A Walk along the Towpath: Hammersmith Bridge to Putney Bridge

Last year I wrote about the section of the towpath that passes through Hammersmith. Today we walk from Hammersmith Bridge to Putney Bridge. In the early days, the Fulham riverside was farm land, mainly orchards and market gardens, owned by the Bishops of London who were the Lords of the Manor. In the 18th century it would have been interspersed with large country houses although a century or so later many of these houses had been sold or fallen into disrepair to be replaced by industrial undertakings and commercial wharves. By the end of the 20th century these in turn had been largely replaced by or converted to apartment blocks and cafes.

Riverside Studios

We ended the last blog just past Hammersmith Bridge, at the Riverside Studios. The studios were built on the site of two engineering companies, Gwynnes and Rosser & Russell.


Photo 1: Queens Wharf and engineering companies seen from Hammersmith Bridge c1900


You may notice the inlet known as Parrs Ditch just before Queens Wharf. This marks the historic boundary between Hammersmith and Fulham and would have been a main route from the river to the village of Hammersmith. The watercourse is now culverted underground and one of “London’s Lost Rivers”. At low tide, there is a high and dry sandbank along this stretch of the Thames and there may well have been a ford across the river in earlier times.

Today the engineering companies have been replaced by the Riverside Studios due to open this summer as an arts centre, studios and restaurants.


Photo 2: Riverside Studios today


Fulham Reach

Travelling along the river in the seventeenth century you would have come to the Great House, built early in the reign of Charles I by Sir Nicholas Crispe (ca. 1600-1666). The house was unusual at the time as it was built of brick. Sir Nicholas was the first person to successfully import to England the Dutch art of brickmaking and was a great benefactor to the borough of Hammersmith, supporting the building of Hammersmith’s first church (later it became St Paul’s), by supplying both money and bricks. His estate would have stretched south as far as Crabtree Farm. As a prominent Royalist, his estates were removed after the execution of Charles I but he managed to retrieve them with the Restoration.

The house was later bought by Prince Rupert for his mistress and in 1749 by George Dodington, the future Lord Melcombe. He named it La Trappe after the monastery in France, spent a fortune on it, repairing and modernising it throughout and building a magnificent gallery.

In 1792, the house was bought by the Margrave of Brandenburgh and it became known as Brandenburgh House. He and his wife also made extensive improvements and erected a small pseudo-gothic theatre close to the water. The Margravine was an amateur actress and wrote plays for her friends that were performed in the theatre. After the Margrave’s death, she retired to Naples in 1819 and lent the house to Queen Caroline of Brunswick, separated wife of George IV, who kept her small rival court here.


Photo 3: Brandenburgh House showing the house and the theatre


Caroline fell ill and died on the 7 of August, 1821. Within a year of her death, the contents of Brandenburgh House were sold by auction, and the King had the mansion pulled down.

On the site were built the first and largest of the industrial development schemes that were soon to stretch right along the Fulham riverside. The Haig Distillery (first known as the Hammersmith Distillery) was erected in 1857 on part of the grounds, and in 1872 Alexander Manbré built his sugar refinery (known as the Manbré Saccharine Works) on the remainder.

Photo 4: View of the river circa 1900


Photo 5: The Manbré and Garton Sugar Refinery


By the 1980s, both factories had closed down and the sites were vacated to be replaced by a vast development offering apartments, shops, bars, restaurants and water sports facilities including a community rowing club.


Photo 6: Fulham Reach


Thames, Dorset and Palace Wharves

The 1890s onwards saw a sustained period of wharf construction stretching along the river.

Thames Wharf, now best known for the famous River Café, was originally an industrial site containing the Duckham’s oil facility. Duckham was founded by Alexander Duckham in 1899 and established a good reputation in the field of lubrication for industrial machinery and motor vehicles. The company moved to Fulham in 1921, and major expansions occurred in 1940 and 1948 but the works at Thames Wharf were closed in 1979.

