Craven Cottage, the site of Fulham Football Club in London, has a surprising history. The name Craven Cottage was inherited from an altogether different edifice that once stood here: Baron Craven’s 18th century country house, a rendezvous for high society, including Edward VII, Napoleon III, Disraeli and Sheridan. The foundations of this illustrious predecessor lie beneath the Stevenage Road grandstand. That a stadium was constructed over such a landmark harks back to the rise in popularity of football in the 19th century. When football developed in England, where the sport originated, it was played in the open countryside. It was not only easily played, but manageable in urban spaces and, importantly, took hold in the school system. After the Football Association was constituted in 1863, and the first football league formalised in 1888, these open spaces were fenced off and spectators paid to watch. To accommodate them, grandstands were built. As the sport grew, the 1890s saw a boom in grandstand construction. It reached its apogee in 1922 when Aston Villa adapted a design by legendary stadium engineer Archibald Leitch for a brickwork extravagance of gables, pedimented towers and stained glass. Such a structure reinforces the sense of team identity that is central to the popularity of football. Regrettably, this particular masterpiece has been controversially demolished. More modest, however, is an earlier Leitch construction on the banks of the Thames in Fulham. Craven Cottage, the current black and white structure with a mock Tudor gable, was built in 1905 for London’s first professional football club. Fulham FC’s fortunes rose and fell and in 1999, after it was rescued by Mohamed al Fayed, redevelopment of the site was proposed. Craven Cottage, now a listed building, was to be preserved at a new location as a museum, so important is it to the sense of identity and history of Fulham Football Club. In the process, the foundations of the earlier incarnation would likely be uncovered. The proposal will not proceed, but the story of the original Craven Cottage remains as riveting as any football game. It started in 1667, in the wake of the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London, when William Craven was granted land in Fulham, a rural idyll of meadows and elm trees, frequented by the Royal Hunt. Craven, the eldest son of the Mayor of London, educated at Trinity College, Oxford, received the title of Baron on his 21st birthday. During the Civil War he gave financial support to both Charles l and Charles II. His extraordinary life included a liaison with the Queen of Bohemia, and commanding the Coldstream Guards, and in l665 he became the Earl of Craven. FULHAM provided a healthy escape from the stench and disease in the capital and became the great “Fruit and Kitchen garden” for its few fortunate residents. There were no bridges over the river to attract traffic and it was more or less an exclusive domain for the gentry. It was William, 6th Baron Craven, who financed the construction of a country cottage, but his wife Elizabeth who fashioned it. “The Ante-room shall have a folding door, fitted in with stained glass, opening upon the lawn, and communicating to a Grand Hall and to a circular veranda, supported by columns approaching the lawn, and thence to the river…… The Drawing Room shall have a vaulted roof and various apartments all linking and forming a most splendid suite, especially adapted to a Dejeuné a la fourchette, and not less inviting as a soirée.” Elizabeth had married at 16 and had aspirations as an actress. Whether she fulfilled her promise is not known but her imagination was given full vent in the design of the cottage, which was built in 1780. “Six good bedrooms, and further accomodation for the servants in the domestic wing. A water closet and a commodité, well placed at the back of the hall.” This two storey thatched cottage lay in five acres, and the gardens drew no less attention. The estate was ornamented with weeping and other willows, and timber trees feathering to the ground. There was a kitchen garden and melon plantation with lofty walls abundantly clothed with choice fruit trees. A wall ran the entire length along the riverside, save at its southern-most point where a flight of steps led to an inlet from the Thames. It is believed that the purpose of this inlet was to enable visitors to draw close to the grounds in their state barges at high tides and the ‘Craven Steps’ enabled them to do so at low tide. Yet Elizabeth was to stay only two years. She became enamoured of the Margrave of Ansbach and moved into Brandesbury House, a much larger property at Hammersmith. Here she had installed a mock Gothic