West London has always had a special meaning for me – mainly due to the Randell family, my ancestors, having been traceable residents in Hammersmith for almost 200 years. They lived in the diocese of St Paul’s Church, which administered to and registered many of my family’s births marriages and deaths. This was in the days before Hammersmith’s heritage had started to be cut up, torn down, built on and left behind for modernity. St Paul’s now proudly shows off its classy, Victorian architecture, to the motorists on the Hammersmith flyover.
The Randell’s mostly lived in the close knit communities around the church; from King street, Queen Street – now Queen Caroline Street, Wellington Road, Waterloo Street and Chapel street, to Fulham Palace Road, Chancellor Road and Alma Terrace. Now, Wellington Road, Waterloo Street, Chapel Street, and Alma Terrace no longer exist.
In the 1930’s, when the Gaumont Palace cinema was built, it rudely flattened the historic Carnforth Lodge with its beautiful garden, the Six Bells Pub and a small terrace of early victorian houses in which my Great Great Grandparents had lived in the 1860’s and 70’s. St Vincent House Convent and Temple lodge, once lived in by the artist Frank Brangwyn, escaped the bulldozer and were allowed to survive. The 2nd world war made more holes in Hammersmith’s layout, including St Vincent House Convent and the northern end of the Fulham Palace Road, where my Great Grandmother, Jessie Randell, had lived up until 1883.
As a child, visiting my Grandma Jane in Hammersmith from South East London was a days excursion. I saw much building, and demolition, taking place and witnessed the building of the flyover during the late 1950’s until it opened in 1961. By then, the suburb of Hammersmith had firmly become part of London and was striving to provide more housing and employment for its fast growing number of residents. It also had to find a better transport network to prevent further bottlenecks as the ever-increasing traffic tried to pass along the same roads that the stage coaches had used on their way West in the 1800’s.
So this is how the Hammersmith flyover came about. In its time, it was seen as a remarkable feat of advanced engineering, linking the A4 to the M4. It had under-deck heating, solitary expansion joint and precast, segmental and pre-stressed concrete. It was one of the first of its type in the world. Now, a mere fifty three years later, it is reviled as a monster which never had it’s heating turned on after the first year as neither of the relevant councils would foot the £4,000 heating bill. Now the salt and grit that is used to stop the surface freezing in winter is the very cause of its demise as it’s been corroding the cables and making the flyover unsafe. It is now costing millions of pounds to repair.
They say you can never look back but, thanks to some excellent historians, enthusiasts, early cameras and ancestry, the past hasn’t all been forgotten. There is a great movement nowadays towards bringing more green space and trees back into our lives. Green fields, gardens and common land, judging by old ordnance survey maps, is something which my ancestors in Hammersmith had plenty of. An excellent project has been under way promoting the Hammersmith Flyunder. With the backing of residents and the London Mayor, the flyover is in line, sometime in the future, to be removed and a flyunder put in its place. This will free up a huge amount of land for new homes offices and that all important green space. St. Paul’s Church will breath again, as will the residents in pleasant walkways with trees, cycle paths and the promise of a Hammersmith to be proud of. I’m sure my ancestor’s would approve!
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!
I sometimes sit outside the Blue Anchor pub, convivially situated by the River Thames, on the Lower Mall, in Hammersmith. Pint in hand, I watch the Thames ebb gently under Hammersmith Bridge on its way to the clamour of Central London. As I sink my pint, and consider getting another, I begin to wonder what it would have been like when the “Blew Anchor” was first licensed on June 9th 1722 and John Savery was the landlord.
George 1 was on the throne – the monarchy was beginning to loose some of its absolute power and Robert Walpole was Prime Minister. Early Georgian Fashion was, for the wealthy, based on romantic fantasy, using beautifully embroidered silks. Long frock coats, wigs and large, ornately decorated hats were worn by men. Women wore tight, corseted bodices, full skirts with a draped mantua. Hair was worn close to their heads with a pretty lace cap. The poorer working classes would have been wearing a much plainer and probably second hand version.
The Blue Anchor is situated within the original boundary of the Hamlet of “Hamersmyth”, which spread out along the river, right and left from the main street, now known as Queen Caroline Street, and up to the Broadway. There would have been a village atmosphere with small houses and worker’s cottages with a range of shops providing essential goods.
I try to imagine myself there, a resident of Hammersmith, sitting outside the Blue Anchor in 1722. John Savory’s wife has just brought me a tankard of ale. As I look to my right I see a few impressive, brick built, mansions, rounding the river’s bend towards the Chiswick Eyot; Rivercourt House, Hyde Lodge and Upper Mall House in particular. But none of these houses belongs to me and my family or I’d not be seated here enjoying my ale. I would more likely be employed in one of the mansions as a servant, like my doomed relative, Mary Goodfellow, working insane hours, scrubbing floors, polishing silver, washing clothes and emptying smelly night pots.