It was acquired by the Richard Rogers Partnership in 1983. The site was cluttered with oil tanks and other temporary structures, and completely inaccessible to the public. It was converted into offices, workshops, housing and, on the ground floor, the River Café, opened by Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray. A garden courtyard forms the centrepiece of the scheme and links to a riverside walkway. The architectural practice was housed in a modernized 1950s building although it moved out in 2016 and the building now houses studios (much of it let to Re:Centre) and a café.


Photo 7 Thames Wharf today


Dorset Villa, built about 1747 and forming part of the estate of Sir Nichols Crispe, was demolished in 1890 and the grounds converted to a wharf and warehouse for the corn merchants, Hood and Moore. As part of this scheme, the Anglo-American Oil Company established Dorset Wharf on the river.

The photograph below shows the Maltings built about 1790 by Mr Joseph Attersoll and the Crab Tree pub.


Photo 8 The Maltings and the Crab Tree 1890


Palace Wharf replaced the Maltings in 1907 and an extension facing Rainville Road was added in 1933. For many years the wharf was the home of the ‘Rathbone Works’ of fibrous plaster firm, George Jackson & Sons. This had been founded in Rathbone Place off Oxford Street in the early 19th century and when they moved, prior to the Second World War, to Fulham, they kept the Rathbone name. Jacksons’ made the new plasterwork for Hammersmith’s rebuilt Lyric Theatre. Now it is town houses and luxury apartments.


Photo 9 Looking back at Thames and Palace Wharves 1972


Photo 10 Thames and Palace Wharves today with Charing Cross Hospital in the distance


The Crabtree

Crabtree was described in earlier times as “an insignificant village consisting of half a dozen houses inhabited by gardeners, brick makers etc together with a small inn.” In the 1760s the pub had been known as ‘The Pot House’ after a pottery operating in the area. It served the market gardens and was on the edge of the land of the last local farmers, the Matyear family. It changed its name to ‘The Three Jolly Gardeners’ and only later took the name of the area, being known ever since as The Crabtree.


Crabtree Inn postcard c1890


The Crabtree was rebuilt in 1898. It was on the same site and shared the same relationship with the river, being next to a beach and overhung by a willow tree but it was far larger than its predecessor.


Photo 12 The Crabtree today


Around this area there were a number of riverside villas – Belle Vue (1816), Rosebank (1809), Sussex House (1818) and Craven Cottage (1780) – and by 1900 many of them had been replaced by wharves. Tea Rose Wharf was built soon after, followed by Blakes Wharf, at the end of Stevenage Road, just after the turn of the century and Eternit Wharf in 1910.


Photo 13 The Crabtree and its neighbours, the Crabtree and Wheatsheaf Wharves 1972


Fulham Football Club

At Fulham Football Club’s Craven Cottage stadium you do, for the first time, have to go inland. The original Craven Cottage, built in 1780 by Lord Craven, was a pretty thatched roof house with an elevated terrace along the river side. It was destroyed by fire in 1888.


Photo 14 Craven Cottage 1880


When representatives of Fulham Football Club first came across the land, in 1894, it was so overgrown that it took two years to make it suitable for football. The first football match with gate receipts was Fulham against Minerva on 10 October 1896. The ground’s first stand was built shortly afterwards. Described as looking like an “orange box”, it consisted of four wooden structures each holding some 250 seats, and later was affectionately nicknamed the “rabbit hutch”. Over the years more stands have been added and now plans have been agreed that will extend the seating capacity to 30,000. Work has begun this summer and the plans also include a river walk that will be open to the public at all times save when there is a match.


Photo 15 Fulham Football Club today


Photo 16 The proposed riverside stand and river walk


Bishop’s Park

Immediately past the stadium, is Bishop’s Park, the public park surrounding Fulham Palace that was originally part of the grounds of the Palace. It is a strange shape with a long area beside the river and a spur reaching up to Fulham Palace Road and a very thin, little used, area bordering the Fulham Palace Road. In the middle are Fulham Palace and the allotments. Each section was added to the park at different times over a period of about 20 years and was deliberately designed for different activities: promenading along the river, refreshment and education, sport and children.

