Hard times: working in riverside Chelsea

We’ve seen the riverside at Chelsea in its pre-Embankment days documented by James Hedderly and others but this week’s pictures were all taken after the construction of the Chelsea Embankment. Duke Street and Lombard Street were swept away and the picturesque jumble of houses and taverns facing directly onto the river were demolished. This picture looks across the river towards the industrial landscape of Battersea. We’ll look more closely at that in a moment but look at our man first. He’s standing on the river bed at high tide. That walkway is still there today and many years ago when I was more agile than I am today I climbed down and stood where he is standing. I wouldn’t recommend it, and I imagine the ladder you could use then is better protected today.

I’m not sure what he’s doing. There are chains down there, mooring points for barges perhaps and he might be clearing mud from the walkway. Victorian industry was labour intensive. The cheapest way to do something was to get a person to do it with the simplest tools to hand. He had a moment anyway to look up at the camera.

Across the river there is no embankment but rather than the houses and small wharves of the Chelsea side you see moorings for large barges with spindly piers reaching out to them.

Warehouses, chimneys, a saw mill. There is a barely visible lock on the left I think behind which there was a creek with access to more industrial spaces.

We’re testing the limits of magnification here. But you can read the sign in this one:

Life and work were still conducted at a smaller scale on the Chelsea side as shown here:

The former site of Lombard Street is now part of Cheyne Walk although the shops on the northern side have survived. Mr Spells (and his daughter?)  also have time to pose for Mr Hedderly. No-one thought to clean up the horse manure which is quite visible in the foreground. It was probably a constant for passers-by.

You can make out the well-stocked windows and the sign on left which you can read the words Savings Bank but not the whole message.

The white building is our old friend Maunders’ Fish Shop. This view looking back westwards shows one of the new gardens built after the Embankment and the parade of shops called Lombard Terrace. This is one of the best views of the Old Church. It looks as though there is early morning mist – a pleasing effect but I have to admit to covering up some chemical decomposition by converting the picture to greyscale. I still like it though.

Looking in the same direction from further east is one of Hedderly’s most familiar images:

The King’s Head and Eight Bells with a crowd of shop keepers and other interested parties, all maintaining their poses, perhaps encouraged by the two policemen. The street sign for Cheyne Row is quite visible.

Moving eastward again:

Behind the trees you can see the grand house of Cheyne Walk but in the foreground timber is waiting for loading or unloading, together with a piece of casual advertising aimed at passing boat traffic.

We can’t leave the new riverside without a slightly earlier view of the Embankment under construction.

You can see how much land was gained. Cheyne Walk became a wide new highway instead of a semi-rural riverside track. Chelsea became part of Central London, losing some of its qualities as a picturesque backwater. Ironically just as this was happening the focus of commercial life was moving north towards the King’s Road.


15 responses to “Hard times: working in riverside Chelsea

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