theatre… perhaps that was all that had been omitted at Craven Cottage. Baron Craven died in 1791 but his name has stayed on to this day. The cottage had a succession of owners after Baron Craven, becoming increasingly more lavishly decorated. One auctioneer’s advertisement was fulsome: “The Main Hall is fitted up in the Egyptian style, being an exact copy from one of the plates in Denon’s Travels in Egypt during the campaigns of Napoleon Bonaparte. The interior is supported by eight immense columns, covered with hieroglyphics. A female figure in bronze, as large as life, stands near the door and a moveable camel, in bronze, stands near the entrance. The Hall leads on to the Chapel, which is nearly 50 foot long and 20 foot wide. The sides, as well as the ceiling, are painted in exact imitation of the Chapel of Henry VII at Westminster Abbey. The stained glass has been procured from France, pillaged at the start of the Revolution from various Palaces and Churches… Opposite the Egyptian Hall is a Persian Chieftain’s tent, ornamented with panels of looking-glass, which between the blue striped linings of the tent, has a peculiar effect.” From 1805 Craven Cottage underwent further embellishment by a Mr. Walsh Porter, and became a magnet for fashionable society, with guests such as Brinsley Sheridan, whose witty plays and political career made him part of the beau monde. By now the grandiose house, still referred to as a ‘cottage’, was the talk of London and a haven from the crowded city. Indeed the entire population of Fulham numbered only 4,400 at the beginning of the 19th century. The potential of the cottage as a place for lucrative hospitality was not lost on the moneylender Charles King of Picadilly, who acquired it in 1834 after three owners came and went in quick succession. Many anecdotes have been recorded on the remarkable Charles King. Captain Rees Gronow’s account is one of the most telling... “He had made the peerage a complete study, knew the exact position of everyone who was connected with a Coronet, the value of their property, how deeply the estates were mortgaged, and what encumbrances weighed upon them. Nor did his knowledge stop there; by dint of sundry kind attentions to the clerks of the leading banking-houses, he was aware of the balances they kept. He gave excellent dinners, at which many of the highest personages of the realm were present; they were not a little amused to find clients quite as highly placed as themselves, and with purses quite as empty.” The next owner, in 1839, was the most colourful of all, Sir Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, statesman, poet and occult novelist, whose son became Viceroy of India. Sir Edward had a tempestuous love life but compensated by travelling and writing. It is believed that his most enduring novel, “The Last Days of Pompeii” was written here. “Night and Morning” and “The Last of the Barons” certainly were. Lytton also entertained: The surgeon and geologist Gideon Mantell recalled an evening in his journal….... “October 10th 1841- Very wet and stormy. Drove to Craven Cottage, Fulham, to dine with Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, with whom I had corresponded, but to whom I was personally unknown. The cottage is charmingly situated on the bank of the Thames, and is very recherché - A central vaulted apartment (called the Egyptian Hall) fitted à-la-Egypte, with a drawing room on one side and dining room on the other, and a charming little study and library entered from the Egyptian saloon, appeared to occupy the ground floor of the Mansion; which was furnished with excellent taste, and contained many choice objects of art and vertu. Sir Edward received me with great cordiality, he is about the middle height, elegant in person and manners, spare in person, with dark hair and whiskers, an acquisitive nose, finely chiselled smooth chin; and evidently of delicate physical organisation. Three other gentlemen formed the party. I sat next to Sir E at dinner, and we conversed on a variety of subjects; his observations were striking and expressed in elegant language. Animal magnetism (which is now going through its revival in London!), Geology, the never ending topic - Shakespeare’s plagiarisms, which the late sale of Marlowe’s play of Richard 3rd - hitherto unknown - has given fresh interest to - the discoveries of the Microscope and Telescope - on literature and drama etc. I left at ten o’clock, much gratified with my visit to one whose writings had so often delighted me, and beguiled the hours of sorrow and sickness.” Sir Edward was a lavish host, and was recalled by prominent 19th Century men for being so. Benjamin Disraeli, later to be Prime Minister, wrote to his