Post-war playwright John Osborne (1929-1994) was honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque last week at his former Hammersmith home. The announcement came 65 years after his seminal play, Look Back in Anger, was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre on 8th May, 1956. The terraced red brick property at 53 Caithness Road was his London base when he wrote Look Back in Anger, arguably his best known work. Playwright and director Sir David Hare said Osborne “had the most sensational London debut of any playwright in the English language in the 20th century”. “It was John’s brilliance and originality which led so many to help relocate the theatre at the centre of Britain’s cultural and intellectual life. Everyone who followed owes him a debt.” For more on Blue Plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques.
While many establishments have been temporarily forced to close as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we publish this piece in the hope you’ll be able to visit soon…
This storied Thames-side pub in London’s west apparently has associations with everyone from King Charles II to Arts and Crafts designer William Morris and author Graham Greene and is known as a prime site to watch the annual Boat Race between Cambridge and Oxford universities.
The establishment, now Grade II-listed, at 19 Upper Mall is said to have a history dating back to the late mid 18th century and was originally founded as a coffee house.
The rooms within are fittingly small given the building’s age; in fact, the bar was once listed by Guinness World Records as the smallest bar room in the world.
The pub’s name apparently comes from the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark in which a dove is sent out after the great flood to find dry land and returns with an olive leaf in its beak indicating the receding waters (it’s also interesting to note that the pub was known for almost 100 years as ‘The Doves’ for many years – it has been said this was due to a sign-writer’s error which was only corrected in the last 1940s).
King Charles II is said to have met his mistress Nell Gwyn at this riverside location prior to its current incarnation. Others who have come to be associated with the pub itself – Morris and Greene aside – include American author Ernest Hemingway, Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and Scottish poet, playwright and lyricist James Thompson who is said to have written the words for his 1740 song, Rule, Britannia!, here.
Another association comes from Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson, founder of the Doves Bindery and the Doves Press, both of which he named after this pub. It’s also mentioned in the pages of Sir Alan Herbert’s 1930 popular novel, The Water Gipsies.
Now part of the Fuller’s chain. For more information, see www.dovehammersmith.co.uk.
The name, which also refers to the westernmost of London’s inner boroughs – since 1979 under the combined name of Hammersmith and Fulham, derives from two Anglo-Saxon words and dates back to at least the 13th century.
The village of Hammersmith sprang up along the major roads leading out of London and its roads, including some of the busiest in the city, still dominate the area’s landscape.
There’s been a chapel of ease in the village of Hammersmith since the early 1660s but in 1834 it became the parish church. The current Grade II-listed church, St Paul’s Hammersmith, dates from 1883 and contains some monuments from the original building.
Other significant sites in Hammersmith include St Peter’s Church which, built in 1829, is now the oldest church, the Lyric Theatre which has origins going back to the 1880s, and, The Dove, which was listed by Guinness World Records as having the smallest bar in the world.
Hammersmith Bridge, which runs across the River Thames to Barnes, is a Grade II* suspension bridge designed by the civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette and opened in 1887. It replaced an earlier bridge designed by William Tierney Clark and opened in 1827 (it was the first suspension bridge across the Thames).
PICTURES: Above – Hammersmith Bridge (Matt Brown – licensed under CC BY 2.0); Hammersmith Underground Station (Peter Gasston – licensed under CC BY-ND-NC 2.0); The Dove (Herry Lawford – licensed under CC BY 2.0).
Now officially known as the BNY Mellon Boat Race, the annual rowing event between Oxford and Cambridge universities was first held at Henley on Thames in 1829, moving to London for the second event in 1836 and becoming an annual event (with the exception of the two world wars) in 1856.
One of the most controversial races ever held – and next year’s will be the 159th – was in 1877 when the race, run over a four mile, 374 yard course which starts in Putney in west London and taking in a great bend of The Thames as it goes past Chiswick and Hammersmith, finishes at Mortlake, ended in a “dead heat”.
The drama began as the boats passed Barnes Bridge, about three-and-a-half miles through the course, when one of the blades of the Oxford team’s oars broke after striking rough water. Oxford (wearing dark blue) had been leading the race and the incident is believed to have helped Cambridge (wearing light blue) to draw level – so much so that both crews are recorded as having passed the finish line in 24 minutes and eight seconds.
It’s the only time the race has ever finished in a draw and there was, as might be expected, significant controversy over the result. With no finishing posts then in place, the judge, a waterman from Fulham named ‘Honest John’ Phelps, had to decide the result from his place in a small skiff on the water (and, according to the official Boat Race website, it is believed he was in a position to do so and not dozing under a bush as others have suggested).
His skiff, it is believed, may have drifted off the finish line. In addition, it was not the only craft on the water and it’s believed that the other craft filled with people eager to see the result, may have partially obscured his view. Even if they hadn’t, his was a tough task.
As was recorded in The Times (with thanks to Wikipedia): “Cheers for one crew were succeeded by counter-cheers for the other, and it was impossible to tell what the result was until the Press boat backed down to the Judge and inquired the issue. John Phelps, the waterman, who officiated, replied that the noses of the boats passed the post strictly level, and that the result was a dead heat.”
Oxford, however, thought they had won by a matter of several feet and it’s believed that as a result Honest John announced the result as “dead heat to Oxford by five feet”. The result was later confirmed as simply a “dead heat”.
The controversy did lead to some changes – including the introduction of finishing posts – a stone on the south bank and a post on the north – and the passing of the role of judge to members of the two universities instead of a professional waterman.
Following this year’s race (also rather controversial – see our earlier article here) Cambridge has 81 wins and Oxford 76. For more on the history of the Boat Race see our earlier entry here or visit www.theboatrace.org.