In 1493, the first mention of Brook Green appears in a document referring to a tributary of Stamford Brook, probably man made, called Black Bull Ditch or Parr’s Ditch, which flowed across the marshy green to enter the Thames south of Chancellor’s Wharf. By the late 18th century this offshoot was charmingly recorded as being “a 4ft wide ditch, constantly full of filthy water” which eventually became so polluted with waste from nearby brick fields that it was finally covered and converted to a sewer in 1876. Nearby Blythe Road, known as Blinde Lane, was recorded in 1839 as being “sadly neglected and nearly impassable in winter”.
During the 18th and early 19th century the area was primarily known for its market gardens, the most famous founded by James Lee and Lewis Kennedy on the site of a former vineyard; Olympia now marks the spot. Lee and Kennedy introduced hundreds of new plants to the United Kingdom, including standard roses and fuchsias, the latter discovered growing in a sailor’s garden in Wapping having been brought back by him from Chile. During this era, a fair held on the Green was a popular annual event, but having attracted some undesirable characters it was closed by magistrate order in 1823.
Towards the end of the 18th century, the brickfields and market gardens were beginning to give way to some larger dwellings, including Eagle House situated on the corner of Luxemburg Gardens, with its grand entrance flanked by two impressive stone eagles. Demolished in the 1890s, Bute House now stands on its site. The Grange, to the east of Rowan Road, became the home of the famous Victorian actor Henry Irving and St. Paul’s Girls’ School was built on part of its grounds. The original Blythe House stood north of the Green but had long since disappeared by the time the Post Office opened their Savings Bank and offices in a building of the same name in 1899. The Post Office workers have now gone, but the stunning building remains as a store for the V&A, Science and British Museums.
For many years there was a strong Roman Catholic presence in the area to the extent that it was sometimes referred to as Pope’s Corner. Eagle House was at one time occupied by the religious organisation of St. Vincent and a school for girls known as “The Ark” was established in 1760 at Brook Green House to “save them from a deluge of vice”. The Ark was taken over by the Catholic Poor Schools Committee in 1847 to be a teacher trainer college and remained there until 1925 when it moved to Strawberry Hill. In the mid 1900s, The Holy Trinity church served the influx of Irish workers whilst the fast growing west London Jewish community built a synagogue on the north side of the Green. The latter struggled with attendance and eventually closed before finally becoming home to the Chinese Christian Church in London.
During the 19th century, laundries abounded in the area including on the site now occupied by Berghem Mews and an 80 foot chimney towered over McCullock’s bleaching grounds in Spring Vale where calico and muslins were whitened and starched. In 1873 Charles Cadby, a piano manufacturer, demolished two houses facing Hammersmith Road to build a new factory, a site that was latterly bought by Joseph Lyons in 1899 which expanded over the next ninety years to become a vast food manufacturing complex employing over 30,000 workers. One of these workers was a young research chemist called Margaret Thatcher who helped develop ways of preserving ice cream – so that’s where she developed that famous frosty look!
Brook Green attracted a number of talented artists and the blue plaque at 84 Brook Green remembers the Silver Studios whose designs were sold to leading fabric and wallpaper manufacturers including Sanderson and Liberty’s. Sir Frank Short, the eminent engraver lived at number 56 whilst on the other side of the Green another blue plaque records Gustav Holst’s time as Director of Music at St. Paul’s Girls’ School.
Now a conservation area, Brook Green and its surrounding roads are largely residential with houses which command rather higher prices than in 1855 when a semi-detached seven room cottage on the Green could be rented for a mere £25 a year. Plans in the 1930s to build a new town hall on the Green were seen off by irate residents who ensured that Brook Green’s much valued open space was preserved to be enjoyed for many years to come.
cc Caroline MacMillan 2014