diamond geezer

 Monday, October 03, 2011

Random borough (31): Hammersmith & Fulham (part 2)

Somewhere historic: Fulham Palace
You wait ten years to visit a place, and then when you finally do turn up there's a wedding on. Or maybe that's just me. I've been avoiding Fulham Palace ever since I realised H&F would emerge from my jamjar one day, but perhaps I should have bitten the bullet and visited earlier. No offence to the bride and groom, they picked the best October day in living memory to get wed, and a gorgeous location to boot. But the fine-tuning of their reception meant much of the building was closed, no entry, and the weather meant the exterior was crawling with naked flesh. I can't imagine what the previous tenants would have made of it all.

Fulham Palace has been the property of the Bishop of London since the early 8th century. For most of that period it was his summer home - somewhere safe to retreat away from the sticky heart of town, but in Tudor times it became his main residence. The site was very close to the Thames but well protected from flooding, being surrounded by one of the largest domestic moats in the country. Still takes half an hour to walk round, according to the official guide, but the medieval ditch has long since been drained and filled in. Oh, and the bishop doesn't live here any more. In 1973 the new incumbent decided the building was too old and too big, so made the decision to move somewhere smaller and cheaper close to St Paul's Cathedral. That left Fulham Palace in the hands of the local council, and they've pretty much looked after it ever since.

The building's an amazing hotchpotch of architectural styles. One quadrangle is redbrick Tudor, which is the area the wedding party hogged on Saturday. It doesn't look over-stunning from outside, but the fountain court within is rather lovelier (I assume, I only squinted through a door, but it looked it) [photo]. The second quadrangle is Georgian, and the wedding party nabbed that too. It's much less amazing - it was used by the servants for all those menial tasks servants needed to do (plus it scrubs up well with paper decorations and a few wine waiters). And then there's a Victorian chapel tacked onto the side, because they were never precious about period compatibility, these bishops. Personally I preferred the gatehouse. It's only small but boasts proper barley sugar chimneys, plus it's much to small to be hijacked for matrimonial purposes. [photo]

Round the back there's a cafe, museum and shop, in that order. The rear lawn was packed on Saturday with sprawled-out sun-worshipping locals [photo], and the only facility they wanted was food and drink. I doubt that the £4 tomato and basil soup was a big seller, but they probably had more luck shifting limeade and organic baby foods to the sweaty masses. Very few people passed the counter to reach the museum, where a patient volunteer waited to nod visitors in the direction of the displays. There aren't many, but there are a few cases of ecclesiastical ephemera, lots of information boards and a scale model, which the volunteer enthusiastically explained. Only I ventured as far as the shop. It's the Palace's old library, so there are further exhibits here, plus a rather nice selection of books and historically themed "stuff". I suspect the bloke behind the counter was disappointed when I didn't buy anything (nearly, actually), before attempting to negotiate my way back past the drinks queue and onto the lawn.

At least there was the Walled Garden to enjoy. It lives up to its name, with a high brick wall around an acre of land, and only three gated gaps to gain entry. Except they were all sealed off while the garden inside is renovated, so I never saw the ancient vinery, nor the famous wisteria, nor the knot garden, nor very much really. Hundreds of other visitors didn't care, they were only here for the rare opportunity to tan on one of Fulham's few greenspaces (plus the reappearance of the summer-only outdoor BBQ). I shall have to come back, after Bishop's Park is fully restored and on a day when nobody's getting wed. But definitely in less than ten years this time.
by tube: Putney Bridge   by bus: 74, 220, 430

Somewhere sporty: Stamford Loftus Cottage
It's ridiculous really. Many London boroughs lack any sporting venue of importance, whereas Hammersmith and Fulham has them in spades. There's the site of the 1908 Olympics, remember, which ought to be enough all by itself. There's Queen's Club, which serves up a tennis tournament immediately before Wimbledon each year, fenced off in its own exclusive enclave south of Barons Court. There's the Hurlingham Club where London plays polo, assuming London is well-to-do and posh enough. And then there are three, count them three, Premier League football clubs. An astonishing 15% of the entire league, and 60% of London's contribution, are all from this long thin borough. Alas only two were playing here this weekend, both in a hotly-contested derby, except that was on Sunday so all I saw was three very empty stadia.

Stamford Bridge (left): You'd expect Chelsea's home ground to be in Kensington and Chelsea, but no. It was built on what used to be the western banks of a lost river, hence it's a few yards into Hammersmith and Fulham. Even the name, Stamford Bridge, refers to the former passing of Counter's Creek. Come on, I've told you all this before, I shouldn't need to repeat it. It's an ugly ground from the outside, as are so many other modern inward-facing stadia, dotted around the edge with cafes, shops, bars, clubs and even a hotel. On Saturday the security guards didn't have many visitors to keep an eye on, just a few faithful fans wandering in to view the museum or buy a replica shirt. Slipping in round the back I spotted a blonde woman in a ridiculous feathery purple hat, accompanied by various well-to-do besuited males (more likely The Board than the players). On Sunday the Blues travelled to Bolton and thrashed them five one, and no doubt a few of you cheered.
Loftus Road (bottom right): The home ground of Queen's Park Rangers is a much less showy affair, tucked away in the middle of an estate on the old White City site. It's not big, with a maximum capacity less than 20,000, indeed there's not much room for expansion if the club ever takes root in the big league. From the road it looks like a grey office with a blue warehouse attached, the former home to the almost-tasteful Players' Entrance, the latter incorporating the club superstore. On Saturday, all terribly, ghostly quiet. On Sunday the Hoops travelled to neighbouring Fulham, and they'd probably prefer I don't repeat the score here.
Craven Cottage (top right): Fulham's ground hugs the Thames near Putney Bridge. The main stand on the landward side is more than a century old, and listed, which makes a mighty pleasant contrast to Chelsea and QPR's more mundane architecture. It's named after star player Johnny Haynes, who also has his own statue out front. I was most disappointed not to catch a glimpse of the more famous statue unveiled earlier in the year, that to Michael Jackson, which club chairman Mohamed Al Fayed seems to think is inspirationally fantastic, and which most sane people think is awful. It's outside the stadium, but it must be somewhere behind the gated perimeter wall, so on Saturday I couldn't pass artistic judgement myself. On Sunday the Whites entertained QPR at home and thrashed them six nil. Nothing craven about that performance.
by tube: Fulham Broadway / White City / Putney Bridge

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