Or perhaps I’m a labourer, quenching my thirst after a long and thankless day toiling in the nearby market gardens. The fields stretch out like jewelled patchwork, as far as the eye can see. From behind the Blue Anchor up to Paddingwick Green, beyond the London to Windsor coaching route and around into Fulham. The once boggy and wooded land that surrounded Hammersmith has long been tamed and silt from the flooding river has, over the centuries, made the land around Hammersmith extremely fertile. There are a scattering of farmsteads, and adjacent rows of poorly-built worker’s cottages – one of which I’ll return home to later.
I can imagine oak trees and chimney pots, silhouetted against a pink evening sky. There’s a man with his son and two horse-drawn carts loaded with produce, setting out on their trek to the early morning markets of London City. I mustn’t leave the Blue Anchor too late – once it gets dark I’ll never be able to find my way home in the pitch black of a moonless night; and if a moon did light the way I might fall pray to thieves or perhaps be propositioned by a gentleman who thinks his money will buy him anything he wants.
I look behind me and the bell tower of St Paul’s Church rises up in front of Butterwick House. To my left, the river’s span is interrupted by a flotilla of barges, with lightermen taking their tarpaulin covered cargoes to the wharfs to be unloaded. A waterman in his rowing boat comes into view, carrying two well-dressed gentlemen to a meeting down river. I suddenly realise that something is missing – there’s no bridge!
Hammersmith Bridge didn’t exist in 1722 and I am struck with a slight panic. I will have to rely on the Fulham ferry to get me and the Master’s coach and horses across the Thames when he wants to visit his family in Surrey. The Ferry leaves from the draw dock by the Swan Inn and arrives in Putney at a slope at the end of Brewhouse Lane. There have been reports that the crossing can be quite perilous in bad weather and the country roads from here to Fulham are full of stones and hidden ditches.
There is only one answer to this dilemma; we shall have to wait until 1729 when a wooden bridge will be in place at Fulham. The coach and horses can go by ferry and the Master and us servants can walk safely across the bridge.
As I sit quietly, draining my second pint and very much back in 2014, I become mesmerised by the sound of the River Thames as it laps up on the embankment. I remember my ancestors, and look over towards Castlenau, in Barnes. In 1824, Major Charles Boileau built Castelnau Villas, designed by the architect William Laxton. He then went on to build three rows of cottages called Castelnau Row, Castelnau Place and Gothic Cottages.
If I could really transport myself in time I would go back to 1841, when my 4 times great grandfather, Thomas Randell, and his wife, Hannah, lived just five minutes from the Blue Anchor, in Waterloo Street. I would join them for a jug of ale and a pie then we’d go for a stroll over the first Hammersmith Bridge.
Although I’d spent the early part of my life living in South East London, I had been very familiar with Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush due to our monthly visits to my Grandma in Westville Road. I enjoyed visiting her – she was different – there was a twinkle in her eye and I romanticised that she’d “seen life”.
My Mother had always been unwilling to talk about her family but many years later, as she approached her nineties, she began to reveal to me one or two facts about her ancestors who had lived in Hammersmith – in particular, the Randells’, but I had to be quite cunning to get enough information before a story began to emerge.
I went to West London and looked at where my relatives had all lived. I walked the streets where they’d walked; Hammersmith, Fulham, Mortlake and Wandsworth. Unfortunately, bombing and the building of the Hammersmith flyover had destroyed some of those places. I studied old maps and read as much as I could about the history of the area and the lives of people at that time. I began to feel like I was getting to know my relatives – I even had a sense of how they dressed and how they might have looked.
This started an obsessive on-line search with www.Ancestry.co.uk which, in time, led me to write a novel based on the true facts of my findings. I couldn’t have invented a better love story or twist of fate that had unravelled itself on my computer screen, bringing tears to my eyes and evoking intrigue and even laughter.
But it didn’t stop there – I had become hooked on the history of our Capital City – its sights and sounds; how it has changed over the centuries and how the people in it have changed. In my blogs I would like to share some of the fascinating things I have discovered or read about, and I would love to have feed-back from other enthusiasts.
I have recently moved my sights to Kensington, Paddington, Chelsea and Holland Park – where my grandmother was born and brought up; her first job as a kitchen maid and her association with the undertaking business. There is much to explore: school days, friends, discipline, manners, what they ate, where they went to church – it’s endless and I can’t wait.