The main blog for my website this week, was all about a specific ‘bridge’ across the Thames – and some interesting historic landmarks that are ‘local’ to it.
Yes…you’ve got your Tower Bridge, your London Bridge and your ‘Wobbly’ Bridge – all of which are recognised and popular tourist attractions – but for me, my personal favourite has to be the magnificent “Hammersmith Bridge” London W3……and that is where my London Shoes took me this week.
The very first bridge at the Hammersmith stretch of the Thames, was constructed in 1825 and opened on 6 October 1827, and it was operated as a toll bridge.
However, by the 1850’s there were big concerns about its strength – particularly during the annual University Boat Race
when crowds on the bridge used to hit around the 11,000 making the bridge sway from side to side as spectators moved from one side of the bridge to the other to see the rowers.
By the 1870s, the bridge was said to be no longer strong enough to support the heavy weight of London’s rapidly increasing traffic, and so the authorities commissioned Sir Joseph Bazalgette (who had been responsible for designing London’s new sewer systems), to design and build a new Hammersmith Bridge.
Bazalgette built the new bridge on the existing foundations of the previous one – but designed it as a ‘suspension’ bridge – the very first one of its sort on the Thames at that time.
The new bridge was built of wrought iron – was 700ft long and 43ft high – and cost £83k. It was formally opened on 11th June 1887.
There are 7 ‘Coats of Arms’ commemorated within the bridge’s iron structures – 1. the City of London – 2.the City of Westminster’ 3.Kent – 4.Guildford – 5.Colchester – 6.Middlesex – 7.The Royal Arms of the UK.
Although it may be one of the less popular bridges, Hammersmith Bridge has certainly seen a bit of ‘action’ throughout the years.
>On 27 December 1919, Lieutenant Charles Campbell Wood, a South African airman serving in the RAF, dived from the bridge into the Thames to rescue a drowning woman. Although Lieutenant Wood saved her life, he later died from tetanus as a result of his injuries. His act of bravery is commemorated by a plaque on the handrail.
>On 29 March 1939, Mr. Maurice Childs, a women’s hairdresser from nearby Chiswick, was walking home across the bridge at 1 o’clock in the morning when he noticed smoke and sparks coming from a suitcase that was lying on the pedestrian walkway. He opened it to find a bomb inside, and so he quickly threw the bag into the Thames. The case then exploded sending up a 60ft column of water, the vibration of which then caused a second device that had been planted on the bridge, to explode, that damaged a number of the girders and shattered loads of windows of in nearby houses.
Maurice Childs was later awarded an MBE for his quick-thinking – and the 2 captured IRA suspects responsible, were subsequently jailed for 20 and 10 years respectively for their involvement.
>On 1 June 2000 the bridge was damaged yet again by an IRA bomb. This blast came four years after an attempted bombing by the Provisional IRA (with the largest Semtex bomb ever found in mainland Britain) but following two years of closure for repairs the bridge was reopened again, but with stringent weight restrictions in place – which are still in place today.
Structurally, Hammersmith Bridge is unique in that there is only a 12ft clearance gap between the bottom of the bridge and the River at ‘high tide’ – making it the lowest bridge over the Thames.
Today, Hammersmith Bridge still operates under severe weight restrictions – for example, only one bus in each direction permitted on the bridge at any one time.
Just a 10min walk along the river from Hammersmith, and out in the Thames, lies the uninhabited island known as the ‘Chiswick Eyot’.
Chiswick Eyot is an un-bridge tidal island, that is submerged during a high tide and can be walked to during certain low tides – and has a big effect on the river current in that area. Chiswick Eyot is also the ‘half-way’ mark of the Oxford & Cambridge boat race – and is now a formal nature reserve.
Hammersmith itself is not only noted for its bridge – it is also historically famous for its entertainment venues – some of which were/are:-
“The Hammersmith Apollo”:
The Hammersmith Apollo is now called the Eventim Apollo– but it is still commonly – known as the Hammersmith Odeon.
It is a Grade II listed building that was originally opened in 1932 as the ‘Gaumont Palace’ which seated 3,500.
It was renamed the “Hammersmith Odeon” in 1962, and it subsequently became one of London’s major and iconic music venues.
Over the years many bands have performed there, and many have released “live” albums that were recorded there, or have released DVD’s of their concerts there – such as:-
Black Sabbath – Hawkwind – Kings of Leon – Tears For Fears Dire Straits – Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – Robbie Williams – Kate Bush – Duran Duran – Depeche Mode – Kylie Minogue – Girls Aloud – Dave Gilmore & Iron Maiden…to name but a few.
