Imagine you were on a District line train to Wimbledon just before the war. After West Brompton you could have got out at a station called Walham Green. And there you could have gone to a variety show at the Granville Theatre, Walham Green, or seen a film at the Red Hall or Regal cinemas both in Walham Green. None of this exists anymore. The station was renamed Fulham Broadway by London Transport in 1952 after representations from Fulham Chamber of Commerce. The Granville, the Red House and the Regal have all been demolished.
Now ask anyone in the streets round here and they would not say they were in Walham Green. They would say Fulham Broadway. Walham Green has been wiped from collective consciousness. I guess it must have been a bit confusing as the street almost outside the station is actually called Fulham Broadway. There does not seem to be any open space called Walham Green. It would have been where the Granville Theatre was. And there is only one street name with both Walham and Green – Walham Green Court off Waterford Road . So once the station was renamed, the place took its name from that and so Walham Green became redundant.
We will come to Walham Green in a bit but we do not start the SW6 walk there.
The Post Office in Fulham is a little way down North End Road in a Co-op shop, so I have decided to use my editorial discretion and start the walk at the nearest station. This is West Brompton which happens to be just in SW10 but right at the point where SW10 meets SW5 and SW6. So we turn left out of West Brompton station and crossing the railway bridge we are now safely in SW6, in Lillie Road. Ahead and to our right is our first port of call.
Stop 1: Empress State Building
You cannot miss the Empress State Building as it is by far the biggest thing around here. Originally built in 1961 it had 28 storeys but when it was refurbished in 2003 it got an extra 3 storeys, taking it to 117 metres tall. Even so it is now only joint 33rd tallest building in London along with Centre Point.
The Empress State Building in on the site of the Empress Theatre which in the 1930s became an ice rink known as the Empress Hall. So that explains the first part of the name and apparently the rest is in tribute to the Empire State Building. However the Empire State Building at 443 metres (including the antenna) is more than 3.75 times the height of the Empress State Building. Even today the UK does not have a building taller that the Empire State building – the Shard which is the tallest in the EU comes in at “only” 309.7 metres.
The Empress State Building is now occupied by Metropolitan Police Service and there is a revolving bar at the very top. A while back I was fortunate enough to go to a drinks reception up there, I got talking to a person who had put his briefcase down by the window. After a few minutes I realised that the briefcase was no longer beside us. We were standing on the revolve which was slowly turning but his briefcase was not. It was hard to avoid mention of his disappearing briefcase, but I somehow managed.
Keep on walking down Lillie Road until you reach the two very mini roundabouts. Here turn left into North End Road.
Stop 2: North End Road
The first thing to say about this part of North End Road is that on most weekdays, it is still a real street market. Pretty much all fruit and veg, with people actually queuing at the stalls. Not much in the way of cheap clothes stalls and certainly no fancy bakery products or obscure take away food. Borough Market it ain’t.
As we go down North End Road on the right at the corner of Coomer Place, there is a break in the shops and here stands a uncommercial looking mid 19th villa set back off the road with a rather jolly lion on the top. This was until 1992 the premises of an architectural salvage company called T Crowther & Son.
In 1992, they commissioned Christies to auction off their stock (almost 1500 lots in all). There was an interesting article in the Independent newspaper at the time. There is also a Facebook page with an 8 minute video which is worth a watch:
It seems that the premises were turned into a market (called Crowther Market) but this no longer operates. At some point, the building became a drugs and alcohol addiction centre for the NHS. But it still keeps a link to the past as the premises calls itself “Crowther Market” – a little reminder of the past.
Keep walking down North End Road and as the market ends you will see on your left the only street immediately hereabouts with the name “Walham”.
Stop 3: Walham Grove
Walham Grove dates from 1862 and is a delightful street a world away from the hustle and bustle of the market. I doubt somehow the people who live here shop much in the market
After this little detour return to North End Road. Cross over the side street which is Vanston Place. To your left is St John’s church dating from the 1820s and to your right is the former Fulham Public Baths and Wash Houses
Stop 4: Fulham Public Baths
These baths date from 1902 and just the front section remains, used a dance studio. Very jolly building it is too. Of course now houses come with bathrooms and most people have washing machines, it has lost its reason for being. But it is good that the building has found a new practical use.
