Explore an area of West London that lacks the charm of, say, Hampstead or Kensington, but which is not without its own fascination.
In the 1870s, Shepherd Bush was a small village, built around a triangular green, Shepherds Bush Green (formerly ‘Common’), that was beginning to become engulfed by London’s relentless growth. “The place has little to interest anyone”, James Thorne wrote about Shepherds Bush (in his 1876 “Handbook to the Environs of London”). Many people erroneously share his opinion today. I hope to demonstrate that what Thorne wrote is now no longer true.
The name Shepherds Bush and variations of its spelling existed in the 17th century (see: “Oxford Dictionary of London Place Names”, by AD Mills, publ. 2004). It appears, for example, on a 1775 map, in the middle of open countryside, as ‘Sheperds Bush’. The name might either refer to a family name or to shepherding. A ‘shepherd’s bush’ is a bush from which a shepherd can shelter from the elements to watch his (or in the case of Little Bo Peep, her) flock. The place name might also refer to a place where shepherds rest their sheep on their way to Smithfield Market. Whatever the name’s origin, you are unlikely to spot a sheep anywhere in the area except in a butcher’s shop.
Until recently, Shepherds Bush Green was an uninviting triangular open space littered with drug-users’ syringes. Between 2012 and ’13, the Green was re-developed, and has become a pleasant island of greenness surrounded by a seemingly unending stream of traffic. Shepherds Bush Station on the Central Line first opened in 1900. In 2008, coinciding with the opening of the nearby Westfield shopping centre, an attractive, airy modern station opened to replace an older one, which had been closed. The station gives access to both the Underground and the Overground railways. Not being a lover of shopping malls, I will not describe the vast and, in my opinion, hideous Westfield.
At the eastern apex of the Green, there is a solitary metal pipe sticking up from the ground. Just below its pointed top, it is perforated by six rows of small circular holes. I have not discovered what function this neglected tube serves or served. Maybe, it is related to what remains of a subterranean public toilet nearby. The Edwardian ironwork around its entrances is decorative. According to detailed maps drawn early in the 20th century, there was a public toilet at two of the Green’s three apices. The one that remains is now derelict. After having been used as a subterranean snooker hall for some years, it was converted into a subterranean nightclub called Ginglik in 2002. It provided a stage for up and coming artistes as well as for established ones, such as Robin Williams and Ellie Goulding (see: https://www.residentialadvisor.net/club.aspx?id=935). The club closed in about 2008 because it was prone to flooding.
A few feet west of the disused ‘loos’, there is a war memorial. This is a winged Victory holding a sword in her left hand and a wreath in her right. It was sculpted by HC Fehr (1867-1940), and erected in 1922. Of Swiss heritage but born in London, one of Fehr’s ancestors was a former President of Switzerland.
The north side of the Green is lined with shops and restaurants, which are beneath brick buildings that date back to the early 20th century, or a few years before. They are trimmed with white stone and topped with variously shaped gables.
On the south side of the Green, there is a 1980’s shopping cinema, which includes a cinema complex where Bollywood films are shown regularly. Towering above the shopping centre, there are four identical blocks of flats built in 1961, designed by Sidney Kaye. Although most of the pre-WW2 buildings, some of which might have suffered bomb-damage, have been replaced by newer ones, there are still a few buildings at the western end of this side of the Green, which were built before the one or two of the World Wars. Romney Court, a tall art-deco block of flats built in the 1930s, stands between Kaye’s four towers and the remaining older buildings. There is another fine art-deco building nearby (see below).
A brick and stone, neo-gothic church stands at the north end of Shepherds Bush Road. This was formerly a Baptist chapel, built about 1893. Now, it is used by the Great Commission Ministry Church (founded in the USA c. 1970), which has owned the building since 2008. Pevsner notes that the church was built in 1907 to the designs of PW Hawkins. However, I noticed that part of the building has a stone “… laid by Mrs Robert Miller November 3rd, 1892”.
The church’s neighbour is the spectacular art-deco Grampians building. Designed by Maurice E Webb (1880-1939), son of the architect Sir Aston Webb (1849-1930; he designed the principal façade of Buckingham Palace), and Stanley Hinge Hamp (1877-1968) of Collcutt and Hamp (see: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1390753), this block of flats was built in 1935. The ground and first floors are occupied by shops with curving glazed facades and flats above them. These curving structures project forward from the main twelve-storey tower.
