When the railway began to forge its way across the length and width of England, during the early parts of the 19th century, it was received with every emotion and expletive. But there was no way to stop it; in the name of progress the railway cut its way from up-and-coming industrial towns, such as Manchester and Birmingham, linking them and subsidiary towns to London. On its relentless journey it swallowed up farms, small villages, miles of countryside, and anything else that got in its way. Although, fortunately for us, to save the important history of our Capital, the railway companies were not allowed to demolish property across the West End and City of London, so the various train lines all culminated around the impoverished fringes.
It was in these fringes where, more often than not, the poor and working-class Londoners lived. Making way for the tracks and stations meant that often whole streets, if they had no importance, were ripped up and the needy residents spat out into other neighbouring and often overcrowded slums. As usual, the poor suffered as the rich got richer. Investors could make a fortune if they were brave enough and equally, for a hard-working man, there was at least the chance of regular employment
The train proved to have many benefits: deliveries of food and other essentials were faster and cheaper. This brought prices down – coal and flour for example. Journey time for travellers was reduced considerably, lowering costs and tedium, and a commuter workforce was able to travel by rail from outlying, sleepy-villages to better paid jobs in London. The building of homes around the still rural outskirts suddenly escalated; the villages became towns and, before long, were stretching out their impatient fingers towards the metropolis.
By the 1850’s the placement of the London train stations started to cause a problem. As the number of commuter’s grew, the London station exits began to heave with people needing to get across or around the West End and City to reach their daily destinations. The commuter’s were transported comfortably by the increasing number of horse-drawn vehicles, and the choice was good; an agile two-seater Hansom Cab for those in a hurry, a one horse Brougham for two, and a larger four-seater version called The Clarence with two horses and room for four passengers with luggage. This was commonly known as a “growler” due to the noise it made going over the cobbled streets.
For a cheaper ride there was the horse drawn Omnibus with an open air top deck and stairs at the back and, for group travel, a Charabanc, an early relation to the modern coach. Some travellers chose to go it alone on horseback but many had to walk. Adding to the melee were carts and wagons used for transporting goods.
By the late 1850’s the roads in the City and West End of London were badly congested; especially during the early morning hours and in the evening. It was the birth of the “rush hour”. Even the agile hansom cabs were having a problem – the roads had become dangerous, there were no traffic lights or rights of way, and pedestrians took their lives in their hands when they tried to cross the roads, dodging between the rolling wheels and horses hooves. Street lighting was poor and, during Autumn and Winter, London was prone to dense fog – “pea souper’s” – something would have to be done!
In January, 1863, the Metropolitan Underground Railway was opened, linking several of the London stations, and was the beginning of the “Tube” as we fondly call it now.
Hammersmith was first known as Hamersmyth, perhaps due to the words ‘ham’ meaning village and ‘hythe’ meaning by the harbour; but it could have been more literally derived from hammer and smithy, relating to a place where metal work was done. Artefacts have been found in the area from Neolithic and Roman settlers. My favourite is the literal version.
Hammersmith began it’s life gently as a small hamlet, a “side” to the larger town of Fulham. Situated on the northern edge of the meandering River Thames, Hammersmith was once a marshy place, inclined to flooding, but where reed beds provided a living of basket making to its residents. Fishing, rearing pigs and keeping cows provided the early residents with food. The little hamlet grew blissfully slowly for a couple of centuries, but with fertile soil the residents of Hammersmith were able to successfully cultivate fruit and vegetables and went on to sell them in the City of London to the east, which was fast expanding.
By the 1600’s, Hammersmith, with its idyllic and romantic rural views along a wide bend of the river and beyond to the hills south of the Thames, had become a popular place for the aristocracy and wealthy persons of quality to build their country retreats and palaces.
In 1624, the Hammersmith residents, with help from the Earl of Mulgrave and Sir Nicholas Crispe a brick maker and slave trader, petitioned the Bishop of London for a Chapel of Ease to be built. The arduous walk from Hammersmith to All Saints Church in Fulham, sometimes impassable in bad weather, had become too much to tolerate. With residents money, and their promise to pay for the upkeep, St Paul’s Church was built in Queen Street, now Queen Caroline Street, and consecrated in 1631.
Market gardening was now becoming firmly established: maps show just how many market gardens surrounded the early network of streets, lanes and roads – some recognisable to this day. Coaching Inns were springing up in abundance along the main routes for changing tired horses, making coach repairs and providing travellers with food and board.
A main link going from the Broadway down to the river and various wharfs, brought and sent goods by barge up, down and south of the river. The streets were already dotted with houses and employment was plentiful.
With its good links, yet still with a very rural and charming aspect, Hammersmith flourished. Despite all this, Hammersmith didn’t become an independent parish until 1834.
At some time during the mid 1700’s my Ancestor, Thomas Randell, moved to Hammersmith, and his first son, also Thomas, was Christened in St Paul’s Church in 1781. Young Thomas, my 4 times great grandfather, became a timber dealer. He lived in Waterloo Road and, according to Booths Poverty Maps, had a fairly middle class living. Waterloo Road no longer exists but it was near the Thames and not far from a timber warehouse by St Peter’s Wharf. He had 8 children – most of whom were christened and Married at St Paul’s.
This began an over 200 year love affair between Hammersmith and its Church and the fast increasing number of Randell’s, their children, spouses, grandchildren and beyond. My daughter was born in Queen Charlotte’s Hospital, near to where my Grandmother lived until her death in 1975.
St. Paul’s records are heavy with my relatives names and its walls have echoed the sounds of their voices. During many wonderful concerts of the Hammersmith and Fulham Choir, for several years up until 2010, my daughter’s voice mingled happily with the ghosts of her relatives.
I hope they were listening!