Keep on walking and just past the junction with Dawes Road you will see on your right, a Waitrose supermarket. This is the site of the Regal cinema
Stop 5: Site of Regal (later ABC) cinema
This cinema was built in 1935. It closed in 1972 and staggered on with various uses until demolished in 1984 to make way for a Safeway supermarket. With the demise of Safeway, this shop was acquired by Waitrose. I guess you could say the replacement building has the echoes of a cinema building, but you can see from picture on the link, it looks nothing like what was actually here.
Now retrace your steps to Vanston Place, go down a little way and across the road you will find a brand new building on the left.
Stop 6: Site of Red Hall (later Gaumont) Cinema
Here is a new block of flats with some commercial space below as yet untenanted. This was for almost 100 years where the Red Hall Picture Palace stood.
Built in 1913, this was renamed the Gaumont, Walham Green in 1950. It finally closed as a cinema in 1962, becoming a bingo hall for the next forty five years. Amazingly this building was allowed to be demolished in 2011. There is a recent plaque as a reminder of the old building.
There are some great photos of the interior when it was a bingo hall plus a couple of exterior shots; one which looks like it is from the 1930s and a later one showing how the facade was hidden behind cladding.
Keep walking down Vanston Place and on your right is a modern office building
Stop 7: Site of Granville Theatre
It is hard to believe that on this relatively small triangular site there used to be a theatre. Not just any old theatre but one designed by none other than the master theatre builder, Frank Matcham.
By all accounts this theatre building was seriously weird. For a start it is on a very constricted site completed surrounded by streets. On the outside at the most pointed corner were two minarets along the top of the facade plus another minaret dome above the entrance. But the most unusual feature of the theatre was that the entire auditorium was covered in highly glazed faiance tiles rather than decorative plasterwork. It is said this is the only theatre known to have such a decorative treatment.
It was built in 1898 and was for most of its working life presented variety shows. It spent the 1950s and most of the 1960s being used for film and television. In the autumn of 1971, planning permission was granted to demolish the Granville Theatre, to be replaced by an office block. Despite protests to save the Granville Theatre, the fight was not successful. The loss of the Granville was a wake up call for other theatres in a similar position to be saved, by being given Listed building status. I do think it is sad that the Granville and Walham Green’s other two places of mass entertainment have not made it to today.
Loads more interesting stuff on the Granville on the wonderful Arthur Lloyd site: http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/FulhamTheatres.htm
Keep walking down Vanston Place and it joins Fulham Broadway. Ahead to your left is our next stop
Stop 8: Fulham Broadway station
There has been a station here since 1880. Today the entrance to the station is though a small modern shopping mall. But just before you get to that there is a rather handsome older station building dating from 1905 when the station was rebuilt to handle the crowds going to Chelsea Football Club.
Now this must be a source of confusion for visiting fans in that the only station with the name Fulham in it is nearest Chelsea Football Club and you have to go to Putney Bridge for Fulham Football Club, which in itself is a bit confusing because Putney Bridge station is not actually in Putney but in Fulham!
The old station building is currently disused but it gives its origins away at the right hand side where there is an arch with the word “Exit” above and you can look though this and see the station below.
Look across the road and you can see Fulham’s old town hall. It actually has two entrances one on Harwood Road and the other (pictured) on Fulham Road
Stop 9: Fulham Town hall
This was the home of the old Fulham Borough Council which in 1965 merged with Hammersmith to form today’s borough. The main section on Fulham Road dates from the late 1880s. The Harwood Road entrance is the access to a concert hall and dates from 1904/5. It has sumptuous interiors and has pictorial stained glass made by local firm Lowdes and Drury.
