W12 is Shepherd’s Bush. I always thought this was an odd name for a place. It’s a bit like Shepherd’s Pie being an odd name for a dish especially given the recipe does not usually involve Shepherds or indeed lamb. I used to feel that in some way there was a link between Shepherd’s Bush and Shepherd’s Pie – but I do not think there is.
However this leads me on to the quote which is from the Sondheim masterpiece “Sweeney Todd” where in the song “A little priest”, Todd and neighbour Mrs Lovett are pondering the flavours of pies they can make from the unsuspecting (newly deceased) customers of Todd’s barbers shop. Who else would dare rhyme “shepherd” with “peppered” or indeed pen the line which occurs later on in the song: “I’ll come again when you have Judge on the menu”. I know this has nothing to do with Shepherd’s Bush but I could not resist.
So we start our walk at Shepherd’s Bush Post Office, 65 – 69 Shepherd’s Bush Green – near the north west corner.
Turn left out of the Post Office and then take a left into Uxbridge Road. Our first stop is just a little way on the left.
Stop 1: Bush Theatre (former Passmore Edwards Library)
This was one of the many Passmore Edwards libraries – we saw another one in Acton. This building dates from 1895 and was the main library in Shepherd’s Bush until 2008 when a new one was opened as part of the Westfield shopping centre development.
It was disused for a time and then in 2011, it was converted to become the new home of the Bush Theatre. This had started in 1972 just nearby upstairs at the Bush pub at the corner of Shepherd’s Bush Green and Goldhawk Road. The original Bush was tiny, holding only about 80 people, and it was probably the most uncomfortable theatre you could imagine. The new theatre is slightly bigger with 144 seats and is rather more comfortable than its predecessor.
Keep walking along Uxbridge Road and you will see just before the railway bridge an entrance to Shepherd’s Bush market.
Stop 2: Shepherd’s Bush Market
Shepherd’s Bush Market runs alongside the railway viaduct here between Uxbridge Road and Goldhawk Road. It is a shabby looking affair, selling all manner of goods and a little bit of food, running every day except Sunday. There has been a market here for around 100 years and it seems that the land is actually owned by Transport for London. There have been various plans to regenerate the market but so far none have come to pass. But I guess it is just a matter of time.
Go under the railway. On the right is Shepherd’s Bush Market station. For many years this was just called Shepherd’s Bush causing confusion to the unwary who may have thought it was easy to interchange between the Hammersmith & City line here and the Central line but that station is at the other end of Shepherd’s Bush Green.
Now having sorted out this confusion, perhaps TfL will do something about the two separate Edgware Road stations and the two Bethnal Greens. TfL used to have an excuse with the latter pair as they only ran the Central line station of that name. But they will soon take over running the West Anglia line station, so they could easily rename one.
Take the first left. This is the street called Lime Grove.
Stop 3: Site of Lime Grove Studios
Towards the end on the left is a rather dull looking modern housing development. This was the location of Lime Grove studios.
Lime Grove Studios was a film studio complex built by the Gaumont Film Company in 1915 and described by Gaumont as “the finest studio in Great Britain and the first building ever put up in this country solely for the production of films”. Gaumont was originally a french company but its British operation was sold off in 1922 to become Gaumont British. In 1941 Gaumont British was bought by the Rank Organisation. By then, Rank has a substantial interest in Gainsborough Pictures and so a number of Gainsborough films were shot at Lime Grove. One of these was possibly their best known – The Wicked Lady dating from 1945.
The BBC took it over for television in 1949 as a temporary measure whilst they built Television Centre. But they ended up using it until 1991. An early soap opera The Grove Family (1954–57) got its name from the studios. Some early Top of the Pops came from here. And on 13 April 1963, The Beatles recorded their first ever BBC broadcast here and they returned in 1964 for a further recording. Sadly these recordings do not appear to have survived. But the programme with the longest connection with Lime Grove was an early evening current affairs series called Nationwide which ran from 1969 to 1983.
The site was sold and the buildings demolished in 1993 – to be replaced by this housing development. In a nod to the past, the housing facing onto Lime Grove is called Gaumont Terrace whilst the little street off Lime Grove is called Gainsborough Court.
In 2011, Lime Grove Studios was the setting for BBC’s fictional current affairs program The Hour. Of course by then there was no Lime Grove studios to film it in, so the 1930s Hornsey Town Hall in Crouch End stood in.
Fascinating fact: Lime Grove was also the location of Urania Cottage which was a refuge for fallen women established by writer Charles Dickens in the late 1840s and funded by philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts. Not sure there is any indication of exactly where this was though!
Go to the end of Lime Grove. Turn left into Goldhawk Road. Go under the railway, past another entrance to the market and then at Shepherd’s Bush Green take a left. The pub at the corner was by the way the original home of the Bush theatre. (from 1972 until 2011)
Just a little way on the left is our next stop, which is a kind of triple bill of entertainment establishments – or rather one actual and two former establishments. They make an odd assortment as they are each very different, as we shall see.