Minford Gardens leads to St Simons, a neo-gothic church with a slender hexagonal steeple decorated with tiles and stones of various colours. It was designed by AW Blomfield (1829-99), and built by 1886. The church contains an organ (c. 1865), which was originally that of Dunblane Cathedral in Scotland (see: http://www.stsimons.co.uk/). It was acquired in 1893, when the Scottish cathedral was being re-furnished. St Simons stands on the corner of Rockley Road, which leads north to the Green.
Charecroft Way leads off Rockley Road. Most of its south side is occupied by The Shepherds building, with its bold lettering on a vertical structure next to an external metal staircase projecting from the front of the long brick edifice. It was built in the 1960s on disused railway land that was surrounded by terrain that had suffered bad bomb damage during WW2. In 2000, it was refurbished, and another floor was added. Apart from being an office building, this also provides a centre for budding creative entrepreneurs. A few yards north, we return to the Green.
The west side, the shortest of the Green’s three sides, is lined by several historic places of entertainment. At the southern end, there is a pub, the Sindercombe Social (see below). This is neighboured by a building with a tall circular tower, The Empire. The cylindrical tower reminds me of some castle towers in Germany. The Empire was built as a theatre in 1903. It was designed by Frank Matcham (1854-1920), who designed many theatres in London including the London Coliseum and the London Palladium. Charlie Chaplin was one of the first to perform in the Empire (in 1906). In 1953, the theatre was bought by the BBC, who renamed it the ‘BBC Television Theatre’. Since 1993, after the BBC had left it, the Empire has become a ‘venue’ for popular music ‘gigs’. Despite its many changes of ownership, the building retains its original external decorations including a bow window decorated with a row of bas-relief ‘putti’ playing musical instruments.
Smaller than the Empire, is its northern neighbour: a long squat building with a façade bearing two snarling lion’s heads on either side of a large, centrally located hemi-circular arch that frames a window above what was originally the front entrance. This building, which until recently was home to an ‘Australasian Bar’, was originally the Palladium cinema (see: http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/3776). This was built in 1910, and opened as the ‘Shepherd’s Bush Cinematograph Theatre’. It was the sixth of a chain of cinemas opened by the former ‘cinema king’ Montagu Pyke (died 1935). In 1923, after having been closed for a few years due to insufficiencies of the local electricity supply, it re-opened as the ‘Palladium’, which was renamed several times before it finally ceased functioning as a cinema in 1981. Running along the southern wall of the building, there is a long notice written in deeply engraved letters. It reads: “Cinematograph Theatre Continuous Performance Seats 1/- 6d 3d”. After standing derelict for many years, it was reopened in about 2011 as a branch of a chain of ‘Australasian’ bars. This closed in 2013, and the future of the building is now uncertain.
The Palladium’s neighbour to the north is all that remains of a much larger cinema, the former ‘Pavilion’. It has a long brick façade that has been preserved since the rest of the cinema was demolished and replaced by the luxurious Dorsett Hotel, which opened recently. Designed by Frank Verity (1864-1937), a cinema architect, the original cinema opened in 1923 (see: http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/3777). It won Verity a prize from the Royal Institute of British Architects. The architect of New Delhi and Hampstead Garden Suburb, Edwin Lutyens, was one the judging committee. The cinema was hit by a flying bomb in 1944, and reopened in 1955. Until 1962, when it became an Odeon cinema, the Pavilion had been part of the Gaumont chain. The cinema finally closed in 1983, and was used as a bingo hall until 2001. Now, its ‘innards’ have been removed, and replaced with the new hotel (see: http://flanaganlawrence.com/project/shepherds-bush-pavilion/).
At the southern end of Wood Lane overlooking the Green, there is a pub called The Defector’s Weld. It stands at the start of the busy Uxbridge Road. This late 19th century pub building was originally called the ‘Beaumont Arms’. There has been a pub on this site since the early 19th century, and maybe before. After being renamed ‘Edwards’ for a while, it got its present curious name. The ‘defector’ part refers to a local Cold War spy, and the ‘weld’ part refers to joining together as in welding (see: https://londonist.com/pubs/defectors-weld). I do not know of the identity of the spy, but in 1966 Shepherds Bush was swarming with policemen after the Soviet spy George Blake (who was born George Behar in Rotterdam in 1922) escaped from nearby Wormwood Scrubs prison (see: “Eccentric London: The Bradt Guide to Britain's Crazy and Curious Capital”, by B Le Vay, publ. 2007). He continues to live in Russia.
