Hammersmith

Hammersmith, Hammersmith & Fulham

A strategically significant commercial and cultural centre located on the north bank of the Thames one-and-a-half miles west of Kensington

Hammersmith riverside, seen on a sunny summer afternoon

Pre­his­toric pot­tery, flints and a leaf-shaped arrow­head have been found on the embank­ment and there is also evi­dence of Roman habi­ta­tion. Ham­mer­smith devel­oped as a Sax­on fish­ing vil­lage and its name (which prob­a­bly refers to the pres­ence of a ham­mer smithy or forge) was first record­ed in 1294.

A fore­shore of grav­el, rather than the more com­mon marsh, made Ham­mer­smith a healthy retreat for jad­ed Lon­don­ers from the Mid­dle Ages onwards and a chapel of ease, lat­er St Paul’s church, was built in 1631. Fur­ther west, boat builders, lead mills and malt­hous­es clus­tered around the out­let of Stam­ford Creek into the Thames.

Cather­ine of Bra­gan­za, queen con­sort of Charles II, came to live on Upper Mall in 1687 after she was wid­owed, and sev­er­al fine vil­las were lat­er built by the riv­er here. A rib­bon of hous­es flanked the road to Lon­don by the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry and Ham­mer­smith Bridge opened in 1827, stim­u­lat­ing devel­op­ment on both sides of the riv­er. Ham­mer­smith gained parochial inde­pen­dence from Ful­ham in 1834.

Away from the river­side, a pover­ty-strick­en set­tle­ment evolved at Brook Green dur­ing the mid-19th cen­tu­ry, since when its rep­u­ta­tion has risen con­sid­er­ably. The Ham­mer­smith and City Rail­way arrived in 1864. In the late 19th cen­tu­ry King Street became the district’s main shop­ping cen­tre and the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Board of Works opened Raven­scourt Park to the pub­lic.

The Ark
The Ark

Much of Hammersmith’s archi­tec­tur­al her­itage was lost in the mid­dle decades of the 20th cen­tu­ry as the dis­trict became increas­ing­ly urbanised but some impor­tant exam­ples have sur­vived, espe­cial­ly by the river­side. Sub­se­quent gen­tri­fi­ca­tion has reha­bil­i­tat­ed Vic­to­ri­an streets such as those in Brack­en­bury Vil­lage.

Ham­mer­smith fly­over – dubbed ‘the gate­way to west Lon­don’ – was built in 1961 and is now over­looked by the Ark, a cop­per and glass con­coc­tion that is among sev­er­al office blocks in the vicin­i­ty of Ham­mer­smith Broad­way. This is one of London’s busiest traf­fic junc­tions, with a bus and tube inter­change and shop­ping mall at its cen­tre.

Char­ing Cross hos­pi­tal moved to its present home on the Ful­ham Palace Road in 1973. Mag­gie’s can­cer cen­tre, the first of its kind in Eng­land, opened at the hos­pi­tal in 2008.

Ham­mer­smith has three note­wor­thy arts and enter­tain­ment venues: the Lyric, a 19th-cen­tu­ry audi­to­ri­um and a stu­dio the­atre encased in con­crete; the Apol­lo, a for­mer cin­e­ma that now hosts major rock gigs and stand-up com­e­dy shows; and the River­side Stu­dios, a cin­e­ma and per­form­ing arts venue due to be rein­car­nat­ed in 2017. Leg­endary ball­room the Ham­mer­smith Palais closed in 2007 and was demol­ished in 2012.

The river­bank west of Ham­mer­smith Bridge is lined with long-estab­lished inns. The Rut­land and Blue Anchor are on Low­er Mall, which Niko­laus Pevs­ner com­mends as “Hammersmith’s best street” and is shown in the pho­to­graph at the top of the page. On Upper Mall, James Thom­son wrote the words to ‘Rule Bri­tan­nia’ in an upstairs room at The Dove. One of its bars is reput­ed to be Britain’s small­est, with less than 33 square feet of floor space. Beyond the Dove you’ll come to the Old Ship and then the Black Lion before you stum­ble into Chiswick.

JMW Turner lived on Upper Mall from 1808 to 1814. On the same street, Francis Ronalds invented the electric telegraph in 1816, in the garden of a house in which designer-craftsman William Morris lived from the age of 45 until his death in 1896. Morris called the house Kelmscott after his Oxfordshire home and gave the same name to a publishing firm that he founded. Gustav Holst conducted the Hammersmith socialist choir at Kelmscott and composed an orchestral prelude and scherzo entitled Hammersmith.

The BBC2 sitcom Bottom (1991–5, created by and starring Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall) was set in a squalid flat in the fictional Mafeking Parade (or Terrace), Hammersmith. Following Mayall’s untimely death in 2014, a memorial bench was installed at the junction of Queen Caroline Street and Hammersmith Bridge Road.

Postcode area: Postal district: W6
Population: 11,923 (Hammersmith Broadway ward, 2011 census)
Stations: District and Piccadilly lines, and separate Hammersmith & City line terminus (zone 2)
Further reading: Barbara Denny, Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush Past, Historical Publications, 1995
Website: Hammersmith Today