Stop 4a: Empire Theatre
Here we have another Frank Matcham theatre. Unlike the others we have heard about in the Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham (The Granville in SW6 and the Lyric in W6), this one is still standing and on its original site. The Shepherd’s Bush Empire was built in 1903 for impresario Oswald Stoll. It staged variety and revues until the early 1950s.
In 1953, the Empire was bought by the BBC and it became the BBC Television Theatre. The roll call of programmes which came from here is incredible: Crackerjack, The Old Grey Whistle Test, That’s Life!, The Generation Game, Juke Box Jury, This is Your Life, Jim’ll Fix It plus many many BBC’s light entertainment music shows from artists such as Cliff Richard, Lulu, Cilla Black, Dusty Springfield, Shirley Bassey, Vera Lynn, Harry Secombe and Petula Clark. In 1985, the theatre was used exclusively for Wogan, which was broadcast three nights a week from the theatre.
The BBC vacated the building in 1991. After refurbishment, it became a live music venue in 1994 which it remains today. It is a relatively small venue with a capacity of around 2,000. But it does get used for “surprise” warm-up gigs, including in 1999, the Rolling Stones prior to a major tour.
During a concert in March 2003, the lead vocalist of the Texan band The Dixie Chicks said of the impending Iraq war, “we don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States (George W. Bush) is from Texas.” Whilst this met with the approval of the audience, it did not go down so well with some of the folks back home.
Now curiously the alley that runs between the Empire and the former cinema next door is called Rockwood Place, which is kind of fitting given the acts that appear at the Empire.
But go down this alley and look at the side of the old cinema and you will see a wonderful old sign, made out of what looks like terra cotta. This proclaims: “Cinematograph Theatre Continuous Performance 1/- 6d & 3d”
This dates from the days when this building was a cinema.
Stop 4b: Former Cinematograph Theatre
So here immediately next to the Empire is this old cinema. This was originally built in 1910 as the Shepherd’s Bush Cinematograph Theatre by Montagu Pyke – it was the 6th in his chain. The cinema had a number of owners (and other names – New Palladium, Palladium, Essoldo, Classic and Odeon 2) over the years and finally stopped showing films in 1981.
I have always loved Essoldo as a cinema name. It is meaningless and yet evokes a kind of foreign exoticness. As one might have guessed, it is a made up name. It was derived from the names of the owning family, the Sheckmans. Sol was the chairman, his wife was Esther and his daughter Dorothy hence ES(ther) -SOL – DO (Dorothy).
After standing empty for some time, it was eventually converted into a pub and for many years it was an australian themed bar called Walkabout. In October 2013 the building was sold to a property developer and it looks like it is being redeveloped by the same people who are rebuilding the third entertainment site just next door.
Stop4c: Former Pavilion cinema
Third in this row is the former Pavilion cinema, designed by Frank T. Verity and opened in 1923. The massive brick and stone frontage onto Shepherd’s Bush Green won the RIBA London Street Architecture Award for the best London facade in 1923 – this was possibly the first time a cinema had been recognised as of architectural merit.
The Pavilion Cinema was badly damaged by a German flying bomb in July 1944, and it did not re-open until 1955. The original ornate Italian Renaissance style interior was replaced by rather bland interior and it was renamed the Gaumont. After becoming the Odeon in 1962, it was rebuilt in 1969 with a cinema upstairs and a bingo hall downstairs. About 1973 it became Odeon 1, as the cinema next door became Odeon 2. Odeon 1 carried on a bit longer as a cinema until 1983. The bingo hall carried on even longer until 2001
Sadly despite some efforts, it has not proved possible to find a theatrical use for this building. Today a hotel is being constructed on the site, although at least they have retained the facade. It will be interesting to whether anything else of the old building has survived. But at least it is not like Lime Grove studios which got completely levelled.
Now cross the road and ahead you will see our next stop.
Stop 5: Goaloids
Here on Shepherd’s Bush Green are two gigantic football-inspired sculptures known as Goaloids. Each Goaloid is constructed in metal and based on the dimensions of a set of goalposts.
The sculptures were part of the Cultural Olympiad in 2012 and commemorate the site of the 1908 London Olympic football finals. They are the work of artist (and Queen’s Park Rangers supporter) Elliott Brook. In 2007 Brook was on a life support machine after suffering a stroke while in a pneumonia-related coma. He came out of this paralysed on the left side and is in a wheelchair. Yet he was able to mastermind this creation.
Originally the goaloids rotated in opposite directions for 45 minutes, and then stopped and reversed for the last 45 minutes of a 90 minutes set, making reference to the duration of a full football match. But I do not think they actually do this any more! But I guess the fact they are still here is a bit of a result as they were supposed to be just for the duration of the Games.
