Tales of the riverbank: Chelsea before the Embankment

I left you last week in Chelsea Reach among the boatyards and wharves at the western end of that stretch of the river. This photograph shows the intersection with Beaufort Street (then called Beaufort Row) at Battersea Bridge.

The road called Lindsey Row leads west towards Cremorne Gardens, advertised on the board at the left of the picture. (“Cremorne open daily, one shilling” – I can’t quite make out the opening time) To the right of the board you can see another sign proclaiming the existence of Greaves and son, boat builders. The house nearest the camera is Belle Vue House, one of the grandest in the neighbourhood. Its eminence has not deterred the three men leaning against the railings who are obligingly posing for Mr Hedderly.

I imagine them as a trio of idle fellows hanging around for want of anything better to do. Does the one on the right lack a leg? They are keeping a wary eye on Hedderly. Or perhaps they’re friends of his.

If we cross the road heading east we enter the  narrow passage of Lombard and Duke Streets which link Beaufort Street with Cheyne Walk. You can see some images of these streets in my Famous Fish Shop post (see list of posts opposite). This photograph shows the view from the river taken from the bridge at low tide with the river entrance to the Adam and Eve tavern .

It looks a bit ramshackle amid the haphazard arrangement of buildings which all backed precariously onto the river.

Beyond this section the riverside opens up in the area near the Old Church.

The man on the left is standing outside the King’s Head public house. The fence marks the bank of the river. Boats rest on the mud and shingle. It’s possible the waters crept up onto the road at particularly high tides as they still do occasionally today at Putney.

This picture shows the Old Church. It was almost totally destroyed by bombing in the War and reconstructed afterwards so although you can still see a broadly similar view today only the Sloane Monument remains exactly as it was. The two figures are slightly blurred but add life to the picture. Look at them more closely:

Their dress helps us date the picture to the early 1860s. The one on the right has a shorter dress so she is probably younger. They might be mother and daughter or sisters. You can only get so much detail out of photographs like these. You wish the younger one had kept her head slightly more still.

Further down Cheyne Walk the houses become bigger and more palatial as we approach the intersection with Royal Hospital Road. The painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti lived in one of the houses in this photograph.

There are still many working boats visible here and more wharves further east.

At the end of the road you can see a number of business premises but even high resolution scanning can’t tell us the name of the establishment in the pale building apart from the word Chelsea.

The next photograph is one of my favourites by Hedderly.

It’s an interesting view of the houses and some road works but look at the dude on the right (I think that’s the right word for him).

What’s he up to, in his stylish coat and bowler hat? Can you make out the person he’s talking to? It looks to me like he’s chatting up some young woman, possibly a maid from one of the big houses, if that doesn’t sound too Downton Abbey (or more accurately Upstairs Downstairs).

Despite the technical limitations of their equipment I think the early photographers like Hedderly already understood the artistic possibilities of their new medium. The portrait, the posed group photo, the naturalistic views of people and places. And in this case the candid photograph when the photographer catches someone unaware that they are being observed. So this man’s casual actions are preserved forever to show again that people in the past behaved in much the same way as they do today.


3 responses to “Tales of the riverbank: Chelsea before the Embankment

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  • barry miles

    Embarking on a project to paint and draw buildings and streets of old London and was fascinated by photographs and comments on Hedderly’s photographs. I have often wondered while some artists and photographers tended to concentrate on the newer grander buildings of the city, it is very often the older more historic ones that attracted other artists such as Whistler who (as no doubt you are aware) knew Hedderly. Wapping and Rotherhithe are other areas of London I also find of specific interest and have discovered other artists (suprisingly few photographers) who found these areas worthy of painting and drawing

  • Austendw

    Do you have more Hedderley photos to show is? I’m sure it’s a commonplace to say that old photos are so evocative and emotive, but it’s true nevertheless. They jump the span of time in a very direct and almost shocking way, stripping the past of the varnish of nostalgia and artifice. So if there are more of those Hedderly photos in your collection, I for one would be very grateful to see some more. Thanks.

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