Down by the River: Chelsea Reach in the 1860s


This is Chelsea Reach where today you will see a collection of picturesque houseboats. The boats are a long established Chelsea institution which have braved bad weather and road widening schemes alike but long before they were there the Reach was a place for working boats. Most of the houses in the background are still there but you will no longer see sailing barges resting on the foreshore or the sign on the wall at the centre of the picture.  Don’t strain your eyes trying to read it. Here is a closer view:

The name of course is Greaves. This is the family business of Walter and Henry Greaves, amateur artists as well as boatmen. The street behind the wall looks calm and prosperous, the passersby are unhurried. This is a quiet residential stretch of the riverside. The tightly packed shops and taverns of Lombard Street/ Duke Street are just out of shot. To the left the road leads to Cremorne Gardens. But no-one is in a hurry to get there this morning. A man sits on the wall. Could that be one of the Greaves brothers themselves keeping a eye on James Hedderly, who has carried all his photographic equipment onto the muddy river bed? We think they were acquainted maybe even friends as fellow tradesmen of Chelsea’s riverside. (Hedderly was a sign writer at this point in his life).

Hedderly took many photographs of this area. Here are some of the barges moored to the west of the Greaves boatyard:

In the background you can see the old Battersea Bridge looking ethereal, although this is probably due to the quality of the photograph rather than weather conditions on the day.

Here a little further down is a pair of coal barges at Lindsey Wharf:

And a close-up of the men working on the barge, pausing to face the photographer and look out at us:

The next picture looks back at the Greaves boatyard from the east :

Just behind the boats to let sign is another for Lindsey Wharf. The boats built and rented out by the Greaves family were mostly rowing boats. The brothers rowed customers out on the river themselves. Some of those trips were purely business, taking passengers to their destinations like river taxis as boatmen on the Thames have done for centuries.  But Chelsea was already a place for artists and some of the passengers were making sketches of what they saw from the river. One of those customers was James McNeill Whistler who would have a profound effect on the lives of the Greaves family.

This is a view at low tide probably taken from the bridge, shows what must have been the whole of the Greaves business, the narrow rowing boats sitting on pontoons waiting for customers.

When I started writing this post I intended to take you all the way along Chelsea’s riverside, but we seem to have lingered in one small stretch of water. Perhaps it’s the spell of the river or perhaps post-Christmas languor. Either way we’ll be back here again before too long both with Mr Hedderly and the Greaves family.

I hope you all had a happy Christmas.


8 responses to “Down by the River: Chelsea Reach in the 1860s

  • Richard Kershaw

    Just a note to say that I enjoy and appreciate your postings regarding Kensington & Chelsea. Thank you for your work and Happy New Year.

  • Michael Gall

    Another excellent post David.

    All the very best to you and yours for the coming year.

    I love the river.

  • Chris Pain

    Excellent riverside set, Dave! Have you ever come across the following page from the Illustrated London News dated Jan. 19, 1861?

    It shows the industrial buildings that can be seen on the left of the riverside panorama you posted. In fact, your photo contradicts the caption, which reads “Mr. Charles’ Ice Stores, Lindsey House, Chelsea”, whereas your picture clearly shows the Ice Stores to be well west of Lindsey House, on the other side of Milman’s Street, more or less where Brunel House now stands, on a part of the Cremorne Estate, and not so far from where Hedderley himself ended his days … in Riley Street.

    • Dave Walker

      Chris, the ILN images are facinating. I did wonder what the buildings on the west of the picture might be. Or could the ice stores have been at the rear of Lindsey House? When the Moravians occupied the building they had plans for an extensive developemnt at the rear which would have joined up with the Moravian burial ground.
      Thanks for your comments.

      • Chris Pain

        I think the “Lindsey House” on the ILN page is just a mistake. The stretch west of Milman’s street where it looks like the ice stores were was known as “Lindsey Place” at the time.

  • Chris Pain

    Check out my “World’s End, Chelsea” Facebook page.

    UNfortunately I think some of my contributors might have “borrowed” one or two of your photos, whereas I’ve been linking directly to here.

  • steve crummack

    My great great grandfather used to come up from falmouth on the barges amd they settled in Chelsea different family name I think it was White.Nice pictures

  • Neil Jameson

    Oh my what a shock I actually have a painting of a Gillie with two Irish deerhounds by Walter Greaves i never thought much of it so its been living under the bed in the spare room ill have to find some wall space.

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