sister after a dinner party at Craven Cottage: “Our host, whatever may be his situation, was more sumptuous and fantastic than ever. Mrs. Bulwer was a blaze of jewels and looked like Juno; only instead of a peacock she had a dog in her lap….” Disraeli later described Bulwer as “one of the few with whom my intellect comes into collision with benefit.” In 1846 Sir Edward entertained at dinner Prince Louis Napoleon, who had recently escaped from the fortress of Ham, walking out disguised as a laborer. The Frenchman described “a pretty villa” in his memoirs. By this time Lytton had inherited Knebworth House in Hertfordshire, a Tudor mansion which had escaped radical change for over 300 years, and soon after Napoleon's visit, he left Craven Cottage and headed north. At Knebworth it is possible to feel the atmosphere of Bulwer-Lytton’s presence. He changed the mansion to super Gothic, sprouting fantastic towers and spires. The State Drawing Room was transformed and the Caxton picture of him hangs here. He died aged 70 – the fitting biblical length of life of “three score years and ten” – and is buried at Westminster Abbey. Meanwhile the last resident of Craven Cottage moved in. Sir Ralph Howard was to occupy it for fully 21 years. Sir Ralph Howard and Lady Howard continued the tradition of society gatherings and included the Prince of Wales Edward VII and Mademoiselle Montijo, subsequently the Empress of the French, amongst their guests. For the convenience of friends, Sir Ralph had a private road formed from the cottage through into Fulham Palace Road, just north of St. James House. The mid 19th century was a time of enormous development in Fulham. The brick-earth along the river was perfect for house building and a thriving pottery industry also emerged. The River Thames was banked and narrowed in 1862 and access to Putney was possible over Fulham Bridge. Thousands of people started arriving, encouraged by work and new housing. When the Howards vacated Craven Cottage in 1867, it marked the end of an era of gracious living and entertaining at the cottage. In June 1868 a Mr. Walter Bentley Woodbury, an American, took it for conversion into a pleasure resort. There was talk of a Palace to be constructed with crystal glass, but nothing was done . Four years later it was purchased by Mr. Tod Heatly but stood tenantless. Splendid isolation…decaying isolation. Who could maintain the lavish interiors and the dense gardens? An octagon summer-house, a turreted conservatory, a tool house and gardener’s cottage, all these additions over the years were now left to the forces of nature. In 1883, a number of sketches were made by an anonymous artist. The atmospheric collage is included on the last page. Close examination shows the decay that had set in. 1888 proved to be an inauspicious year for this singular stretch of the Thamesbank; The Royal Humane Society protested at the lack of safety for a number of children who had drowned in the moat of Fulham Palace and, in the early hours of 8th May, a fire razed the derelict Craven Cottage to the ground. Riverboats arrived on the scene after two hours. They were too late. Fulham Football Club’s connection with Craven Cottage spans over 100 years and it is little wonder that the names are inextricably linked. Fulham had grown rapidly in the nineteenth century - from a population of 4,400 in 1801 to 137,000 in 1901. The transport infrastructure included railways, trams, motorcars and river steamers. The wooden bridge at Fulham had given way to concrete structures at Putney and Hammersmith, and each year they were filled with spectators watching the Varsity boat race. One of the early landmarks of this event was the Craven steps, still intact but with a wilderness behind it. The growing population not unnaturally founded sporting organisations and one such was a football team from St. Augustine’s Mission in Lillie Road, where a Cup Final had been held. The game then was little more then a no-holds barred rough and tumble but it provided a healthy pastime for Fulham St. Andrews, as the club was named. Formed in 1879, the club played wherever a field could be found. Just look at the venues that were used: Star Road, the old Ranelagh Club under Putney Bridge railway arch (with changing rooms at the “Eight Bells” pub), Eelbrook common, Putney lower common, Roskell’s field in Parsons Green Lane, Barn Elms (with dressing rooms at the “Red Lion” pub) and the Half Moon ground behind the boathouses at Putney. By the time of the Half Moon residence, Fulham St. Andrews had become simply Fulham F.C. and the crowd had started to pay - a nominal threepence. With professionalism entering the game in the north of England, there was clearly a