In May this year, Hammersmith and Fulham Council exchanged contracts with US retail and leisure group Dory Ventures for the sale of Fulham Town Hall. Dory is planning to convert the Grade II listed building into a shopping arcade to comprise a flagship store for children’s shop Maclaren as well as a number of boutique shops and a restaurant. The upper floors will be converted to provide 15-20 new homes.
Keep walking on this side of the street and soon you will reach the gates of the Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation.
Stop 10: Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation
Sir Oswald Stoll (1866 – 1942) was an Australian-born British theatre manager. In 1898 he joined forces with Edward Moss to form Moss Empires which ended up with a musical hall in virtually every major British town. Stoll also owned Cricklewood Film Studios, one of the leading British studios of the Silent era.
Stoll was a philanthropist who donated the land in 1916 here in Fulham for an organisation called the War Seal Foundation (renamed the Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation in the late 1930s). This was a charity for disabled soldiers returning from World War I and their families. The foundation continues to house disabled ex-servicemen and women to this day, but in addition also provides supported housing for veterans suffering from mental ill health, and those who, having left the Forces, have found themselves homeless.
Stoll’s foundation was clearly well connected when it was set up because in addition to 8 members of Royalty whose names are on the supporters list, the Governing Council has Sir Jesse Boot (of Boots fame) and H Gordon Selfridge as well as the then Prime Minister’s wife (just listed as Mrs H H Asquith).
Keep walking along Fulham Road and immediately after the Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation building, you come to one of the entrances to Chelsea Football Club
Stop 11: Chelsea Football Club
In 1904, Gus Mears, a football enthusiast and businessman, along with his brother, Joseph Mears, purchased the freehold of Stamford Bridge Athletics Ground with the intention of staging first-class football matches there. They failed to persuade the already established Fulham club to adopt the ground as their home. But in March 1905, a new club was set up in a local pub. They used the new ground but could not use the name Fulham so the club chose the name Chelsea as it was almost in Chelsea.
In 2003, Chelsea were bought by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, ushering in the club’s current phase of success.
Go in this gate and ahead you will see the vast West Stand
Immediately outside the West Stand is a statue of Peter Osgood, one of the club’s most famous players. In total, Osgood made 380 appearances for Chelsea, scoring 150 goals.
He was commonly called “Ossie” and also known as “The King of Stamford Bridge” due to his exceptional skills as a player and because of his personality. It is said that movie star Raquel Welch once wore a T-shirt which simply said “I scored with Osgood”. His ashes by the way are buried under one of the penalty spots (the Shed End of the pitch).
Go back out the gate you came in and turn left. Continue down Fulham Road, crossing over. Just before a second entrance to the football club take the turning on the right (Holmead Road). At the end is King’s Road, turn left and cross over. Just before the railway bridge on the right there is the Jam Tree pub and a turning which is little more than a path bearing the name, Rewell Street. Go down here.
Stop 12: Sandford Manor
According the architectural historian Pevsner in this street there is a building known as Sandford Manor House, one time residence of Nell Gwynne, mistress of King Charles II. Pevsner says “Despite it 19th Century roughcast and parapet, [it is] essentially a mid 17th century house, a rare survival in the inner suburbs.” After long neglect, it was restored and converted into office in the late 1980s.
Now I have not yet managed to locate this building. I thought it may be behind this black door which appears to be the only thing of note in the pathway which is called Rewell Street before it gives way to Gwyn Close. But it may not be in Rewell Street at all and it has been suggested to me that it is in the grounds of the nearby gasworks. So when I find out I will amend this post.
So here we are at the end of our SW6 walk. We have not managed to get to the Hurlingham club or to Fulham Palace but have focussed on the eastern side of SW6. We have heard about the lost world of Walham Green, not to mention the lost world of an architectural salvage company and a 17th century mansion which I have not quite located! But the place is still very much alive with a vibrant street market and a thriving Football club.
For onward travel it is probably easiest to retrace your steps to Fulham Broadway station, although there are a few bus routes serving King’s Road for onward travel.