The Du Boisson Dance Studio is housed in a brick building a few yards north of the Defectors Weld. Its two-coloured brick façade is decorated with bas-reliefs including the date “1898”. It was originally built to house a drill hall (see: http://www.indyrs.co.uk/2011/08/halt-for-gootness-sake-der-bushmen-are-in-sight-they-mean-bizzness/) for the Bushmen’s Training Corps and, later, 1st City of London Volunteer Artillery (who served both in the Boer War and WW1). Later, after WW1, it served as a village hall, a community centre, for Shepherds Bush. The present occupants of this building are part of the West London School of Dance, which was founded by a former Rehearsal Director of the Ballet Rambert, Anna Du Boisson.
Macfarlane Road leads west from Wood Lane. At the corner of Hopgood Street, there is a terraced house outside of which I saw a small thicket of tropical palms planted in its small front garden. At the corner where Macfarlane Road makes a right-angle and heads north instead of west, number 2B with its plain triangular pediment looks as if once it was a meeting hall of sorts. Hopgood Street leads into Uxbridge Road opposite an elegant brick building with stone trimmings around its windows and triangular roof gables.
Dated 1900 and rising above a row of shops and restaurants, this is Bush Green House, which bears the words “London County Council” (‘LCC’) in gold coloured letters. The Council existed between 1889 and 1965, when it was superseded by the Greater London Council. The building on Uxbridge Road looks as if it were built in the earlier years of the LCC. It does not appear on a detailed 1894 map, but on a similar one published in 1916, it is marked as a fire station.
Just west of the former fire station, stands the Bush Theatre, which is housed in a brick building adorned with stone trimmings including pillars with Ionic capitals, mansard windows, and a tall chimney stack bearing the date 1895. Designed by Maurice B Adams (1849-1933), and built as the ‘Passmore Edwards Public Library’, this elegant edifice has been, since late 2010, home to the Bush Theatre, which I have attended several times to see plays that are usually overloaded with political messages. Before moving into the library, the theatre used to be above the pub at the corner of Goldhawk Road and Shepherds Bush Green. Recently, an attractive glass and steel extension containing a seating was added to the western side of the ground floor. The philanthropist John Passmore Edwards (1823-1911), a journalist and newspaper owner, paid for many libraries to be built in London. One of his libraries, that in Whitechapel, became incorporated with its neighbour, the Whitechapel Art Gallery, in 2009.
The theatre is a few steps away from Shepherds Bush Market. This runs from Uxbridge Road to Goldhawk Road. It is located beneath and beside the railway track, part of the Underground that runs overhead along a series of brick arches. The market first opened for business in about 1914 (see: http://www.horatha.com/our-history/). Free of vehicles apart from occasional trains running overhead, this market is a quiet place. When I visited it, I heard very few, if any, sellers shouting about their wares.
Many goods are on sale including: meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables; clothes and shoes; flowers: real and artificial; materials for clothes and curtains; electronic goods; music recordings; cooking and other household utensils; refreshments; baggage items; bedding; and much more. The clientele and sales people hail from all over the world, as do the products that are on sale.
Stepping into this colourful market is like stepping out of London into a place where Asian (middle East and Indian subcontinent), African (north, east, and west), and Caribbean cultures flourish in harmony with the uncertain British climate. Although in detail this market looks exotic, its variety is what London is all about. In amongst the shops selling things, there are stalls offering services like tailoring. Some of the market stalls are in the open, but many are sheltered by a translucent canopy attached to the railway brickwork. In some places, the market invades the spaces under the railway arches.
Across a busy road from the southern end of the market, there is the entrance to Goldhawk Road Underground Station. It was opened in 1914. Architecturally unexceptional, part of its eastern platform is supported by a series of steel supports, whose appearance is reminiscent of the elevated parts of the Subway in New York City.
Just west of the market on the other side of the railway tracks, there is another similar, but administratively distinct, market called The New Shepherds Bush Market. Although it seems like its neighbour, it is a separate market. By walking into the depths of the newer market, I suddenly found myself in the older market. The two markets merge beneath one of the railway arches.
Continuing along the Uxbridge Road, we reach a building with a small tower on the corner of Lime Grove. Now a branch of Tesco’s supermarket chain, this was formerly a pub, the ‘White Horse’. The pub existed early in the 19th century, and closed before 2011. Between 1949 and ’93, the BBC had TV studios in Lime Grove. Built in the 1920s, the studios were first owned by the Gaumont-British cinema film production and distribution company. West of the pub is the stone clad neo-gothic church of St Stephen and St Thomas, which was built 1849-50. It was designed by Anthony Salvin (1799-1881), an expert on mediaeval buildings. He also designed the parsonage, now called ‘Glebe House, in Coverdale Road.
The Miles Coverdale Primary School, built in brick, stands where Coverdale Road meets Thornfield Road. Opened in 1916, the school’s name that of a man who lived from 1488 until 1569. This Coverdale was and English ecclesiastical reformer and translator of the Bible.
