Fulham’s impressive riverside developments that, along with a host of new bars and restaurants, are attracting families who have been priced out of neighbouring Kensington & Chelsea homes are the first large-scale housing developments in this part of London since the tail end of the 19th century.
But the number of Fulham’s desirable red-brick period homes could have been much greater had a plot by one of the area’s most prominent housebuilders to relocate the forerunner of mega-money Arsenal Football Club from Plumstead to Craven Cottage not been foiled.
Most of the period housing stock in the SW6 postcode area has a uniformity not found in other parts of London. This is because it was built in a 35-year period when Fulham’s prosperity turned from market gardening to housing when the District Line arrived in 1880.
The rows of Victorian and Edwardian terraced houses remain popular because of their width and the size of gardens, although many of the larger properties have now been converted into flats.
The exception to this uniformity is the development of contemporary, waterside apartments. Since the start of the 21st century, luxury flats, townhouses and penthouses, ranging from one to six bedrooms, have been built on old industrial sites on the south Fulham riverside.
At Chelsea Creek on Imperial Road, around 1,300 new homes – ranging from studio flats available at a discounted price for first-time buyers to 8th floor multi-million pound penthouses – are being completed, while work is underway creating Fulham Riverside on the site of the derelict Fulham Wharf. This will see 460 homes built around a new Sainsbury’s superstore, plus cafes, bars, a new public space and extended riverwalk.
The regeneration of Fulham’s industrial heritage got underway in 2000 when developer St George launched Imperial Wharf, a scheme that saw 1,400 homes built on a former British Gas site next to Chelsea Harbour.
Reclamation of former industrial sites created between the wars has since spread to Sands End, west of Wandsworth Bridge Road and south of King’s Road, and is set to continue thanks to neighbouring landowners creating a masterplan for the redevelopment of Whiffen Wharf, Hurlingham Wharf and Carnworth Road industrial estate.
A second area of SW6 to undergo a major facelift is around North End Road, where a development of 39 apartments and three penthouses now occupies the site of the former bingo hall in Vanston Place opposite St John’s Church.
And the former trading estate in Farm Lane has been bulldozed to create 40 townhouses. However, the ornate Edwardian arched entrance has been retained and restored.
Fulham’s first housebuilding boom
Fulham’s development as a residential district, however, can be traced back to the midway point of the 19th century.
Before prolific builders William Gilbert Allen, Henry Norris and Irishman Jimmy Nichols were responsible for the majority of the period homes that make the area so desirable today, the Moore Park district between King’s Road and Fulham Road became the first large residential development in this corner of south-west London. Dating from 1850, the average value of the classic townhouses in these roads now tops £1m.
Meanwhile, the allotments and market gardens that once dominated the borough became the Walham Grove development when building work started in 1862. Today, four-bed terraced houses in Walham Grove, near North End Road Market, command an asking price in the region of £2.75m.
Some of the most desirable roads in Fulham are on the Peterborough Estate – a conservation area south of New Kings Road between Parson’s Green and Walham Green. These red-brick properties are known as Lion houses because Nichols’ trademark terracotta lions are still visible on the gables of the buildings.
Nichols built the first houses on the Peterborough Estate in 1888 when modest two storey terraces in Peterborough and Coniger Roads were advertised for sale at £300. The houses sold quickly and his financial success encouraged Nichols to turn more of the adjoining fields into housing.
The majority of street names on the Peterborough Estate are named after the towns in Kent that the labourers who built the homes originated from. However, Perrymead Street pays tribute to the orchards of Peterborough House on which it was built, while Nichols is said to have named Coniger Road himself and is thought to be a misspelling of Conigar mountain near his home in County Cork.
Other sought-after areas of Fulham include the Hurlingham and Bishops Park, where substantial semi-detached houses can be found.
Development of the Bishops Park Estate, which is often referred to as the Alphabet Streets due to its street names running in alphabetical sequence, started between 1899 and 1908 after Allen offered Norris – who was to become a director of Fulham FC – a partnership in his building firm.
Allen & Norris concentrated on two types of building for which there was a desperate need in London. The majority of the homes they built were small houses in terraced rows, occasionally with a semi-detached property or a double-fronted one on the end of a row. However, they were also responsible for Fulham’s distinctive maisonettes, which at first glance look like a terraced house but are actually two flats.
On the frontline of football history
Good examples of this type of property can be found in Crabtree Lane, which not only turned out to be Allen & Norris’s last great venture, it set a new standard in homebuilding.
Properties in what is now known as the Crabtree Conservation Area are identified by the fact they did not come with sash windows that were popular in Victorian time but new-style casement windows. Not only that, every roof on the estate’s good-sized homes was finished with tiles, rather than slates.
Before the Crabtree Lane development was completed in 1916, Norris bought a majority stake in Woolwich Arsenal Football Club while still a director of Fulham FC.
This led to his proposal of merging Arsenal and Fulham to create a London super-club based at Craven Cottage. The move was blocked by the sport’s governing body, but the Football League could do little to prevent Norris relocating Arsenal to north London in 1913.
Ironically, his decision to base the club at its former Highbury Stadium was influenced by the catalyst for Fulham’s growth. In 1906, the Gillespie Road Tube Station – later renamed Highbury – opened, which Norris considered an ideal way of attracting a large number of football fans.
While Fulham’s housebuilding boom was brought to a halt by the outbreak of World War One, the impact of Norris on the area did not end with the completion of the Crabtree Lane development. He was indirectly responsible for the creation of Chelsea FC, which is actually based in Fulham.
When chairman of Fulham FC in 1905, Norris was offered the opportunity to move the club to Stamford Bridge, which businessman Gus Mears had acquired the previous year.
However, Norris refused to pay the £1500 per year rent being demanded, so Mears subsequently created his own team to occupy the ground. And the rest, they say, is history…