BELIEVE IT OR NOT, busy Fulham in west London was a small country village in the early 19th century. Today, what was once the heart of the village, is the site of two bridges spanning the Thames. One carries the District Line railway tracks and pedestrians, and the other, an elegant stone bridge with five arches carries a road across the river. Known as Putney Bridge, the latter was completed in 1886 and designed by the prolific civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette.
Prior to the construction of the stone bridge, there was an earlier wooden bridge, known as ‘Fulham Bridge’. With roofed gatehouses at both ends and 26 arches (or openings), it was designed by Sir Jacob Acworth and completed in 1729. Its approach road was Fulham High Street. The bridge has long-since been demolished but a blind-ended, short inlet of the river, now named Swan Drawdock Nature Reserve runs right next to where the old bridge would have once begun.
The Eight Bells pub, which still serves customers, stands on Fulham High Street. Now housed in a Victorian building, it might have been first established as early as the 17th century. When the old bridge stood, it would have attracted much business from folk using the wooden crossing. Things changed when the new, current, bridge was constructed.
The approach to the new crossing, Putney Bridge, was not via Fulham High Street but by way of a new road, the present Putney Bridge Approach (the A 219), which does not pass the front of the Eight Bells. This led to a considerable loss of business for the pub, whose owners received £1000 in compensation: a great deal of money in the late 1880s.
The Eight Bells and its neighbour, a wonderful second-hand book shop, along with a few other shops near Putney Bridge station, although definitely not rural in appearance, retain a ‘villagey’ feel.