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No.9 Brentford: Old Brentford and the River Thames

In 1993 GLIAS produced this walks leaflet, compiled by Diana Willment with help from Elizabeth Wood and other GLIAS members.

We have reproduced it here for historical interest. Links to entries in the GLIAS Database are given.

The walk is about 1½ miles long and may take up to 1½ hours. It starts at Kew Bridge BR Station and ends at The Beehive pub in the centre of Brentford. It links with GLIAS Walk 10, New Brentford and The Grand Union Canal, which ends at Brentford Station.

In the 19th century Brentford, an old industrial town with many unusual industries, had a reputation for riotousness and dirt. From the 18th century it was the first overnight stop for slow coaches west from London.

Industries connected with the river and canal were important, as were tanning, brewing, distilling, pottery, brickmaking and market gardening; many still commemorated in street names. The complex of tidal docks at Brentford is unique in London.


Start at Kew Bridge Station.

① The station, designed by Tite, was built by the London and South Western Railway Company for its Hounslow loop line (GTL03058) and opened in 1849. Still standing in Lionel Road and overlooking the platforms is Station House, now used as offices. Almost opposite the station is Kew Bridge (GTL00147) itself, opened in 1903 by King Edward VII, with a commemorative plaque in the centre on the right hand parapet. This is the third bridge across the Thames here; the first was opened in 1759 replacing a ferry. In the 19th century Brentford's fruit and vegetable produce was sold in an open market at the north end of Kew bridge; this was moved in 1893 to reduce traffic congestion.

Turn right out of Kew Bridge Station and walk along Kew Bridge Road to Green Dragon Lane on the right. Turn up Green Dragon Lane.

② In Green Dragon Lane is the entrance to Kew Bridge Steam Museum (GTL00115), open daily and home to a magnificent collection of steam-driven water-pumping engines. Kew Bridge Pumping Station was started by the Grand Junction Water Works Company in 1837 and since 1838 drinking water has been pumped from this site, serving a large area of north-west London. Further up Green Dragon Lane, keep to the left to see the banks of the old filter beds, now occupied by the six blocks of flats, all appropriately named after waterworks engines and engineers.

Kew Bridge Steam Museum

Return to Kew Bridge Road and turn right.

Through the iron railings the solidly constructed engine houses and elegant stand-pipe tower of the pumping station can be admired. Since 1986 water has been pumped from the corrugated windowless building in the disused filter bed just beyond the old pumping station along Kew Bridge Road. The new London water ring main passes under this site and crosses the road here, about 45 metres beneath your feet.

Cross the main road by the standpipe tower and follow the footpath under the brick building and down to the River. Turn right along The Hollows.

From The Hollows are good views back to Kew Bridge, and in the high wall is a bricked-up entrance, evidence of the river access once used for coal delivery to the pumping station.

Follow the path and regain the main road.

Note the pub on the corner, once the Yacht and before that the Royal Tar, which has unusual cast-iron window columns. Houses in Hamilton Road and elsewhere in Brentford have similar decorative columns. Further along the road you can see the former St George's Church now housing the Musical Museum and its fine collection of self-playing musical instruments.

Continue left along the main road, past Victoria Steps and into Watermans Park. Walk along by the river.

③ Watermans Park was opened in 1983 on land previously occupied by the large gasworks which extended on both sides of the road. Here, under the names Brentford Gas Company, Gas Light & Coke Company and North Thames Gas, town gas was produced from 1820 to 1963 and the smell of gas works is still noticeable at low tide (GTL00524). In the park are remains of the wharfage for the coal barges delivering to the gas works. Some of the mooring posts at the far end are capped with iron plates marked 'GLCC BD 1930'. Gate valves and other ironwork survive in the high wall bordering the road. In the neighbourhood are several walls, once part of the gasworks site, built of blocks containing residue from the gas-making process.

Keeping by the river, go down the steps beyond the Arts Centre. On reaching the high wall turn right to the metal gateway into Smith Hill.

On Lots Ait, the last island on this stretch, are the barge building and repair docks (GTL00539) used by Thames Steam Tug and Lighterage Ltd., later known as Thames & General and closed down in 1980. Osiers for basket making were once grown on the island and along the riverside nearby. Smith Hill is one of the many stairs and slipways giving access to the river.

