diamond geezer

 Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Random borough (31): Hammersmith & Fulham (part 3)

Somewhere random: A walk along the Thames
For a glimpse of lower Hammersmith and Fulham I thought I'd walk along the entire southern border of the borough, marked by the north bank of the Thames. That's all the way from just past Chelsea to almost Chiswick, via the two neighbourhoods the borough is named after. It's less than three miles direct, but the meandering river (and a few obstructive landowners) meant I had to walk more than five. It's not the most exciting stretch of the Thames, to be honest, but it has its moments.
[six photos]

The eastern boundary of Hammersmith and Fulham is the lost river of Counter's Creek. The last few hundred yards are still visible as a tidal inlet, running between the old Lots Road power station and the luxury apartments of Chelsea Village [photo]. The Village is a concentrated enclave of wealthy souls packed into wharfside stacks, only a few of whom are fortunate enough to have a river view. The new Imperial Wharf development nextdoor isn't quite so exclusive, and the artificially turfed garden by the river is open to all in case an October heatwave should break out [photo]. But prospective homeowners should watch out for the racket caused by helicopters landing at Battersea across the water. And lovers of fine architecture should probably choose to live somewhere else. I scanned the entire waterfront here attempting to spot a building more than 30 years old and, bar a couple of church spires across the river, I failed. This is the Thames as real estate, devoid of soul.

The riverside continues uneventfully as far as Sainsbury's, then heads inland to avoid one remaining patch of wharfy warehouseness. Past Wandsworth Bridge and a tucked in Curry's, then a detour round a goods yard, and see what I mean about this not being the most exciting stretch of the Thames? Inland there are lovely terraced streets, but the river's edge was industrial land until relatively recently so never had the golden Edwardian touch. And then high society intrudes. The Hurlingham Club own a massive 42 acres beside the river, carefully walled off to prevent the hoi polloi from entering. Inside there's polo, croquet and tennis, plus a genuinely top class collection of facilities you won't find in the adjacent council park. For those of us without a membership card it's a long slog round the edge, eventually locating the main entrance where 4×4s and sportscars wait to be waved in by security.

Putney Bridge sees a brief return to busy-ness, before the path dips through a subway to emerge in Bishop's Park [photo]. This is where spectators watch the start of the Boat Race, and also where Patrick Troughton's vicar walks in The Omen before being impaled by the lightning conductor toppling from the top of his nearby church. All Saints' is also the only church where I've ever been a page boy, several years before the impaling, although I'm glad camcorders hadn't been invented at the time because I fear I was a rather precocious three year-old. Next up, Fulham Palace (been there, blogged that). Next up, Craven Cottage (ditto). And then a low-rise residential promenade, good for strolling, facing out towards the much greener London Wetland Centre and the Harrods Furniture repository. Halfway up is the ever-bustling Crabtree Tavern, where the public school alumnus count is high, then the Riverside Studios, which are famously arty. But the most interesting bit's past Hammersmith Bridge, where old pubs intermix with gardens and elegant townhouses. One in particular...
Somewhere pretty: Kelmscott House [photo]
William Morris, the esteemed designer, was born in Random Borough 21, bought his first house in Random Borough 29, and opened a wallpaper press in Random Borough 1. So it's only right that I've finally ended up at his last home, in Random Borough 31. William moved here in 1878 from another Thameside property, far upstream in Gloucestershire, downsizing from Kelmscott Manor to Kelmscott House. This was already a house with an impressive history - the world's first electric telegraph had been built in the garden sixty years earlier. Morris added tapestry to his many talents while he was here, and weaving, and dabbled in social democratic politics, until 1896 when he dabbled no more. His house is now in public ownership, apart from the basement and the former coachhouse which have become a (sort of) museum. They're owned by the William Morris Society, who keep a collection of artefacts (and run their offices) from within. Access is on Thursday and Saturday afternoons only, so I timed my visit carefully and slipped in. I'd just missed a lecture on Sanderson, the design company who bought up Morris's business, so there were plenty of serious WM devotees still lingering around, chatting in the lower library or washing up in the rear kitchen. There wasn't much to see, but I think I now finally understand some of the huge complexity of triple-application wood-carved stamp-template production. And William's wallpapers are gorgeous, as I fear I've told you several times by now.
by tube: Ravenscourt Park   by bus: 27, 190, 267, 391, H91
A last half mile of Hammersmith (and Fulham) finished off my Thames-side walk. The highlight was a flotilla of blue-sailed yachts riding the rising tide at the London Corinthian Sailing Club [photo], watched by a sun-baked crowd downing pints sitting on the river wall. The lowlight was succumbing to the lure of an ice cream van on Upper Mall, only to be told that my freshly-dripping 99 cost £2.50. And the missed opportunity was 7 Hammersmith Terrace, with one of the last preserved Arts and Crafts interiors in the country, which closed for the winter season last week and won't reopen until April. Forgive me if I return some day and wax lyrical about the wallpaper.
by train/tube: Imperial Wharf / Putney Bridge / Stamford Brook

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