development path for the club and the desire for a ground to call its own. Talks regarding the site of Craven Cottage started in 1894: the ground was the property of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and was still leased to Tod Heatly. From this gentleman Fulham obtained tenancy on the principle of sharing gate money on a 50/50 basis with him. One of Fulham’s delegation was team captain Tom Shrimpton; H.D. Shrimpton, from the same family, wrote the Foundation History of the Fulham Football club. It is now an antiquarian title. The club committee faced a formidable task in converting the ground. It was necessary to fill in the creek that led from the Thames, and the grounds had become a veritable lake. The work was contracted out to a local firm with the request that the entire area be raised some six feet above high-water level and a playing pitch be laid with a Cumberland turf surface. Many trees and rotted vegetation were cleared and one workmen fell twelve feet through a rotted lid. A tunnel was found that joined the estate with the Putney side under the river. One can only surmise on the uses of it. At the same time that this clearance was being carried out, an underground railway between Shepherds Bush and Bank was being bored. Arrangements were made for the waste to be dumped at Craven Cottage where it provided the banking for spectator terracing. By 1896 the ground was ready, and drew warm recognition from the local press…... “The Fulham Football Club has been making extensive arrangements in order to meet the requirement of the sporting section of the community. Their efforts in providing such a magnificent ground as that which is now being prepared at Craven Cottage, Crabtree Lane, deserve to meet with extensive patronage. The new ground, which will be ready for opening in about three weeks’ time, is in the form of a vast amphitheatre, and is capable of accommodating 50,000 persons; it is, in fact, almost a replica of the famous arena at Crystal Palace. No expense has been spared by the committee who are now considering plans for the erection of a grandstand and pavilion.” 5,000 people attended the opening fixture, a friendly, and the club turned professional in the 1900-1901 season. In 1905 the grandstand and Craven Cottage were built, both designed by Archibald Leitch. By the First World War the streets around Craven Cottage were all built up. Support was guaranteed as Fulham moved from the Southern League and into the Football League. This story is not about the fortunes of Fulham’s football team but there have been highlights, which ensured that everyone knew about the lads from Craven Cottage. On the weekend after Prime Minister Chamberlain met Hitler and declared ‘Peace in our time’, 49,335 packed in to see a game against Millwall. This was in October 1938. In 1949 Fulham were promoted to the First (now called Premier) Division and in 1975 appeared in the F.A. Cup Final at Wembley. Fulham has always been known as a friendly club and with more than a fair share of characters. However, by the early 1990’s, both club and ground were threatened… There was a discernible change when the Dean family left the Board of Directors and men from outside the area gained control. Ernie Clay borrowed £1.5 million in 1985 to purchase the freehold of Craven Cottage from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The commissioners allowed the sale to go ahead with the removal of a clause in the contract that stipulated the right of Fulham to play football there. Clay then sold his shares for £9m to Marler Estates, and the rest is history. An undignified scramble has gone on since 1985 and the team, demoralised, was relegated to the bottom division of the league. A renaissance has taken place in recent years and, with a return to the top flight secured, hopes are high that Fulham will soon have one of the country’s top stadia. A Tale of Two Cottages: 1667 Baron Craven is granted land in Fulham 1780 Craven Cottage is built by 6th Baron Craven 1791 Death of Baron Craven 1888 Craven Cottage Destroyed by fire 1894 Fulham Football club lease the site 1896 The first football match in the grounds 1905 A new Craven Cottage is built by Archibald Leitch 1987 A decade of dispute on the future of the site begins 2000 Fulham Football club announces proposed redevelopment of the site and the preservation of Craven Cottage at a new location 2004 Redevelopment is cancelled and the club moves back in after two years absence. Cottage Now Cottage Then Original Article from 1979: Note: A special thank you to Vincent Heywood. For with out his knowledge, passion and pride for Fulham and Craven Cottage, this article and its photos might have been lost forever.