1915, and this particular Cinematograph Theatre was closed and sold off. The front part of the building was rebuilt in Art Deco style in the late 1920s/early 1930s and became a shop – I think it may have been Woolworth’s. Today, half the ground floor is an amusement arcade and the other half a fast food take-away restaurant, while upstairs seems to be a hotel.
We are now almost back where we started. Keep on walking along King Street and you will be at the stations for onward travel.
So that was Hammersmith – William Morris’s London house and location of one of the best Arts and Crafts domestic interiors, plus home to some other artistic worthies including Edward Johnston whose familiar typeface is part of the fabric of London.
W6 has been a challenge as there is so much potential material. I have only been able to sample some of it, having to forego the wonderful Ark building, the Riverside Studios and the site of the Palais de Danse amongst other things. I doubt I will have this difficulty in the next postcode – W7 Hanwell.