Where Thornfield Road, lined by terraced housing, crosses Godolphin Road, there is a brick church with gothic windows. A Greek flag flies from a flagpole near the church’s eastern entrance. Above this doorway, there are words written in Greek. Designed by AW Blomfield, this church, St Nicholas, was constructed in 1882 (a chancel was added in 1887). The church of St Nicholas, formerly known as ‘St Thomas’, was closed in 1960, and two years later its congregation combined with that of the nearby St Stephen, which was then renamed St Stephen and St Thomas (see above, and also: https://www.ststephensw12.org/history-of-st-stephens/). Since 1965, the abandoned church, now St Nicholas, has been used as the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St Nicholas.
The street outside the west end of the cathedral was littered with the carcases of five abandoned Vespa motor scooters. Resembling victims of a ritual killing, they were all denuded of their seats, wheels, and front panel covers. A vehicular version of the “Sicilian Vespers” massacre, you might say. I suspect that by the time that this goes into print, they might have been removed.
Thornfield Road ends at Stowe Road that first proceeds north, and then west. Where it changes direction, it passes the entrance to a gated community called Havilland Mews. This was built on the site of the former Paragon Works. The works belonged to the Brilliant Sign Company, which was founded in 1888. They brought about a revolution in shop sign technology with their ‘Brilliant letter’ which: “…was a pressed copper sheet with a v-shaped cross section so as to imitate the classic incised wooden facia letter. These were then fixed to the rear of the painted glass by way of flanges with shellac, furthermore they were then covered with lead foil to then ‘hermetically seal’ them from the weather and condensation.” (see: http://www.brilliantsigns.co.uk/OUR-HERITAGE). In 1907, the company bought the three-acre site at Stowe Road, where they built a factory that continued production until 1976 – the year the company was ‘wound up’. In 1999, the company was revived under new management, and now has a factory in Buckinghamshire.
Coningham Road connects Stowe Road with Goldhawk Road. This road runs from Shepherds Bush Green to Turnham Green. The name of this thoroughfare derives from John Goldhawk, who owned land in Fulham in the 14th century. It has been called ‘Gould Hauk Road’ in the past. In Thomas Faulkner’s “The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Hammersmith”, published in 1839, he suggests that the road followed the course of a Roman Road built in the first century AD. This is confirmed in later accounts (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol7/pp51-54). In the 1870s, the road was called ‘New Road’, as well as ‘Roman Road’ (on an 1866 map), but it reverted to Goldhawk after the mid-1890s.
O’ Donoghues pub on the corner of Coningham and Goldhawk roads, whose ground floor is adorned with pillars and pilasters bearing Ionic capitals, was formerly the ‘Swakely Hotel’. This is a 19th century pub building, which does not appear on a detailed map drawn in 1866. In contrast, the former ‘Wheatsheaf’ pub almost opposite on the corner of the now fashionable Brackenbury Road was in existence in 1866. It is a three-storey building with decorative ironwork above its main entrance. Its name changed to the ‘Brackenbury Arms’, which closed in 2009. Now, the premises house the Zaman Lounge, an ethnic restaurant with ‘African’ and ‘Mediterranean’ food.
Neighbouring the Zaman Lounge, the first house on Brackenbury Road is a small apartment block in a building, Brickfield House, that looks as if it might have been built more than 100 years ago. In the 19th century, there were brickfields in the area. By the mid-1890s, these had been built on as part of the spread of residential housing developments. Nearby, Brackenbury Primary School, housed in a large brick building with triangular gables and a small wooden tower, was already built by 1893.
Heading east along Goldhawk Road, we pass a building on the corner of St Stephens Avenue. Its ground floor is contemporary, but the upper storeys facing Goldhawk Road look Victorian. This is deceptive because this old-looking façade is part of a very much more contemporary building. This is the Townhouse Mews, a recently constructed development of twelve up-market housing units. The housing complex is built on land that had previously been occupied by ‘Townhouse Studios’, a recording studio set up by Richard Branson in 1978 (see: http://www.bective.co.uk/downloads/sales/3870007_2245918_DOC_54.PDF). Artists who have recorded there include Phil Collins, Duran Duran, Robbie Williams, and Elton John.
The small Shepherd and Flock pub, on a corner plot and decorated with pillars and pilasters that serve no obvious structural function, is further east along Goldhawk Road. It was built in 1869 (see: https://pubshistory.com/LondonPubs/Hammersmith/ShepherdFlock.shtml). It has an attractive painted sign hanging over the pavement.
