Above: Looking west at the riverside at Hammersmith from near Hammersmith Bridge. Although the centre of Hammersmith is a busy place, with endless traffic on the large roundabout as well as more vehicles on the flyover, the riverside remains as tranquil as in Victorian times.
There have been three uses for the name of Hammersmith over the centuries.
(1) There was a hamlet, with the Thames on the south and extending a short distance inland – an area which is to the NW of today’s Hammersmith Bridge. It was not until 1631 that St Paul was built as a Chapel of Ease to the parish church of Fulham and another 200 years before that chapel was designated a separate parish when, in 1834, the parish of Hammersmith was created from part of the original parish of Fulham. It follows, therefore, that Hammersmith did not become a village until 1834 – one of the last villages to be formed in London. The ‘High Street’ of the old village is King Street.
(2) When Metropolitan London was created, at the end of the 1800s, land essentially running north from the Thames to include the large heath of Wormwood Scrubs and even further north became the Metropolitan Borough of Hammersmith.
(3) In 1965 the Metropolitan Boroughs of Fulham and Hammersmith were combined to form a long narrow area of land called the London Borough of Hammersmith (a name that was later changed to the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham).
Above: Map of Hammersmith. The pre-1965 boundary between the Metropolitan Boroughs of Hammersmith and Fulham is shown (with a yellow line). The centre of the old village is shown with a YELLOW dot.
The first Hammersmith Bridge, designed by William Tierney Clark, was opened in 1827. The present one, of similar design, was reopened in 1887.
Standing on the north side of Hammersmith Road is the large exhibition centre called Olympia. It was opened in 1886 with one hall and, over the years, other halls have been added. Most people associate the building with the Ideal Home Exhibition, held annually, but many exhibitions have been held there throughout its long history. The building is now called Olympia London.
Further north of the centre of Hammersmith is Shepherd’s Bush which was once a large village green with Goldhawk Road leading westwards. Today, Shepherd’s Bush is better known for being one of the main entrances to an enormous Westfield Shopping Centre, which opened in October 2008.
Further north again is an area called White City. Land, which had been arable fields until 1908, was used as the site of the Franco-British Exhibition and the 1908 Summer Olympics. In 1909 the exhibition site hosted the Imperial International Exhibition and in 1910, the Japan-British Exhibition. Two further exhibitions to be held there were the Latin-British Exhibition of 1912 and the Anglo-American Exhibition of 1914. During the latter period, it became known as the Great White City due to the white marble cladding used on the exhibition pavilions.
At the extreme north end of the borough is Kensal Green Cemetery which is partly in this borough and partly in the adjacent London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
The earliest mention of the place name Hammersmith was as ‘hamersmyth’ in 1294. It was referred to as ‘Hamersmythe’ in 1312. The derivation is uncertain but some authorities believe it could come from ‘ham’ meaning a town and ‘hythe’ meaning a haven. Others believe it was a ‘hammer’ smithy’ – possibly referring to a blacksmith in the area which is a possibility because the Great West Road passed through the settlement.
While Fulham can claim to have had a parish church since at least 1242, it was not until 1834 that the Chapel of Ease at Hammersmith became a separate parish and the hamlet of Hammersmith became a parish called ‘St Paul’. The parish church stands on the original site but it is rather dwarfed by the nearby Hammersmith Flyover which carries the A4 on giant concrete supports just a few yards from the tower of the church. For this reason, any countrified ‘old-world’ charm from the old village has been completely driven away – probably never to return.
What the centre of the village lacks in an ‘atmosphere from the past’ is more than compensated by the pedestrian walk beside the Thames, along Lower Mall and Upper Mall. In these thoroughfares, time seems to stand still. There is relative peace and tranquillity due to the fact that most of the connecting streets do not permit any through traffic. The heavy traffic thundering by on the elevated Hammersmith Flyover is well away from earshot as you take a leisurely stroll beside the river. If you are there on a Saturday in summer you will probably encounter ‘rowing-eights’ preparing their boats for races on the Thames.