For me personally, the 2 artists whose ‘live’ albums reflect the musical legacy of the old Hammersmith Odeon (now Apollo) are the late Lemmy’s band ‘Motorhead’, who released the album “No Sleep ‘til Hammersmith” – and of course, the late great David Bowie, whose famous ‘final’ Ziggy Stardust concert was held at the Hammersmith Odeon on 3rd July 1973 – an event captured in the film “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture” , plus a ‘live’ album of the gig.
“The Hammersmith Palais”:
The ‘Hammersmith Palais de Danse’ – or Hammersmith Palais as it was more commonly known as – was the very first dance ‘Palais’ in the UK, when it opened in 1919, and was the major dance-hall and entertainment venue in London.
Sadly, in March 2007, despite its importance to Britain’s cultural history, the ‘Hammersmith Palais’ was condemned for demolition.
Again – for me personally, my favourite reference to this particular venue, comes from an early single that the punk bank The Clash released, which was all about a white kid’s struggle to get cultural recognition and acceptance at a black music event being held there – for me, it’s by far their best record, and its entitled “(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais”. As the late great Joe Strummer sang:-
“I’m the all night drug-prowling wolf
Who looks so sick in the sun
I’m the white man in the Palais
Who’s only, Just lookin’ for fun”
“The Lyric Theatre”:
The Lyric Theatre in King Street-Hammersmith was originally opened way back in 1888. It was rebuilt in 1895 as the ‘New Lyric Opera House’ – and hosted many world renowned stars of the time.
In 2015 the theatre went through another major re-development, with new facilities for young people and the local community.
As well as its theatres, Hammersmith also has many old historic pubs, particularly those scattered alongside its northern banks of the Thames. Some of the best known and most interesting ones are:-
“The Blue Anchor” – pub:
The Blue Anchor is located in the Lower Mall, and its origins date back to 1722.
It used to be the ‘local’ of the composer ‘Gustav Holst’ (he of The Planet Suite) who used to be a teacher at one of the schools in the area.
“The Dove” – pub:
The Dove is also situated alongside the north bank of the Thames – down a small alley, which is one of the oldest parts of Hammersmith.
The building dates from the early 1700’s and the pubs front bar is said to be the smallest in the UK.
It was once the haunt of many literary icons including Ernest Hemmingway – Graham Greene and Dylan Thomas
“The Rutland Arms” – pub:
Again, situated alongside the Thames riverbank, the Rutland Arms pub dates back to 1849 – and is very popular with the tourists.
“The Black Lion” – pub:
The Black Lion has been a pub since the mid 1700’s and like the majority of the pubs situated alongside the riverbank, it is a Grade II listed building
So – apart from bridges, entertainment venues and pubs – Hammersmith has been the birth place of many ‘celebs’ from all walks of life – some of the more recent being:-
Seb Coe – Benedict Cumberbatch – Hugh Grant – Miranda Hart – Tom Hardy – Helen Mirren – Vidal Sassoon – Gary Numan – George Wimpey (he of the construction company) & one Edward Johnson.
Now – not many people would have heard of Edward Johnson or what he is famous for – but anyone living in, or travelling to London, would have experienced his work, as he was the man who designed the ‘font’ or ‘typeface’ that is used on ‘all’ London Underground/TfL signage – and he is the only person who has had a ‘font’ named after him (e.g. the ‘Johnson Typeface’)
Finally, there is one other lesser known landmark in Hammersmith that surprisingly receives loads of visitors – and it is a bench situated on a traffic island bang in the middle of Hammersmith Broadway. This bench was used in the opening credits of the 1990’s comedy series ‘Bottom’ staring Rik Mayall & Ade Edmundson – which was set in Hammersmith. Today, there is a brass plaque on the bench commemorating the late Rik Mayall.
So, after a busy day exploring Hammersmith, and before I set-off on the Circle Line back toward my manor – I popped into the ‘Blue Anchor’ pub alongside the Thames for a customary ‘cheeky’ beer and a packet of cheese & onion, and for one last time, enjoyed a view of that majestic bridge.
Although it was a typical grey and damp London day, void of any ‘colour’ – I hope you enjoy the photos.
A scenic view of the magnificent Hammersmith Bridge