Regain the main road at the traffic lights, cross over straight ahead and walk up Ealing Road. Turn left along Albany Road.

④ To the right are some of Brentford's many streets of late 19th-century houses; it is easy to date Mafeking Avenue. After 75 yards look for an angled water pipe at the kerb on the right. It carries a plaque reading 'J Bartle & Co. W London' and was a supply point for watercarts. Further on, to the left past the Albany Arms, are four houses in imitation stone, actually concrete blocks possibly containing gasworks clinker.

Opposite the park turn left down an alley.

This alley was once known as King's Arms Alley and Isleworth Plating & Polishing Ltd occupies stabling once part of the King's Arms hostelry. From the bottom of the alley is a view, to the left, of Brentford Fire Station (GTL01287), a red brick building by Nowell Parr, District Surveyor. It was completed in 1897, extended in 1912 and in use until 1965. It was restored to use as offices in 1985.

Cross the High Street and take Town Meadow opposite. This bears right to the lower end of Pump Alley.

At the bottom of Pump Alley are double wooden gates to the left, usually open during working hours. Inside are 19th-century workshops, stables, offices and housing around Brentford Sewage Pumping Station of 1883 (GTL04022). The chimney base is just beyond. There was evidently once a weighbridge just inside the wooden gates.

Walk up Pump Alley towards the High Street, turn left across the front of the Heidelberg building.

Opposite Heidelberg's, near the County Court, is the Brentford Monument commemorating four important events in Brentford's history. The monument was moved to this location in 1992.

Take the River Walk, signposted to the left.

⑤ The hump in the path in River Walk is part of the flood defences constructed in the early 1980s, the flood wall being visible to the right and incorporated into the red brick wall of Heidelberg's to the left. Continue past the boatyards to the end, for a view of the junction of the Grand Union Canal with the River Thames. The mooring bollards, now meaninglessly lined up, were once spaced out along the wharf edge. At the end is Soaphouse Creek. Thames Soap Works (GTL01428) had premises in Ferry Lane until the late 1960s. The Ferry Hotel stood by the Thames on the far side of the creek until the early 1980s and the Brentford Monument was originally unveiled in 1909 on the wharfside nearby.

Return to the High Street by the same route and turn left to Dock Road.

Pharos Marine are makers of navigational aids and buoyage systems; visible inside through the tinted windows is an old gas fuelled lighthouse installation.

Turn left down Dock Road towards the Grand Union Canal and Brentford Dock (GTL03615).

Dock Road is partly paved with fanned granite setts and edged on the left with GWR bridge rail sections of broad gauge pattern. In the Pharos Marine yard to the left navigation lights and foghorns are sometimes under test. To the right is a three-gabled building formerly Underwood's Hay & Straw Depot (GTL03455) and further on a tidal dock complex with a small covered dock and the barge-beds of the former Vokins Lighterage. To the left are the offices and boat-yards formerly of E C Jones, boat-builders and repairers and Harris's piling contractors. At the second bridge the Brentford 'Gut' to the left links the River Thames with the Grand Union Canal at Thames Locks to the right (see GLIAS Walk 10).

⑥ Take the continuation of Dock Road under the first part of the housing development, turning left along Justin Close to Brentford Dock immediately ahead.

The housing was built in the 1970s on the site of the Great Western Railway trans-shipment depot and the marina occupies what remains of Brentford Dock. The dock was opened in 1859 and used for interchange between the Thames and GWR. Around it are some vestiges of warehousing and dock furniture. The riverside wharves facing Kew Gardens were constructed in 1919 and the entrance lock giving access to the dock around high tide has been considerably altered. The dock was closed to traffic in 1964. There is no public right of way through the estate.

Return to the High Street by the same route and turn left to the traffic lights at The Beehive.

⑦ Wilson and Kyle Ltd is an old-established family firm of marine engineers. The Beehive opposite, by Nowell Parr and A E Kates, dates from 1907 and is handsomely tiled with coloured Doultonware. The sign, high above the corner, represents a straw bee skep.

From here you may return to Kew Bridge Station by buses 237 or 267. Alternatively continue with GLIAS Walk 10, New Brentford & The Grand Union Canal, which starts here and ends at Brentford Station, five minutes' walk away up Half Acre.

© GLIAS, 1993