Hammersmith

Hammersmith means exactly what you think: a place with a smithy, in this case not just one that did a bit of hammering, but one that actually made hammers.


Hammersmith’s waterfront in 1800

There is some evidence that people lived in the area around Hammersmith as far back as the bronze age (when hammers were still made of stone), but Hammersmith probably started off as an Anglo-Saxon settlement, although the earliest known mention of it is not until 1294.

Catherine of Braganza & Caroline of Brunswick

By the eighteenth century, Hammersmith was full of market gardens growing fruit and veg for London, and because the gravel foreshore made it a bit healthier than the marshy riverside locales closer to town, Londoners were moving out here to live. Charles II’s missus, Catherine of Braganza, bought a house here in 1687, after her husband popped his clogs, but when George IV took the throne in 1820, it was his estranged queen, Caroline of Brunswick, who came to live here. George was not the most popular monarch in British history, and when he tried to get his marriage dissolved on grounds of the queen’s adultery, crowds descended on her residence to sing “God Save the Queen” in her support, making it an anti-monarchy anthem for the only time in its history. George failed to get his divorce, but Caroline died shortly afterwards; foul play is not suspected. Meanwhile, little known to most people who pass through it, Hammersmith still has a beautiful waterfront.

Hammersmith Bridge

Hammersmith Bridge has had structural problems since forever. Inaugurated in 1827 as the first suspension bridge across the River, it was instigated by a group of well-to-do local residents who set up the Hammersmith Bridge Company to build it. Having done so, they charged a toll to cross it: ½d for pedestrians, or 4d for a horse-drawn carriage (which was 2d cheaper than Putney Bridge). The  Metropolitan Board of Works, London’s then local government, took over the bridge in 1880 and scrapped the tolls, but had to pull it down because it wasn’t strong enough for all the traffic going over it. A new bridge opened in 1887, and in 1939 the IRA tried to blow it up – the first of three attempts by Irish Republican paramilitaries to do so. The bridge survived and lived to tell the tale, but it’s never been the strongest of our Thames crossings. Despite being shored up in 1973 and 1984, it had to close to traffic in 1997, and again in 2014, and when it closed yet again in 2019, even pedestrians were eventually barred from using it.

Hammersmith Broadway in the nineteen-Os

Hammersmith was one of London’s original metropolitan boroughs. Previously it had been part of the parish of Fulham, and it only became a parish in its own right in 1834. It merged again with Fulham in 1965 to form the Borough of Hammersmith (and Fulham) that we know today.