The first section you reach walking from Hammersmith is Fielders Meadow. In 1899 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were persuaded to give the area, then occupied by a Mr Fielder to the park. The western part was turfed for a cricket pitch. The eastern end was designed around an ornamental lake with a rustic wooden bridge over the narrow part and terracotta balustrades. There would be separate activities: exercise for small children on the beach (known as Margate Sands as the sand was originally brought from Margate) and the paddling area, a quiet croquet lawn or bowling green “for those unable to indulge in more violent exercise”. The area opened in 1903 and was immensely popular.


Photo 17: The beach at Bishop’s Park 1928


You come next to a central area where once there was a bandstand and now a playground and open area for events and a farmers’ market. It is at this point that you could branch off from the towpath and visit Fulham Palace. It used to be impossible to see the Palace from the park due to the mature trees and the dense understorey of shrubs, but these have recently been thinned so now you can see glimpses.

The next section of the park, the first to be acquired, runs between the Palace moat and the river and was offered to the Vestry, then the equivalent of the local authority, by the Bishop of London following a public meeting in 1883.

The offer was not quite as generous as first appeared as the area was described as a “malodorous line of foreshore backing a forlorn stretch of marsh land, unkempt and unsavoury … a sort of no man’s land, a nuisance to the palace and an eyesore to the public”. It was a marshy, dangerous, rubbish tip bordered by a very polluted river. Furthermore, before any landscaping could take place, the meadow had to be protected from flooding by creating an embankment and building a river wall. The park was formally opened in 1893, changed its name to Fulham Park in 1902 and then back to Bishop’s Park four years later.


Photo 18: The River Walk


It was along this section that the bishops had their landing stage as their normal transport from the City would have been along the river. The park had been badly neglected by the beginning of the present century but after a successful lottery funding bid in February 2011, a major restoration project updated and modernised almost the entire site and the ‘beach’ area was reintroduced.

At the edge of the park, at the entrance from Putney Bridge, was Vine Cottage. Its gardens and outbuildings were acquired by the Vestry in 1894, demolished in 1897, and the present Pryor’s Bank pavilion constructed and opened in 1900. The Victorian house was once a successful teahouse associated with the adjacent formal gardens designed to impress. It is now looking rather sad.


Photo 19: Pryor’s Bank


This is a good place to stop. If you are walking the towpath, I would again recommend the short attractive booklet, The Thames Path from Hammersmith to Chelsea produced by children from primary schools in Hammersmith and Fulham, as a guide. Copies are available in the Local Studies & Archives library.


Photo 20 leaflet


The old photographs all came from the Hammersmith & Fulham Local Studies & Archives (https://www.lbhf.gov.uk/libraries/local-studies-and-archives); the modern ones are my own.

Fiona Fowler
Hammersmith & Fulham, Local Studies and Archives volunteer



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3 Responses to A Walk along the Towpath: Hammersmith Bridge to Putney Bridge

  1. Les Tranter says:

    Thank you so much for this lovely article through which I was able to relive so much of my childhood from the 1950/60s. I was born in Margravine gardens and then at the age of four we moved to 68 Parfrey Street which was the last house in the road, right by the Lyons jam factory and next to the Manbre refinery. Because of the height of Lyon’s brick wall I had no idea that the Thames was within yards of me! Fulham was my local football team and my friends and I were always in Bishops Park. Many thanks for stirring so many memories

  2. Roy Gregory says:

    We are ‘children of war-time Fulham’ now living in St Albans. We have been absolutely thrilled to read the article on the Riverside from Hammersmith to Fulham. Thank you so much. My parents were born in Fulham in 1907 and we have heard many stories of life as it was when they were children. Our families spent many happy hours in Bishops Park. The sand and water were a great joy to my mother’s very poor family, their only chance to experience ‘seaside’.
    Roy and Christine Gregory

  3. Richard Brinton says:

    Thank you for the layers of history you so carefully compiled in this article. I was born in 1949and brought up in Finlay Street, I knew the places you described and find the layers of change quite fascinating. The out of city country garden morphs into a vibrant cosmopolitan London Borough.

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