White City

White City, Hammersmith & Fulham

The north-western part of Shepherd’s Bush, dominated by municipally built housing in the west and modern commercial and academic buildings in the east

geograph-4802283-by-Oast-House-Archive - Pedestrianised area - Australia Road - White City

Until well into the 19th cen­tu­ry this was a des­o­late area of scrub­by farm­land and brick­fields bisect­ed by just one track: Wood Lane.

The West Lon­don Rail­way scythed through the east­ern side of the area in 1844. It has since evolved to become the Lon­don Overground’s West Lon­don line. The Ham­mer­smith and City Rail­way opened in 1864 – and the near­est sta­tion to open at the same time was Shep­herd’s Bush (sub­se­quent­ly relo­cat­ed and lat­er renamed Shepherd’s Bush Mar­ket), fol­lowed four years lat­er by Latimer Road.

At that time, the only sig­nif­i­cant struc­tures in this local­i­ty were scat­tered farm­hous­es and their out­build­ings. Wood­lane Farm was cen­tred on the pre­cise spot now occu­pied by Wood Lane sta­tion. To the west, Old Oak Farm and Wormholt Farm both stood close to what is now the junc­tion of Bloem­fontein and South Africa Roads. ‘Wormholt’ was the orig­i­nal name of the ter­rain that became Worm­wood Scrubs.

The White City – in fact, the Great White City – was a 200-acre com­plex built beside Wood Lane with 25 palaces and halls, most cov­ered in white stuc­co, a net­work of Venet­ian-style canals and a 150,000-capacity sta­di­um. The Jew­ish-Hun­gar­i­an émi­gré Imre Kiral­fy was the dri­ving force behind the project and appro­pri­at­ed its name from the White City at the Chica­go Columbian Expo­si­tion, which he had vis­it­ed in 1893.

Inau­gu­rat­ed in 1908, Lon­don’s White City host­ed the Fran­co-British Exhi­bi­tion (shown below) and the Olympic Games in its first year.

Hidden London: The Franco-British Exhibition, 1908

Two sta­tions were opened to serve the exhi­bi­tion site, one as the new west­ern ter­mi­nus of the Cen­tral Lon­don Rail­way and one on what had by then become the Ham­mer­smith branch of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Rail­way. Both sta­tions were at first called Wood Lane.

The Great White City’s last show, the Anglo-Amer­i­can Expo­si­tion, opened on 14 May 1914 and was closed pre­ma­ture­ly because of the out­break of the First World War.

In 1920 the exten­sion of the Cen­tral line (as it is now called) to Eal­ing Broad­way com­plet­ed the rail­ways’ dis­sec­tion of the local­i­ty.

To the west of the White City, Ham­mer­smith coun­cil built the Wormholt estate in the ear­ly to mid-1920s and to its south the Peabody Trust bought the land for the Clev­er­ly estate in 1926 and com­plet­ed the first 246 dwellings in 1929. The for­mer estate was laid out on gar­den city prin­ci­ples; the lat­ter con­sists of three-storey blocks designed in a style that Pevs­ner calls ‘Hamp­ton Court Wre­nais­sance’.

By the ear­ly 1930s the White City’s exhi­bi­tion halls had fall­en into dere­lic­tion but the sta­di­um was used by Queens Park Rangers foot­ball club for two sea­sons. Find­ing this unprof­itable, the club returned to its ear­li­er home in Lof­tus Road.

The Lon­don Coun­ty Coun­cil demol­ished the beau­ti­ful but crum­bling palaces and began to erect the 52-acre White City estate, which was com­plet­ed after the war. This was the LCC’s largest estate of the peri­od and a small part of it is shown in the pho­to­graph at the top of this arti­cle.*

The Cen­tral line’s Wood Lane sta­tion was replaced by the present White City sta­tion in 1947.

From the late 1950s much of the rest of the exhi­bi­tion site became home to BBC Tele­vi­sion, which opened Tele­vi­sion Cen­tre in 1960 and pro­gres­sive­ly expand­ed its pres­ence in the vicin­i­ty. The broad­cast­er built its cor­po­rate head­quar­ters on the site of the old sta­di­um in 1990.

Hidden London: Former Television Centre, White City, by Des Blenkinsopp

Since then the BBC has with­drawn from the major­i­ty of its premis­es here, pri­mar­i­ly as a cost-cut­ting mea­sure. The devel­op­er Stan­hope has con­vert­ed most of Tele­vi­sion Cen­tre into apart­ments and built new blocks of flats and offices around it, as seen in the pho­to above.

Across Wood Lane the West­field Lon­don ‘mega-mall’ opened in 2008 on a site for­mer­ly occu­pied by the White City rail­way depot. The present Wood Lane sta­tion opened at the same time, pri­mar­i­ly to serve the shop­ping cen­tre. A new John Lewis store will form part of an expand­ed West­field in 2018.

To the north of West­field a 25-acre site pre­vi­ous­ly filled with light indus­tri­al premis­es and ware­hous­es is under recon­struc­tion as Impe­r­i­al Col­lege’s White City cam­pus, “co-locat­ing world class researchers, busi­ness­es and high­er edu­ca­tion part­ners.”

Stan­hope has enlarged its pres­ence in the local­i­ty by pur­chas­ing the for­mer BBC Media Vil­lage site north of Tele­vi­sion Cen­tre, which it is rede­vel­op­ing as a new busi­ness dis­trict and “cre­ative net­work hub” called White City Place.

The lat­est piece in the regen­er­a­tion jig­saw is a plan for a £65 mil­lion ‘Edu­ca­tion City’, with a new school, nurs­ery, adult edu­ca­tion­al cen­tre and more than 130 flats, to be built on Aus­tralia Road by Ham­mer­smith and Ful­ham coun­cil and the edu­ca­tion­al char­i­ty ARK by 2023.

White City’s most famous resident was The Who’s guitarist Pete Townshend. His 1985 solo album was entitled White City: A Novel. He calls White City ‘a joke of a name’ in the track ‘White City Fighting’.

Tim Lott’s novel White City Blue explores a number of male friendships forged in W12.

Postal district: W12
Population: 12,907 (Wormholt and White City ward, mid-2014 estimate)
Station: Central line (zone 2) – and Wood Lane station on the Circle and Hammersmith & City lines (also zone 2)
* The picture of the pedestrianised area, Australia Road, at the top of this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Oast House Archive, and the picture of Television Centre is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Des Blenkinsopp, both at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.