The kids are alright – playing out in Chelsea

Everyone’s childhood should be a golden age of wonder and exploration. But as adults we often seem to think that our own young days were the truly magical times and that the current crop of kids aren’t having as good a time as we did. You often hear it said that today’s children lead circumscribed lives either in their bedrooms in front of a screen or being ferried from one organised activity to another. Perhaps it’s nostalgia but I do remember long afternoons going off with friends across fields, or along the canal, sometimes ending up in places my parents wouldn’t have liked. I was reminded of those days a few weeks ago when I included this John Bignell picture in a post.

002 Bignell Chelsea Reach 1965

A couple of boys in a precarious position on a half sunken wrecked barge at high tide with the river waters rising around them. Wouldn’t you have wanted to be with them? The Thames riverbed would have been a magnet for adventurous kids. This picture was taken nearly ten years before but the fun was much the same.

Chelsea Bridge - Battersea Bridge c1956 jb197 (2)

My childhood was largely spent in rural places, but post-war London, still full of bomb sites and damaged buildings had plenty of empty urban spaces ripe for exploration.

Boys playing at the back of Wentworth Studios (2)

A trio of boys playing at the back of Wentworth Studios in Manresa Road. Are they constructing a den underneath a fallen tree? Even quite young looking children got in on the act.

Children playing on Dovehouse Green demolition site 2398 jb_69

These kids from the 1950s and early 60s look exactly like you imagine they did in those Children’s Film Foundation films that were made for the Saturday morning pictures. Each one a future Dennis Waterman.

Children playing on Dovehouse Green demolition site 1950 jb_96

This group posed for Bignell during demolition at Dovehouse Green.

If a demolition site wasn’t available you could still find plenty to do in the street in those days when traffic was lighter, playing football.

world's end c1956 jb82

Or just hanging around.

world's end 1960s jb201

A couple of teenagers in the background anticipating future pleasures with grown-up toys.

Some of the grown up toys got discarded like this abandoned car.

car sabateurs c1960 jb50

Or these unattended roadworks.

balletic pause jb212

This picture looks a little later than the other and the kids a little more middle class. Don’t imagine playing in the street was an activity confined to Chelsea’s mean streets as this classic Bignell view of Tite Street shows.

baseball in tite street 1955 jb79

You’ve mostly seen gangs of boys so far. But the girsl knew how to have fun too. This group have crashed a jumble sale.

jumble sale 43a

Note the Tip Top Annual held by one girl. This group were actively taking the mickey out of adult life.

Jumble sale a2

Of course everyone grows up and starts to rehearse for adult life. The fun goes indoors.

Victor Sylvester's - girls dancing

The girls are usually in the lead when it comes to dancing. But the boys get there in the end.

Youth Club World's End JB135a


The photographs are by John Bignell of course. Like all great photographers part of his talent is the ability to be in the right place at the right time to catch those moments. Not to mention the ability to make people want to have their picture taken. This process used to be a lot easier than it is today when a random image can make its way round the world before the photographer even gets home and people are wary of a camera being pointed at them. I’m not complaining about the ease of digital photography. But the old processes of developing and printing film gave photographers like Bignell the time to think about their work and select the best.

Bignell didn’t always date his pictures so I can’t give you dates on most of these, but they span a period from about 1955 to 1965, a good  time to be young in Chelsea.1965 was the year the first album by the Who was released, including the song The Kids are alright. If anyone reading this recognizes themselves or someone they know please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.

11 responses to “The kids are alright – playing out in Chelsea

  • Liz Maher

    Wow, in the photo of the kids playing football lin Uverdale Road, you can see the house in which I lived from 1985-1994, it didn’t look like that and neither does Uverdale, there are trees there now and it’s all painted white and magnolia colours, such a great place to live, much changed, full of folks who don’t like council tenants…..thanks for the great pics!

  • Michael Gall

    Excellent post Mr Walker. These photographs need to be exhibited somewhere local like Chelsea Theatre where more local people might see them. Thank you again to the wonderful John Bignell.

  • Debbie Robson

    He really is a wonderful photographer. Thank you Dave for the post!

  • Linda James

    I lived in Uverdale road from birth 1948 until I married in 1967. Many happy memories.

  • Deborah Schreiber

    We used to play on the bombsite in Dovehouse street late 1950s , really enjoy all your photos and pages about Chelsea .. so thanks so much , brings back so many memories of growing up there !

  • Ros Penton

    My family rented a property in Tite Street for a few years and we moved to Surrey around 1956. I was delighted to see the photo of the children playing baseball and astonished to see my brother in the photograph. It is such a great photograph and prompted me to visit Tite Street with my daughter for a trip down ‘Memory Lane’.

  • Ros Penton

    My brother is the boy on the right wearing the spectacles. Finest NHS ones, he tells me! He can remember the boy with the baseball bat and the ‘cool’ looking boy standing on the right who were brothers.

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