PutneyThis south-west London Thames-side district (and the bridge named after it), traces the origin of its name back to Saxon times.

Putney2Recorded in the Domesday Book as Putelei and known in the Middle Ages as Puttenhuthe, it apparently goes back to a Saxon named Puttan who lived in the area and the Old English word ‘hyp’, which means ‘landing place’. Hence, “Puttan’s landing place” (or Puttan’s wharf).

Putney has something of a storied history – it was the birthplace of Tudor heavyweight Thomas Cromwell, Georgian-era author Edward Gibbon and it was here, in the still-standing parish church of St Mary the Virgin (pictured), that the Putney Debates were held in 1647 among members of the New Model Army.

The first bridge was apparently built here in the first half of the 18th century and the present stone bridge in the 1880s.

Today a sought-after riverside residential district, Putney boasts a sizeable high street, great riverside pubs and eateries and is particularly popular every April when The Boat Race is held between Oxford and Cambridge universities thanks to the starting point being just upstream of Putney Bridge.

The area also is home to the 400 acre Putney Heath (which adjoins Wimbledon Common), a popular site for duels in the 18th century, and also home to a stone and brick obelisk, erected in 1770 to mark the 110th anniversary of the Great Fire of London (more on that in an upcoming post).

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OK, so it doesn’t look like the most historic of pubs but the Bricklayer’s Arms in Putney does boast an interesting history (as well as a much accoladed menu ales).

The-Bricklayer's-ArmsThe Waterman Street pub is apparently the oldest in the south-western riverside district, dating back to 1826 when it was constructed on the site of a former coaching house and blacksmith’s forge.

Then named the Waterman’s Arms, thanks no doubt to its Thames proximity and the fact that, as a result, most of the clientele were freeman and lightermen working on the river, it changed its name to the Bricklayer’s Arms around the turn of the 20th century when, thanks to the extension of the District line railway, there was a sizeable amount of construction going on in the area.

It was briefly known as the Putney Brick before the current owners – actress Becky Newman and her husband John – took over the pub just over 10 years ago, during which time it has won a swag of awards including being named one of the top 10 English pubs by National Geographic and winning the CAMRA National Pub of the Year Award in 2007 and 2009.

For more on the pub (and the plans to extend it), check out www.bricklayers-arms.co.uk.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro-Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0 (image has been cropped and brightened)

Fulham-PalaceThis Thameside area in London’s west has a long and storied history and its name is a reflection of it.

Long home to the ‘country’ manor of the bishops of London (Fulham Palace, pictured above), the name Fulanham is recorded as early as the late 7th century.

While there’s been speculation in the past that the name Fulham (also recorded among other variations as Fullam) was a corruption of ‘fowl-ham’ – relating to the wild fowl that were to be found here – or of ‘foul-ham’, relating to the muddied waters, that’s now apparently generally deemed not to be the case.

Instead, its name most likely owes its origins to an Anglo-Saxon named Fulla and the Old English word ‘hamm’ – a term for a water meadow or piece of land enclosed in a bend in a river (in contrast to the more common ‘ham’ which refers to an estate or homestead) – and referred to the manor he owned here, its boundaries set by a bend in the Thames. (It should be noted there is evidence of earlier occupation of the site by the Romans and as far back as the Neolithic era).

In about 700, the manor of Fulham – which includes the area we now think of as Fulham as well as land stretching as far afield as Acton, Ealing and Finchley – was acquired by Bishop Waldhere of London from Bishop Tyrhtilus of Hereford. Since Tudor times, Fulham Palace was used as the country home of the bishops of London and in the 20th century became their principal residence. It was used as such until 1975 and now houses a museum and reception rooms.

As well as now being used for the area which once contained what became the village of Fulham itself, since 1979 the name has also been used in that of the Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. Interestingly, Fulham Broadway tube station was known as Walham Green when it first opened in 1880 and was only given its current name in 1952.

The bishop’s palace (and the nearby riverside Bishop’s Park) aside, other landmarks in the area include the Grade I-listed All Saints Church, which is largely late Victorian and which hosts the grave of abolitionist Granville Sharp, and the nearby Powell Almhouses which date from 1869.

It’s also linked by Putney Bridge with Putney on the other side of the Thames; the current bridge is the work of Sir Joseph Bazalgette and was built in 1882 – it replaced an earlier wooden bridge built in 1729 and overlooks where the annual Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race begins (other bridges spanning the river from Fulham include the rather ugly Wandsworth Bridge).

Known during the 18th century as something of a mecca for gambling, prostitution and other debauched leisure activities, these days Fulham is known for its football club, Fulham FC headquartered at Craven Cottage stadium (named for a cottage owned by Baron Craven which once stood here), shopping and is a sought-after residential location.

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.

PICTURE: Oxford celebrate their win. Source: Getty Images

Last weekend saw the running of the 157th Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race from Putney to Mortlake on the River Thames in London. Oxford this year added to its tally with a victory which now has the running scores as 80 Cambridge, 76 Oxford.

The origins of the race go back a friendship between two men who’d met at the prestigious Harrow School – Charles Merivale and Charles Wordsworth (incidentally, the nephew of the poet William Wordsworth). Merivale went on to attend Cambridge and Wordsworth, Oxford. The first race was organised after Cambridge challenged Oxford.

The first race, said to have been watched by 20,000 people, was held at Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire, in 1829 after Cambridge sent a challenge to Oxford (Oxford won after a restart). It was such a success that the townfolk decided to organise an annual regatta – the Henley Royal Regatta – but the race itself moved to London with the second event held in 1836.

Initially Westminster was the chosen location but growing crowds led it to be moved again in 1845 – this time what was then the village of Putney, about six miles upstream. It became an annual event in 1856 and has run every year ever since, with the exception of the war years.

The races have featured several sinkings (including 1912 when both boats sank), a win in a blizzard (1952), and a “dead heat” (1877 – although some controversy surrounds how close it was – in any event it was almost repeated in 2003 when Oxford won by just one foot).

Sponsored by Xchanging, the race – in which Oxford traditionally wear dark blue and Cambridge light blue with both teams known as “Blues” – is now watched by some 250,000 people who crowd along the river’s bank as well as millions around the world. Among the traditions which have continued are that it’s the loser of the previous year’s race who challenges the victor to the next race.

For more about the race, see www.theboatrace.org or visit the River & Rowing Museum at Henley on Thames.