In 1745 the area of North Fulham around Askew Road was farmland with just a few dwellings and a single path called Gaggle Goose Green running beside a tributary of the Stamford Brook.
By 1830 the track was known as Starch Green and a scattering of houses had been built along side it. Farms gave way to orchards and market gardens which supplied fresh produce to the ever expanding City of London some four miles to the east, the produce transported by horse and cart or boat on the nearby river Thames. Soft fruits such as strawberries would be taken on foot with women carrying the baskets on their heads.
London continued to expand westwards and the ever growing demand for building materials encouraged farmers to supplement their income with brick using the clay lying under the top soil. Commercial enterprises flourished, often digging 12 feet down to obtain the clay and thereby creating many ponds and in one instance a lake on Star Field, the site now marked by a road of the same name. Between 1870 and 1890 over 17 million bricks were produced and the Stamford Brook Brickfield, one of the largest covering over 50 acres at its peak, employed 250 men and boys. Many households supplemented their income by taking in laundry from the more affluent Kensington residents and the area was known as ‘SoapSudIsland’.
The second half of the 19th century brought improvements in public transport and new tram and train services made the area attractive to clerks and other City workers and by 1893 affordable housing was rapidly covering the orchards and brickfield . The road of Starch Green became Victoria Road before finally acquiring the surname of the wealthy Askew family who owned considerable land in the area.
By the turn of the twentieth century, Askew Road was a bustling shopping street with fishmongers, bakers, grocers, dairies and butchers trading alongside boot makers, hairdressers, oilmen, drapers and tobacconists. A tram ran between Uxbridge and Goldhawk Roads and motor cars began to replace horses and carts.
Farmer J. Bates ‘The Noted Labouring Man’s Butcher’ had several shops in the road as well as a slaughtering establishment whilst Benjamin Hall ran a thriving rabbit breeding enterprise behind his shop. The Methodist church opened its doors, a school was established and post offices opened at both ends of the road. Meals could be obtained at eel and pie shops or more upmarket dining rooms and five pubs offered liquid refreshment. The Sun was known as ‘a haunt of thick set men with gold sovereign rings and even thicker necks’ so it was hardly surprising that by 1880 a police station had also been built.
The road continued to thrive during the Twenties and Thirties but suffered considerable bomb damage during the Second World War with The Sun receiving a direct hit killing 27 locals drinking there. Trolley buses were replaced by double decker buses and the pond at Starch Green, a reminder of the brick building era, was filled in and is now a neatly mown green lawn. Modern delicatessens have replaced eel pie shops, rabbits are no longer bred in surrounding fields whilst milk now comes in plastic bottles from several supermarkets rather than from a cow tethered nearby. But the road continues to be a focal shopping and social meeting place for those who live in this popular area of Hammersmith.
by Caroline MacMillan, Local Studies volunteer