Walking away from the theatre and ex-cinemas, go to the far end of the green
Stop 6: War Memorial and former public conveniences
This is the rather elegant Shepherd’s Bush war memorial. It is Grade II listed and dates from 1922.
And just nearby an example of a reused underground public convenience – or rather a disused reused public convenience. This was a bar/club called Ginglik which opened in the spring of 2002. It seems to have closed sometime in 2013. Its website says “the venue is currently closed and under offer”, so it may make a comeback.
Now cross the road and ahead you will see Shepherd’s Bush central line station. This by the way was the original western terminus of the Central London Railway, opened in July 1900.
Stop 7: Sterne Street housing
There is a walkway to the left of the station building. This leads you into Sterne Street where there are two rows of these dinky little houses, with metal window frames. These date from the early 1902s. According to Pevsner, Number 53 at the corner was the home of these houses’ designer, a man called George Walton. This is a little back water but looming up behind it is the huge Westfield Shopping Centre. It must be very odd to live so literally in the shadows of a vast shopping mall and yet be in a such a quiet street.
Retrace your steps to the station go round the front and then along the other side. Ahead you will see the massive Westfield Shopping Centre.
Stop 8: Westfield Shopping Centre
1908 was the first year in which London hosted the Summer Olympics and Shepherd’s Bush was one of the main sites, with the main stadium amongst other things. In the same year, the Franco-British Exhibition was held here. This attracted 8 million visitors and celebrated the Entente Cordiale signed in 1904 by the United Kingdom and France. The White City stadium continued to be used as greyhound track and sports stadium until the 1980s when it was demolished to make way for new offices for the BBC.
Some of the buildings from the exhibition did survive until fairly recently. They were not that impressive but they were painted white and this is said to be the origin of the local name of White City. What little was left was swept away when the Westfield Shopping centre was built. Much of the rest of the site used for the Westfield Shopping centre was in use as a railway depot. This was excavated to a lower level and built over.
The Shopping Centre is certainly big but it is not the largest in London. Westfield’s mall at Stratford is bigger. In UK terms, the west London shopping centre is fifth largest. But it is about to get bigger. In February 2012, Hammersmith and Fulham Council approved an extension to the north of the existing site, and it looks like John Lewis will be the main tenant.
Now you can either go through the centre and come out at the White City end. Or else go back to Shepherd’s Bush Green, follow the north side and then go right into Wood Lane. Either way you will find just behind the shopping centre and before the railway viaduct there is the White City bus interchange and this unusual brick building.
Stop 9: the Dimco building
This building is called the Dimco building and was originally constructed to house the power generator for the Central London Railway in 1898.
I thought what a great name for a power station building but sadly the name has nothing to do with its original use. The power plant was shut down in the 1920s and sometime later it became a workshop run by the Dimco Company. It was converted to become a bus stand in 2008, but it apparently also includes an electricity generating station for the central line.
Fascinating fact: This was one of the filming locations for the 1988 movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”
Now return to Wood Lane and turn right and go under the railway passing the new Wood Lane station on your right. Although this is on a line which has been in operation since 1864, the station only opened in 2008, having been built to improve public transport access to the new shopping centre. There was previously a Wood Lane station on this line – opened for the Olympics and Exhibition but it was a little further south. It was renamed White City when the Central line station was opened in 1947 but closed following a fire in 1959.
Ahead on your left is the next stop.
Stop 10: BBC Television Centre
The BBC Television Centre was the headquarters of BBC Television between 1960 and 2013. It is such a familiar building having appeared as the backdrop for many BBC programmes. It seems strange to find it really exists. However the BBC has sold the property and moved most production elsewhere, for example radio has gone back to Broadcasting House and Sports and Breakfast television have been sent to Salford. Much of this site will be redeveloped but some of the iconic bits are listed and are being retained. The BBC are leasing back some of the site including three studios.
Our final stop is just over the road.
Stop 11: White City Station
White City station was opened in November 1947, replacing the earlier Wood Lane Central line station. Construction had started after 1938 and it had been scheduled for completion by 1940. But the Second World War delayed its opening. The architectural design of the station won an award at the Festival of Britain.
One odd feature of this station is that the running lines are the wrong way round. This is one of only a handful of stations where the normal left hand running is reversed. (Other places are London Bridge and Bank on the Northern line and Warren Street, Euston and King’s Cross St Pancras on the Victoria line.) It occurs here because of the way the line was extended from the previous terminus at Wood Lane which was on a loop.
So that concludes our tour of w12. A place of contrasts, it seems to have always been a place of entertainment – theatre, cinema and music, plus the BBC of course. And now it is a shrine to that other form of entertainment – shopping. It also has the most complicated story relating to its various Underground stations.
You are now at White City station, so obviously you have the Central line to take you on but just retrace your steps a little and you will be at Wood lane on the Circle/Hammersmith & City lines and the White City bus station.