|Imperial Square||Hammersmith & Fulham|
Imperial Square was built by the Imperial Gas Light & Coke Company, which had acquired the Sandford Manor estate in 1824 in order to establish its large gasworks here. This stretch of the Fulham riverside became a thriving industrial area in the C19th but by the 1970s it was largely abandoned. The 2-storey terraces were built to house workers, including Germans brought over to work at the gasworks at a time of strike, leading to the square's nickname 'German Square'. The houses overlooked an open space, although this was not landscaped until the 1980s, originally paved and having gas lamp posts, although the houses had generous front gardens.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/02/2005
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Imperial Square was part of land owned by the Imperial Gas Light & Coke Company and was built under the powers of the Imperial Gas Act of 1854. The Imperial Gas Company, founded in 1812 and London's second oldest gas company, became the Imperial Gas Light & Coke Company in 1821, and in 1824 leased the riverside estate of Sandford Manor at Fulham for one of its district gasworks. The site was laid out by Samuel Clegg, the Company's Consulting Engineer, who proposed that each of the Company's gasworks should have riverside access so that coal could be received by barge thereby reducing handling costs. Senior employees were housed in the former manor house of Sandford Manor, which had actually been used for various businesses since 1762 when it became a saltpetre factory. Sandford Manor House had also once been the residence of Nell Gwynne and according to Edward Walford, although alterations had been made to the exterior when it was in being used the Imperial Gas Company, the interior retained 'the old staircase, up and down which fair Mistress Nell Gwynne's feet must often have paced'. Prior to this the area was largely in use for market gardening, with a few private estates. Sands End Lane was an old route running north from the Thames towards Walham Green.
The Imperial Gasworks were on a relatively small scale until the 1850s with 3 gasholders in existence by 1853, and the future site of Imperial Square was still market gardens. This was largely due to the fact that it took until the mid-1840s for a 'lay-by' for barges to be constructed due to problems with the Kensington Canal. Construction of the canal began in 1824 but it was not a financial success and was sold to the West London Railway Company in 1846. From then on, as the century progressed, the gasworks were greatly expanded as the Company acquired more land, paying for Imperial Road to be laid at a cost of £1,000. The works provided much local employment and led to other industrial development in the area. One of the original gasholders survives, an innovation for the time with a far greater capacity than others then being constructed. In 1876 the Company was absorbed into the Gas Light & Coke Company, which later became North Thames Gas Board then British Gas. However, after North Sea Gas became the country's main source, gasworks like that at Fulham became redundant and the thriving industrial area here was largely abandoned by the 1970s. Sandford Manor was returned to private use after restoration in the 1980s.
Imperial Square consisted of 33 dwellings set around an open space and was built in phases from the mid 1870s as 'tied cottages' let to employees and pensioners of the Imperial Gas Company. By 1874 Nos. 1-16 and Nos. 22-30 had been built, and by 1894 Nos 17-20 existed with the open central area laid out, the development known as Imperial Cottages. The houses were probably designed by the architect to the Company, Francis Edwards. In the 1880s it was nicknamed 'German Square' because it allegedly housed German workers who were brought over to replace striking workers at the time. Emden Street also probably gained its name then from the German port that is nearest to England. The number of houses is interesting because it is divisible by 3; it would require 3 men to man the three shifts used to work breast loaded gas retorts. The open space overlooked by the houses was paved and planted with trees and shrubs in the 1980s, but in 1928 was described as 'a gravelled triangular area abutting on one side on Emden Road and on the other two sides on the pavement in front of a row of small working-class dwelling houses' (Report of the Royal Commission on London Squares). The houses had generous front gardens enclosed by white painted picket fences and gates, although rear gardens were small. A newspaper article reports one of the workers mentioning more trees. The central area originally had gas lamp posts and was hard landscaped with Staffordshire blue pavers, some of which remained until the 1980s. The enclosing wall along Emden Street and landscaping in the square took place around 1982 following consultation with the residents, when the central area was laid out with footpaths in a herringbone pattern.
The fact that the cottages had remained in single ownership of the Imperial Gas Light & Coke Company, then of North Thames Gas Board, and finally of Hammersmith & Fulham Council in 1978 is an important contributor to their remaining largely intact as an example of Victorian artisan housing.
A planning application in the late 1990s proposed redevelopment of the Imperial gas site, now owned by LB Hammersmith and Fulham and proposals included a park, although nothing has taken place to date (2005).
West London Observer 31 August 1972; Report of the Royal Commission on London Squares, 1928; Stirling Everard, 'The History of the Gas Light & Coke Company 1812 - 1949' (first published by Ernest Benn Ltd, 1949; republished for the London Gas Museum by A & C Black, 1992); Barbara Denny 'Fulham Past' (Historical Publications, 1997); LB Hammersmith & Fulham 'Imperial Square & Gasworks Conservation Area Character Appraisal'