diamond geezer

 Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Counters Creek
7) Earl's Court

In the early 19th century the site of the future Earl's Court Exhibition Centre was an unremarkable patch of market gardens on the banks of Counter's Creek. A trio of railway lines sealed its fate. One was the West London Railway, built along the line of the river. The other two belonged to the Metropolitan and District Railways, which bifurcated to the west of Earl's Court station hemming in a triangle of unwanted wasteland.

The triangle's potential was recognised by showman John Robinson Whitley who hired the site in 1887 to host an American-themed exhibition. His star turn was the Buffalo Bill Roughriders and Redskin Show, a Wild West spectacle which drew large crowds including Queen Victoria and William Gladstone. Further exhibitions followed and an extended entertainment park was created, but interest slowly waned and all were shut down during WW1 to make way for a Belgian refugee camp.

The present triangular exhibition hall dates back to 1937 [photo] [photo]. It was one of the largest reinforced concrete structures of its day and conceals an Olympic-sized swimming pool at its heart. A second major hall, the barrel-roofed Earl's Court Two, was constructed alongside in 1991. It stands directly above West London Railway tracks and boasts Europe's largest unsupported roof span. [photo]

8) Lillie Bridge

Bridges were plentiful in the lower reaches of Counter's Creek. Lillie Bridge was built to carry the Old Brompton Road across the stream [photo], and still gives its name to the railway depot west of Earl's Court station.

Peer over the edge of platform 4 at West Brompton station and you might still see what looks like Counter's Creek disappearing into a big pipe alongside the railway. It's not the genuine article alas, merely a water feature in a council-run wildlife garden, although it does serve as drainage almost precisely where the old river ran. [photo]

A few yards up the slope is the site of Lillie Bridge Athletic Ground whose sporting star shone briefly but brightly in the late 19th century. The arena's greatest claim to fame, long forgotten except by pub quiz afficionados, is that Lillie Bridge hosted the second ever FA Cup Final. Battersea-based Wanderers retained the trophy here in 1873 by defeating challengers Oxford University two-nil.

On the opposite side of the station, with the railway shielded behind a high brick wall, lie the formal avenues of Brompton Cemetery [photo]. This outstanding Victorian burial ground was laid out on water meadows in the 1830s, shortly after Kensal Green upstream, and is filled with characterful monuments surrounding a central colonnade. [photo] [photo]

9) Stamford Bridge

Chelsea's top flight football ground derives its name from a bridge over one of London's lost rivers. [photo]

This lowly span, now barely noticeable as a mild hump in the Fulham Road over a railway line, has had many names over the years [photo]. In the 15th century it was Samfordesbrigge, meaning the bridge at the sandy ford. 18th century locals knew it briefly as Little Chelsea Bridge, while an 1827 map gives the name as Sandford's Bridge. Further evolution (maybe confusion with Stanley Bridge to the south) nudged Sandford to Stanford, after which there was only one slipped consonant to go.

By the time Chelsea Football Club was established on an adjacent athletics ground in 1905, the locality was most definitely Stamford Bridge. Early supporters cheered from the single East Stand [photo], or else perched themselves atop terraces constructed from earth excavated during construction of the Piccadilly line.

Numerous upgrades have boosted the ground's capacity since, but no amount of Russian roubles can shift the stadium into Chelsea proper. The borough boundary persists along the line of Counter's Creek, ironically leaving Chelsea F.C stranded a few yards into neighbouring Hammersmith and Fulham. [photo]

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