Wormwood Scrubs

Wormwood Scrubs, Hammersmith & Fulham

‘The Scrubs’ is an open space with neighbouring institutional facilities, located to the north-east of East Acton

Her Majesty's Prison, Wormwood Scrubs - geograph-4430981-by-Dr-Neil-Clifton

First record­ed in the late 12th cen­tu­ry as Worme­holte, then Wormholt­wode, then Worme­wood, the name derived from the Old Eng­lish words wyrm and holt, prob­a­bly indi­cat­ing a thick­et or wood infest­ed by snakes (rather than ordi­nary worms).

The waste­land cre­at­ed by the felling of trees had poor soil that was suit­able only for graz­ing. Wormholt Scrubs (‘scrubs’ mean­ing an area of stunt­ed trees and brush­wood) for­mer­ly stretched north as far as the Har­row Road.

In 1801 the Padding­ton branch of the Grand Junc­tion (now Grand Union) Canal cut off the north­ern sec­tion, which by that time had been most­ly enclosed. From the late 1830s rail­way lines detached oth­er parts of the com­mon, which were lat­er built on except for an area to the east, known as the Lit­tle Scrubs.

After 1859 vol­un­teer forces con­duct­ed rifle shoot­ing exer­cis­es on the Scrubs and in 1879 the Worm­wood Scrubs Act for­mal­ly cre­at­ed a “met­ro­pol­i­tan exer­cis­ing ground” for the armed forces, but also made the space avail­able for “per­pet­u­al use by the inhab­i­tants of the metrop­o­lis for exer­cise and recre­ation” when not in mil­i­tary use.

Shown in the pho­to­graph above,* Worm­wood Scrubs prison was built using con­vict labour to the designs of penal reformer Sir Edmund du Cane. The prison replaced Mill­bank Pen­i­ten­tiary and opened in stages from 1874 onwards. A mod­el insti­tu­tion at the time of its cre­ation, it sub­se­quent­ly gained a rep­u­ta­tion for low stan­dards of san­i­ta­tion and poor prisoner–staff rela­tions, exac­er­bat­ed by prob­lems of over­crowd­ing.

Hammersmith Hospital
The main entrance to Ham­mer­smith Hos­pi­tal*

Ham­mer­smith Hos­pi­tal (as it is now called) was built next to the prison in 1905 and has since been joined on the site by Queen Char­lot­te’s and Chelsea Hos­pi­tal.

South of the West­way, Ham­mer­smith coun­cil laid out the Wormholt estate on gar­den city prin­ci­ples in the ear­ly 1920s.

Locat­ed at the cor­ner of Wood Lane and Du Cane Road, the Burling­ton Danes Acad­e­my has evolved out of two schools that came to Worm­wood Scrubs between the wars.

The West Lon­don sta­di­um opened in 1967 at the end of Artillery Lane. It was renamed in 1993 after the most famous mem­ber of host club Thames Val­ley Har­ri­ers, Lin­ford Christie.

Cov­er­ing 165 acres, Worm­wood Scrubs open space is the largest such ameni­ty in the bor­ough of Ham­mer­smith and Ful­ham. In addi­tion to the more con­ven­tion­al play areas and sports pitch­es, the leisure facil­i­ties include a mod­el air­craft run­way.

In October 1966 the British spy and Soviet double-agent George Blake escaped over the wall of Wormwood Scrubs prison and fled to Moscow. He had served just over five years of a 42-year sentence for passing on secrets to the Russians – the longest jail term ever imposed by a British court.

Postal district: W12
Further reading: Angela Levin, Wormwood Scrubs: The Inside Story, self-published, 2014
and Jocelyn Lukins et al, The Scrubs, Shepherd’s Bush Local History Society, 1998
Web page: Linford Christie outdoor sports centre
See also: White City
* The picture of Her Majesty’s Prison, Wormwood Scrubs, at the top of this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Dr Neil Clifton, and the picture of the main entrance to Hammersmith Hospital is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Marathon, both at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse of either image is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.