A few doors east of this pub, there is a shop adorned with words in the Ethiopian alphabet (Amharic). Called Messi Abyssinia, the shop sells fashion accessories and Ethiopian outfits. Its presence is one of many signs of the area’s multi-ethnic composition.
On the corner of Richford Street and Goldhawk Road, stands a branch of Kerr & Co, an estate agent. Their ground floor offices retain bas-reliefs including the date 1898 and the three feathers of the Prince of Wales. This building housed the ‘British Prince’ pub, which was already in existence by 1855 (see: https://pubshistory.com/LondonPubs/Hammersmith/BritishPrince.shtml). It closed in about 2013, after having been renamed ‘The Prince’, and then ‘Raving Buddha’.
The narrow, small watch- and clock-repairer’s shop a few feet west of Goldhawk Road Underground station, AR Roberts, looks as if it has remained unaltered for many decades. It is popular, and rated reliable.
Just east of the railway bridge, the shop that used to house A Cooke’s ‘Traditional Pie, Mash, Liquor, and Eels’ - formerly favourite foods of Londoners – looks (December 2017) as if it about to be demolished, or totally changed. The company was started by Alfred Cooke in 1899 (see: https://www.cookespieandmash.com/about-us/). He moved to the now derelict shop on Goldhawk Road in 1934, which served customers until it closed in 2015. Alfred’s great-grandson, Mike Boughton, continues the family tradition by providing customers with the same fare via an on-line delivery service.
The old pie shop is in a terrace of shabby two-storey buildings that, at its eastern end, abuts a late Victorian block of flats, Pennard Mansions, built in brick with stone window surrounds. Currently the ground floor is occupied by textile shops that bear Arabic lettering on their signboards. Roger Waters of The Pink Floyd (a popular rock music group) and his wife, the potter Judy Trim (1943-2001), lived in the Mansions in the late 1960s (see: “Pink Floyd: The Early Years”, by B Miles, publ. 2011).
The elaborately decorated brick building with a corner turret with a bell-shaped tiled roof on the corner of Goldhawk Road and Shepherds Bush Green, where we started this exploration, is now called the Sindercombe Social. It is a place for drinking, dining, and dancing. The building began life as the ‘Bush Hotel’, a 19th century pub. Between 1972, when it was established, and 2010, the Bush Theatre (see above) occupied the first floor of this hostelry in what had before been the dance studio of Lionel Blair (see: telegraph.co.uk, 18th April 2002). ‘Sindercombe’, the name of the present establishment, which opened in 2014, has an interesting history.
Miles Sindercombe (died 1657) was involved in at least two plots to assassinate members of the government of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658). Cromwell’s biographer Antonia Fraser writes in her “Cromwell Our Chief of Men” (publ. 1973) that Sindercombe and accomplices: “… had in the first place intended to fire at Cromwell with ‘screwed guns’, each containing twelve bullets and a slug, on his route to Hampton Court…” The place chosen was a banqueting room in Hammersmith, where it was known that the coach carrying Cromwell would have to slow down because the road outside it was narrow and in bad condition. On the day that the shooting was planned, Cromwell escaped with his life because he had chosen to travel by boat instead of by road.
Sindercombe was less fortunate. Convicted of treason, he was sentenced to be hung, drawn, and quartered. He escaped this fate by killing himself with poison, which had been smuggled into his cell in the Tower of London (see: “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography”). Walter Besant wrote in his “London North of the Thames” (publ. 1911): “At Shepherds Bush, in 1657, one Miles Sindercomb [sic] hired a house for the purpose of assassinating Oliver Cromwell … the precise spot on which the attempt took place is impossible to identify. It was somewhere near ‘the corner of Golders Lane’, says Faulkner, but the lane has long since been obliterated.” Faulkner (writing in 1839: see above) is more specific than Besant implies: “The house which Syndercomb hired for the purpose of killing the Protector was an inn, much frequented by travellers on the great western road. It was situate [sic] at the eastern end of the Gould Hawk Road, which was at that time very narrow, and nearly impassable. This old house was pulled down about sixty years ago.” This would place the scene of the crime very close to the present-day Sindercombe Social.
When I first set-out to explore Shepherds Bush, I was afraid that I would not find much of interest there. I hope that what has been described shows that the area, which lacks the charm of, say, Hampstead or Kensington, is not without its own fascination. Although there be no more sheep to be seen, there is more than the Westfield shopping centre to attract visitors to the ‘Bush’.
PS: I looked around Shepherds Bush for just over an hour and a half whilst waiting for my wife to have her hair 'done' at a local hair salon. I thought that I would lose interest after a short time, but how wrong I was to have made that assumption!