Glancing over the wall in Furnivall Gardens adjacent to Hammersmith Reach I spotted (image below) these mysterious gates and the railings protruding out onto the mud banks of low water, a little internet investigation back at home uncovered the fascinating story of one of London’s ‘lost rivers’ – Stamford Brook.
Stamford Brook is a tributary of the Thames, and is itself formed by the confluence of several smaller streams, arising in West London, and flowing into Hammersmith Creek on the Tideway. (ps. the Tideway is the name given to the part of the river that is subject to tides ie. the stretch of water downstream from Teddington Lock and is just under 99 miles long.)
Hammersmith Creek was the outflow river of Stamford Brook, and used to run through what is now the busy King Street, into the Thames at the present-day site of Furnivall Gardens.
Until the early 19th century Hammersmith Creek was navigable over this distance, and was the scene of much industry with malt houses and boatbuilders along the banks, as well as being a route for cargo transportation. However, by the early 20th century the creek was no longer the site of such activity, and it was filled in 1936 with Furnivall Gardens being built on the location in 1951. Today, only the drainage tunnel visible in the photos remains, as evidence of Hammersmith Creek.
Stamford may be a corruption of the stoney ford or sandy ford by which the Brook was crossed by King Street. Stamford Brook has given its name to the surrounding area between Hammersmith and Chiswick and to local London Underground station, Stamford Brook tube station. Stamford Brook has no connection with Stamford Bridge, the area of the Chelsea Football Club ground which is also situated in West London, despite the similarity of names. Stamford Bridge is built near the site of a bridge which carried the Kings Road over another tributary stream called Counter’s Creek.
Stamford Brook is a complex waterway, who’s source is debated, as the West London area is the confluence of numerous small stream (now almost all culverted and lost under the infrastructure of present-day London) meandering towards the the Thames and feeding several closely aligned waterways such as the Bollo Brook and Stamford Brook. However, generally speaking sources seem to agree that the Stamford Brook is made up of three converging streams which only flow as a unified waterway on their final approach to the Thames. One, Mill Hill Brook, originates around Mill Hill Road to the west in Acton; the second stream, the Warple, rises near Acton mainline station, and the eastern (and seemingly unnamed) stream rises in the open land of Wormwood Scrubs close to the once fashionable Old Acton Wells spa where the mildly laxative local spring water was sold in the 18th C.
Flanking the steps of the rear, formally the front, entrance to Hammersmith Town Hall are two colossal carved heads of Father Thames. When the architect E. Berry Webber designed the Town Hall (which was built in 1938-9) he incorporated the heads in commemoration of the fact that the building stands astride the old Hammersmith Creek.
Perhaps the story of the Stamford Brook doesn’t quite end with it being constrained and culverted as an ignominious drain, as recently a group of Hammersmith architects have proposed schemes to reconnect Hammersmith with the river, by raising Stamford Brook to the surface – it’s a tantalising prospect.