There aren't many places in London whose name, in the abstract at least, evokes a warm, seasonal sort of feeling. There are no Christmas Roads or Baby Jesus Avenues in the A to Z. Nominally, the best that London has to offer is Shepherd's Bush, a location with admittedly tenuous festive connotations which is badly in need of some festive kitsch and glitter. But a look beyond the bounds of the world's most neglected patch of grass reveals an area of west London with a friendly face and a cosmopolitan history.
First impressions of Shepherd's Bush are not good. The Central Line exit from the Tube spits you out onto the charmless racetrack of the Uxbridge Road, which forms one side of the Shepherd's Bush Common triangle. The common itself was a popular venue among the homeless for a night's sleep and, at the turn of the century, around 250 people bedded down there each night. In 1904, the church monthly The West and Press implored: "The condition of Shepherd's Bush Green is to be attended to; the paths are to be asphalted and the immorality stopped." The image of a down-market Clapham Common persists, its eight acres surrounded on all sides by heavy traffic and seldom used by casual strollers.
Theories for the name "Shepherd's Bush" fall into two categories: fanciful or dull. Drovers from Kent and Suffolk used to pause on the common en route to Smithfield Market where, it is said, they used to nap on top of an ancient thorn bush in the shape of an inverted mushroom. This became known as a Shepherd's Bush, so the story goes. The more prosaic explanation is that a man called Sheppard once owned some land in the area.
Visitors today should head west as the main attractions lie in the vicinity of Goldhawk Road. The adventurous Bush Theatre is next-door to the cavernous Shepherd's Bush Empire, which has hip acts like Supergrass and Massive Attack booked for the months ahead, but was once the venue for the filming of Crackerjack. The huge Mecca Bingo building used to be a cinema, and has been "unflatteringly compared to a beached whale" despite its Grade II-listed building status. Development here occurred after the opening of the Central Line in 1900, the "twopenny tube" which linked Shepherd's Bush to Bank.
A few yards along Goldhawk Road brings you to Patio (no 5), a marvellous Polish restaurant offering a three-course meal for pounds 9.90, which includes a shot of vodka. This can be a celebrity trap due to its proximity to TV centre, so if Ruby Wax gives you indigestion, try Fish Fish (no 15- 19), an ultra-modern seafood restaurant with adjoining chippy.
The exuberance of Shepherd's Bush Market attracts many visitors. It meanders along the route of the Hammersmith and City Line and stallholders inhabit the arches between Goldhawk Road and Uxbridge Road. Fruit and clothes form the staple of the trade along with the odd tented curry house beneath the canvas. Lime Grove is a parallel street on the other side of the tracks and was the location of a famous BBC studio. Dr Who, Z Cars, and Steptoe and Son (above, which was also filmed in the surrounding streets) were among the shows filmed there before the studio was demolished four years ago.
In the children's playground on the common is a statue of a man wearing a hat. He is lying on his belly, head resting in his palm, looking glumly at the traffic in despair. This is how not to approach Shepherd's Bush. The secret is to get off your backside and explore.