The Thames Path through Hammersmith

The Thames Path is a National Trail following the River Thames from its source near Kemble in Gloucestershire to the Thames Barrier at Charlton, south east London. It is about 184 miles (296 km) long and passes through peaceful water meadows, unspoilt rural villages, historical towns and cities, and finally through the heart of London to end at the Thames Barrier in Greenwich.


A path along the Thames was first proposed in the report of the Hobhouse Committee on National Parks in 1948 (Cmd 6628) but it was not until 1996 that it become a National Trail. There is an additional section from the Thames Barrier in Woolwich to Crayford Ness, near Erith. This 10-mile path is not part of the recognised National Trail and is sometimes known as the Thames Path Southeast Extension. It was opened in 2001 and links the London Outer Orbital Path.


The path’s entire length can be walked, and some parts can be cycled. Most of the path is on the original towpath but in some places the original towpath traffic would have crossed the river to the other side using ferries.  Nearly all the path is directly beside the river and these days developers wishing to build along the river have to agree to provide pedestrian access to the riverside to obtain planning permission.  In Hammersmith, the path runs beside the river almost all the way except at Chiswick Mall.  In Fulham, a much longer stretch, you have to go inland round the Hurlingham Club and the neighbouring flats and at some of the original wharves.

Local children from seven primary schools in Hammersmith and Fulham have produced a guide to the Thames Path from Hammersmith to Chelsea.  It is attractively illustrated with information about the key buildings and places passed and I strongly recommend it. Copies are available in the library.


Guide to the Thames Path from Hammersmith to Chelsea

I will not repeat all the stories the children have discovered but will remind you briefly of what you can see if you walk the section of the Thames Path in the borough of Hammersmith. Hammersmith starts half way along Chiswick Mall, roughly where it is joined by Miller’s Cross.  Here the path runs along a riverside road boasting some of west London’s finest 18th and 19th Century homes.  Beyond this is Hammersmith Terrace where, within a short distance, there are blue plaques to A P Herbert (no 12), humorist in many literary forms, law-reform activist, and independent MP; Emery Walker (no 7), engraver, photographer and printer who took an active role in many organisations that were at the heart of the Arts and Crafts movement; and Edward Johnson (no 3), calligrapher and designer of the sans-serif typeface used by London Underground until the 1980s.

The path continues along the river edge past a number of historical pubs including The Black Lion and The Ship and then passes behind The Dove into Furnivall Gardens.

Thomas Cobden-Sanderson, often credited with having coined the term ‘arts and crafts’, established the Doves Press in 1893, named after the Doves Tavern almost next door to his house. The bindery bound many of the Kelmscott Press books. It was founded in 1901 and was a joint venture between the bookbinder Cobden Sanderson and Emery Walker with money provided by Cobden-Sanderson’s wife, Annie, the suffragette.  It all ended very badly with a major row between the two partners and Cobden-Sanderson throwing all the plates into the Thames at Hammersmith Bridge. Only one specimen remains, a block created for a Christmas greeting in 1900 which remained with Walker and is now preserved in the Emery Walker Library.


Doves Press

William Morris lived at Kelmscott House, 26 Upper Mall from 1878 to 1896.  He was an artist, designer, craftsman, writer and socialist thinker, dramatically changing the fashions and thinking of the era.  The house is in private hands and not open to the public but the William Morris Society is housed in the coach house and basement and open Thursday and Saturday, 14.00 to 17.00. There is presently a photographic exhibition featuring images of Morris & Co as well as previously unseen photographs of William Morris, his family and homes.


Kelmscott House

Rounding the bend in the river, you come across Hammersmith Bridge, which almost marks the boundary with Fulham.


View of Hammersmith Bridge from the towpath at low tide

The first Hammersmith Bridge was sanctioned by an Act of Parliament in 1824 and work on site began the following year. It was the first suspension bridge over the River Thames and was designed by William Tierney Clark.  It cost some £80,000 and opened on 6 October 1827 as a toll bridge.


Engraving of the first Hammersmith Bridge

By the 1870s, the bridge was no longer strong enough to support the weight of heavy traffic and the owners were alarmed in 1870 when 11,000 to 12,000 people crowded onto the bridge to watch the University Boat Race, which passes underneath. In 1884 a temporary bridge was put up to allow a more limited cross-river traffic while a replacement was constructed.

The current Hammersmith Bridge was designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette and rests on the same pier foundations constructed for Tierney Clark’s original structure. It was opened by the Prince of Wales on 11 June 1887.  Hammersmith Bridge has long suffered structural problems and has been closed for lengthy periods on several occasions due to the weight and volume of road traffic now common in inner London, which the bridge was not originally designed to support.  The bridge was declared a Grade II* listed structure in 2008, providing protection to preserve its special character from unsympathetic development.


 Hammersmith Bridge

Walking under the bridge, you see the Riverside Studios. In 1933, the Triumph Film Company acquired the site of Gwynnes Engineering, a former engineering works and foundry and created two large sound stages from a jumble of workshops.  The BBC bought the site in 1954 and converted it into the country’s first purpose-built television facility and some of the most famous programmes made at Riverside include Hancock’s Half Hour (1957-60), Doctor Who (1964 – 68) and the children’s programmes Blue Peter and Play School. In 1975, after the BBC moved out, a charitable trust formed by Hammersmith and Fulham Council took control of the building and for the next 40 years Riverside Studios provided a programme of live performance, visual arts, international cinema and television production. The original building closed for redevelopment in September 2014 and has been completely rebuilt. It is scheduled to reopen in early 2019.


Riverside Studios

This roughly marks the boundary between Hammersmith and Fulham and is a good place to stop.  The towpath in Fulham is much longer and will need a separate blog.

Fiona Fowler
Hammersmith & Fulham, Local Studies and Archives volunteer

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1 Response to The Thames Path through Hammersmith

  1. Leslie Tranter says:

    As did your Hammersmith Bridge to Putney Bridge post, this reminded me of my youth much of which was spent in the public houses along the river! In my later years I have returned because of my interest in William Morris and the Dove Press. As you probably know, quite a lot of Dove type has been recovered from the Thames by divers and the Dove font has been recreated for use on PCs and the story is told at

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