The Princess at the Pheasantry

152 King’s Road is the address of the grandest looking pizza restaurant in London. The wall in front is surmounted by a pair of eagles, a couple of caryatids  and a quadriga and the entrance is flanked by two more carvings of classical figures.These household gods may have protected the building during its mixed history.  The Pheasantry has proved to be a survivor.

It has seen difficult times as in these pictures from 1974 and 1970 when the threat of demolition was looming over it.

Pheasantry  1974 9731

Pheasantry 1970

The Pheasantry is so called because a farmer named Evans formerly sold live pheasants from the site. But the building served all kinds of purposes in its day. The cabinet makers and interior design company of Felix Joubert and his family worked from  there for many years. From 1932 until the mid 1960s it was a nightclub. You can make out the words Pheasantry Club above the door.

The club closed in 1966 when the then owner Mario Cazzini died. It was in 1969 when Bevis Hillier wrote: “what a profoundly insipid name for this perverted palace, which might be a chapel of Beelzebub, Aleister Crowley’s pied a terre, A creche for Rosemary’s baby or a finishing school for vampires…”

It was probably none of those things but does seem to have been a lively haunt for the bohemian crowd in Chelsea in the 50s, 40s and the 30s.

Kellys 1933

Note the old Chelsea exchange name Flaxman and the three categories  of members. (Artists paid the least). Then look at the entry below the advert.

One of the other tenants of the building was the Russian Academy of Dancing: proprietor Madame Seraphine Astafieva.

Astafieva signed photo

Princess Serafine Astafieva to give her her proper title died the following year, 1934. Her Academy had been at the Pheasantry since 1916.

Although she had been a dancer herself Astafieva’s main fame is as a teacher. Dame Margot Fonteyn spent the last year of Astafieva’s life at the academy. Another dame, Anna Neagle had also attended. But the most famous of her pupils were Anton Dolin and Alicia Marks who we now know as Dame Alicia Markova.

Copy of Astafieva prepares pupils including Markova for the Ypres Ball 1922

This pictture shows Astafieva (on the right) preparing some of her pupils for the Ypres ball of 1922. The young Markova is among them, possibly the one at the front but I’ll leave that to the experts. The year before both Dolin and Markova had been spotted by Serge Diaghilev at Astafieva’s studio. Markova was only ten at the time. After auditions for the choreographers Nijinsky and Balachine she joined his company in 1925.

Diaghelev had been a friend of Astafieva’s since her days in the Russian Ballet. She joined the company in 1909 and when it came to London in 1911 she took on a role created for Ida Rubinstein, Cleopatra.

Astafieva as Cleopatra 01

Astafieva as Cleopatra 02

Astafieva was not apparently a great dancer but was tall, beautiful and she had the right kind of exotic look for that period . The fin de siecle decadence of the 1890s hangs over pictures of her as well as the aura of the early sex symbols of the silent cinema like Theda Bara (who also played Cleopatra, in 1917). This pair of images shows Astafieva as an early vamp.

Astafieva 02

Astafieva 03

Astafieva was born in 1876. She was related to Tolstoy and it is said that it was he who suggested when she was recovering from an illness that she would benefit from entering the Imperial School of Ballet in St Petersburg.

Copy of Astafieva

It’s hard to date the pictures we have of her in the collection, most of which come from a display donated to the Library by the writer and photographer Nesta MacDonald. So I don’t know quite when this last picture of Astafieva was taken. Probably later than the previous ones judging by the costume. But it shows her as she might have liked to be remembered best – as a dancer.

Astafieva 05

Postscript

The Pheasantry deserves a post of its own but I thought I’d start with Princess Astafieva as a tribute to the (presumably) late Nesta MacDonald. Nesta was sometimes difficult to cope with as the people who tried to demolish the Pheasantry discovered but her first love was the world of ballet.

Postscript to the postscript

January 2015. We now know of course that Nesta Macdonald was still alive when I wrote this post and that she died only a few days ago, aged 100.


9 responses to “The Princess at the Pheasantry

  • Oggletree

    The Fishmonger was called Tarlings 113 Kings road, now a shop called MAC

  • David Fogarty

    The Pheasantry was used as the artists studio in the 1963 film The Party’s Over, a rather risque film about a bunch of beatniks ‘livin for kicks’ around the Chelsea area. Olive Reed played their moody and angst-ridden leader, naturally.

    • Dave Walker

      David
      I would like to see that film. Nobody did moody and angst-ridden like Oliver Reed. Not his only moody and angst-ridden Chelsea film. Who could forget I’ll never forget whatsisname (that rare item a watchable Michael Winner film).
      Dave

      • David Fogarty

        Hello Dave

        The film is available on a BFI dvd. It is a bit ropy in parts but still quite watchable mainly due to Reed’s moody performance and it does contain some marvellous shots of Chelsea, circa 62-63, just before it got really ‘swingin’.

  • yiddengoy

    That’s it, David. Yes:The Pheasantry! Thanks.
    I didn’t realise at the time–late ’67/early 68 that Oliver Reed made a film there about five years before I got to Chelsea. It’s called “The Party’s Over” and the sweet nostalgia it hits me with. You can get it on YouTube.
    I remember in my early teens hoping to later become a Beatnik, like those guys.
    Oliver also played a surly Beatnik in “The System” with John Alderton, among others. It’s available on DVD. Actually there’s another one of him on Youtube playing another surly Beatnik (with young actors who were famous on TV later in the ’70s) called the Damned. (You also see plenty of Elizabeth Frink’s sculptures in it. Frink was a famous sculptress back then.) It’s set in Weymouth.
    I prefer those black-and-white films to his later ones. That’s from pure nostalgia.
    Thanks for this other info. It is much appreciated. I lived in Jubilee place, wich had Kleptomania right at the top right hand corner–entering the lane–next to Garbo’s. There was gorgeous, young Swedish girl who worked in Garbo’s called Bridget. I wonder whatever happened to her?

    • david fogarty

      Hello Yidden

      I have seen both those Olly Reed films The System and The Damned you mentioned. I remember the opening scene from the latter with Olly and his gang of hoodlums causing mayhem along the Weymouth promenade. It also featured the gorgeous Shirley Ann Field in a pair of tight ski-pants, with a flick knife protruding from her belt, seductively trying to attract any likely looking punters (suckers). The Frink sculptures were marvellous weren’t they! They somehow tapped into that atomic bomb paranoia of the time. Olly also played minor roles in Hancock’s The Rebel, a moody existential artists this time, and another surly beatnik in Beat Girl.

      • yiddengoy

        Hi David. Sorry to take so long in getting back to you. I do get nostalgiv when I look back to those days. By the time I wanted to be a beatnik–as there were some I wanted to be like at my local university. (The days when British universities were actual places of learning).That time was about to pass into Flower Power and the hippies which I sort of became.
        I saw Tony Hancock’s The Rebel even in perhaps a repeat or two. I don’t remember seeing Olly in that film. If I recognised him, I’ve obviously forgoten it. I’ve seen Beat Girl which, if I’m correct, featured Adam Faith. And Olly was only in it briefly.
        Thanks again.

  • Andrew Foster

    Does anybody know the origin of Astafieva’s title “Princess”? There was nothing royal in her background and she was always referred to as “Madame Astafieva” before 1923. Was this an assumed title, following the Russian revolution?

  • omalone1

    Gwiz I am confused I mean, where was her London school where Rich Riley studied, I thought it was in Chelsea?

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