The view from the top of St Paul's Church in 1962 after the flyover was opened.
For the last two months, the closure of the Hammersmith flyover and the ensuing traffic problems have been hotly discussed. As talk turns to the future and possible replacements, Rupert Basham looks back at how it all began
ON ITS completion 50 years ago on November 16, 1961, the Hammersmith flyover was considered an iconic new landmark for west London, a glimpse of the future.
Boasting state-of-the-art under-road heating, it would need little maintenance and would help to ease the congestion which had built up considerably over the previous decade.
The volume of vehicles was such an issue that during the flyover's 22-month construction period, traffic had doubled in the area, reaching a peak of 70,000 cars a day.
Despite causing some annoyance to its immediate neighbours, who complained of night-time disturbance, the arrival of the concrete behemoth was very much welcomed.
At the time both London County Council and what was then Hammersmith Council bickered over who had the right to name it - the latter victorious, choosing the Hammersmith flyover - and transport minister Ernest Marples referred to it as 'quite the nicest flyover I have ever seen'.
"I think it was probably seen as something rather terrific and futuristic," said Melanie Whitlock, chairman of the Hammersmith Society. "Here was something, which was at the time, seen as the way of the future - it was this road in the sky. It was considered to be the popular way forward."
Plans to create a flyover or viaduct had been around since the 1930s, after proposals were put forward to create a new road - to be called the Cromwell Road extension - connecting Cromwell Road in Kensington to the Great West Road, to alleviate traffic on Chiswick High Road and King Street.
This plan instantly came under fire as the road would cut through homes in Hammersmith and cause residents to lose their back gardens.
Hundreds complained and three petitions were quickly submitted to the county council pleading for a viaduct to take traffic overhead.
The development was scaled back so that the road would start by the junctions of Great Chertsey Road and Great West Road and would run through to Hammersmith.
Construction was delayed by the outbreak of the Second World War, but the new A4 road was finally completed and opened in 1957.
However, traffic was still a major problem, as the new road created a bottleneck as drivers approached Hammersmith, so plans for a flyover were looked at once more.
Two years later and proposals for a slim four-lane slim flyover at a cost of £1.3million were given the go-ahead.
During its construction, one of the key features publicised was the flyover's innovative heating system which would warm the road using cables embedded in the surface - meaning there would be no need for salt or grit during the winter.
When it opened, slaps on the back and handshakes were dished out as work was completed ahead of schedule, but soon after the first winter the bickering, between Hammersmith Council and the county council resumed, this time over who should foot the £4,000 electricity bill.
Both took the stance that it was not their responsibility.
Hammersmith Council argued that local taxpayers should not have to pay as other Londoners were using it more than residents, and the county council simply refused, saying the council was responsible for the maintenance, including the heating.
The council reluctantly conceded and from then on as soon as the weather dropped, the gritters were out.
At the time, councillor Robert Field said: "I'm not happy that the flyover should have to shiver through the winter relying only on sand and grit to keep it safe."
The decision to switch off the heating may have ultimately proved fatal to the flyover, as it was corrosion to the internal steel cables caused by saltwater from grit which forced the current closure, though the flyover has now partly reopened.
There was also a brief stint in the 1970s when it was closed during the night to offer residents a reprieve from traffic noise.
However this was short lived, as both Hammersmith Council and the Greater London Council - which by this time had replaced the county council - decided it would be too expensive to install diversions and signals. They also claimed it was unfair on residents living on the diverted roads.
Transport for London (TfL) became responsible for the flyover in 2000 and is now carrying out work which will extend its life by up to 20 years.
Due to its importance as a major route into London, they have said that it is essential for it to be replaced, and are now looking at ideas for how to ease Hammersmith's traffic burden for the next 50 years.
Thanks to the staff at the Archives and Local History Centre in Hammersmith for their help researching this article.