“The earliest mention we find of Fulham occurs in a grant of the manor by Tyrhtilus, Bishop of Hereford, to Erkenwald, Bishop of London, and his successors, about the year 691; in which grant it is called Fulanham”
I begin my walk at 1.40pm on The Wandsworth Bridge Road in the area of Fulham known as Sands End, a centre of industrialisation and manufacturing for almost two centuries. Less than a minute into my walk and my attention is drawn to the large red bricked houses on either side of the road known as “lion houses”. Lion houses have always caught my attention whilst walking through Fulham, mainly due to the multiple lion statues perched on each house, hence the name “lion house”. The lions, made of sandstone, were the trademark of the builder, Jimmy Nicholls who built the Peterborough Estate in the 1890’s . Interestingly, when J. Nicholls placed an order for the lions, he added an extra 0 accidentally on the end of the number so that instead of ordering, for example 250 lions, he ordered 2500. Nicholls only realised his mistake once the lions had been delivered to him; he then had to consider how to use up the vast quantity.
Image of “Lion Houses”
As I reach the end of the Wandsworth Bridge Road I turn left onto the New Kings Road. This is a road I have walked down countless times, but this time I am taking great care to observe my surroundings. The New Kings Road (re-named) was once part of the Kings Road (Chelsea). ‘King Charles II had the road built in 1694, apparently encouraged by his mistress, Nell Gwynn, with the intention of linking St James’s Palace to Fulham, and beyond Fulham to Kew. It remained a private road until 1830, for use exclusively by the monarch and their privileged companions.’
Observing each building I pass as I walk down the New Kings Road I notice a blue plaque to my left. This discovery really made me reflect on how useful walking can be as a methodology for historical research. The New Kings Road was part of my school route meaning I walked down this road and passed this building 5 days a week for 10 years and never once noticed the blue plaque belonging to Ralph Steadman. Simply being observant of your surroundings and taking a closer look around improves your historical knowledge of an area. I later found that the blue plaque was in actual fact a “Gonzo Heritage Society” plaque and not an English Heritage plaque. Ralph Steadman drew illustrations for “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Hunter S Thompson in this house in 1971.
The “Gonzo Heritage” blue plaque
Continuing on my walk I shortly arrived at Parsons Green. Parsons Green’s name derives from ‘the presence of Fulham rectory; which stood on the site of St Dionis’ church from the 14th century.’Much to my surprise my old secondary school, Lady Margaret’s discovered evidence of an Iron Age settlement on the green.
Nearing the end of the New Kings Road, to my right is a cylindrical building that I have always been aware of but never taken the time to take a closer look. A free standing bottle kiln thought to be 19th Century brick, a remaining fragment of Fulham Pottery. John Dwight was granted a patent to establish a pottery in 1671.
The Fulham Pottery bottle kiln
I finally reached the end of the New Kings Road and come to Fulham High Street with Putney Bridge on my left. I cross Fulham High Street and make my way down Church Gate (a man selling wreaths and Christmas trees next to the road sign reminds me of a fastly approaching Christmas!) to see in front of me the gates to Bishops Park.
Christmas wreaths and trees for sale
It is here that I began to roam and explore. An extraordinary building stood to the right of the park gates, a sign showing Sir William Powell’s Almshouses. “Sir William Powell’s Almshouses founded and endowed in 1680, for twelve poor widows. They were rebuilt in 1793, and again in 1869. The almshouses are built of light brick and stone, of Gothic design, and somewhat profusely ornamented with architectural details.”
Sir William Powell’s Almshouses shown below
On my left in Bishops Park stood All Saints Church. The parish church, dedicated to All Saints, stands near the river-side, an ancient stone building, consisting of nave, aisles, and chancel, with a tower at the western end.
Old sketch of All Saints Church
Within the churchyard are several war memorials. I stop for a moment to pay my respects and spare a thought for all the lives lost. I then hear the chiming of church bells, check the time to find it is 2.30pm already.War memorial in churchyard
Leaving the churchyard and onto a path within Bishops Park I notice a Fulham Football Club sign and pause to take a photo (a sign I would have taken a photo of regardless – my football team!) The path leads me to Bishop Embankment with a clear view of the Thames and Putney Bridge. Despite having walked along Bishops Embankment several times I feel ashamed to admit I had never once acknowledged the information stands along the riverbank provided by Hammersmith and Fulham Council. As I approached the first information stand I could not believe my luck to find so much historical information already provided on my walk throughout Bishops Park.
The first information stand explained that ‘Fulham Bridge’, where Putney Bridge now is, was constructed in 1729 and was the only bridge between London Bridge and Kingston Bridge at this time. It later was rebuilt and opened 29th May 1886 as Putney Bridge. Bishops Embankment is a popular place to watch the Oxford University vs. Cambridge University boat race, which has been raced from Putney ever since 1846, except for the war years during the 20th century.
Putney Bridge from Bishop Embankment side
My exploration of Bishops Park eventually ended at Fulham Palace, a historical estate of the Bishop of London. Within the Palace museum I learnt that the site of Fulham Palace had been occupied during Neolithic, Iron Age and Roman periods. Since the medieval period the site was surrounded by the longest domestic moat in England which is still partly visible to this day. Previously known as ‘The Manor House of Fulham’, it was home to the Bishops’ of London for more than eight centuries. “The house and grounds, comprising some thirty-seven acres, are surrounded by a moat, over which are two bridges, one of which, a draw-bridge, separates the gardens from the churchyard. The principal entrance, which is situated on the west side, is approached from the Fulham Road under a fine avenue of limes and through an arched gateway. The building consists of two courts or quadrangles; the oldest part dates from the time of Henry VII.” I later found out that Fulham Palace regularly host walking events in order to stimulate people’s historical understanding of the area both within and surrounding the Palace.
An image of Fulham Palace from the first court/quadrangle.
Using walking as a methodology of historical research has lead me to reflect on something Nicholson said; much of this walking was done as part of my daily routine – I didn’t really consider is a separate activity.I have to admit when it comes to walking this statement is true to me. Previous to using walking as a means to widen my historical knowledge, walking simply has been just part of my daily routine, getting from A to B. Nicholson explains that London has already been discovered, walked, and claimed by many and therefore ones exploration must be ‘personalised’, and this is what I chose to do, thus increasing my ‘own store of particular knowledge’ and walking my ‘own eccentric version of the city’.
Faulkner, Thomas, An Historical and Topographical Account of Fulham: Including the Hamlet of Hammersmith, (T. Egerton, 1813), pg. 1
Nicholson, Geoff, The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, Philosophy, Literature, Theory and Practice of Pedestrianism, ( Harbour Press, Limited, 2011), pg. 40-42