Dickens in Chelsea

April 2nd 1836. The curate of St Luke’s church performs a marriage ceremony. The bride, the groom, their immediate families, the best man and another male friend of the groom. The groom is a man with prospects, a journalist and author. His work was published by four different publishers that year. He was on his way to fame and fortune. The couple had a long marriage in front of them. A not entirely happy marriage as it turned out and the groom had cause to regret his decision to marry on the rebound from another woman. We have to assume he never regretted the births of his ten children.

Here is the entry in the parish register:

St Luke’s was still called the new church to distinguish it from the Old Church down by the river, a few hundred years older. It had been built in 1824. Here is James Hedderly’s photograph of it in the 1860s:

It looks a little like a country church standing in its own grounds. But of course in 1836 Chelsea was in the country, perhaps one of the reasons why the young bridegroom Charles Dickens disliked the place. He was a city boy at heart.

Here is a map of 1827:

Squares and street to the south of the Fulham Road but open space to the north, the fields and market gardens depicted in the pictures of William Cowen which we explored last year (link to Idle days in southern Kensington opposite).

The same St Luke’s in the background. The map below is from 1836.

York Place is where Catherine Hogarth lived with her family. Her father George had hired Dickens to write for the Evening Chronicle. Nearly opposite, on the Kensington side of the road is Selwood Terrace where Dickens came to stay for the period of the courtship. Dickens later referred to the “barbarity of Chelsea”. It doesn’t look too bad to me.

It’s true that Chelsea lacked some amenities. Many of the roads were unpaved and the Vestry had not yet introduced any form of street lighting. There were dangerous areas near the river such as Paradise Walk. Thomas Carlyle another writer who had recently moved to Chelsea and become famous was the victim of burglary at his house in Cheyne Row. His history of the French Revolution was a favourite of Dickens and an influence on his work. They would become friends in later life. Dickens and Catherine visited the Carlyles in barbarous Chelsea.

We don’t have any photographs of York Place. That area was extensively redeveloped in the early years of the 20th century. The site of York Place is occupied by the Chester Beattie Institute. If you look back at the second map you can see the Jewish Cemetery which was adjacent to York Place in Catherine’s day. There is a photograph of the Cemetery.

St Luke’s is visible again. The houses beyond the cemetery wall probably give some idea of what Catherine’s home looked like.

Charles and Catherine went on a honeymoon visit to Kent after their wedding and moved back to Dickens’s chambers in Furnival Court in the heart of London, where Dickens felt most secure. His career progressed and the marriage was happy.

It ended badly for Catherine and Charles.  After their separation she must have looked back fondly at her young days in no longer rural Chelsea.

This post ties in with the Cityread events going on this month and we’ll be staying in the time of Dickens for the whole month. Next week we’ll go back to Cremorne gardens for some Victorian entertainment.


3 responses to “Dickens in Chelsea

  • Michael Gall

    David…I cannot quite call you Dave yet…This is another marvellous post.

    Sorry for failing to drum up a better adjective than marvellous but this one is a truly educational piece of writing.

    again thank you…Dave.

  • Robin Greeley

    Wonderful to be able to walk through our borough and recall in detail the lives of Dickens and his family. Thank you!

  • squidgybod

    Hello! I was brought up in Cremorne Road in the 50s and 60s Absolutely fascinating to me, THANK YOU David for this completely absorbing blog; text and fine images. Went to school in Stewarts Grove (London Oratory) so had fun looking for it on that incredible map.

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