Chelsea stories – various days and various times along the King’s Road

We’re returning to the photographs of Bill Figg this week and taking up more or less where we left off in the first “Chelsea stories”. Very few of Bill’s pictures are dated, but we can make a few educated guesses along the way, from the various shops we see. We’ll jump from the 1990s to the 1970s and the 1950s and back again as we go, and I’ll try to proceed from east to west. We start here with a couple of shops you thought might be permanent fixtures but have gone now. In some ways, remembering the more recent decades is harder. You might think a day in May 1990 was just yesterday. (Well, I might) But it isn’t, is it? It was 27 years ago. It’s not the present, no matter how much my mind tells me it was.

As I recall it the Emperor of Wyoming (named after a Neil Young song?) sold western style clothes, and Johnsons was more of a rock’n’roll leather jacket sort of place, as was the shop nearby

You can see it on the far right of the picture, American Classics. Here’s a better view from another year.

Remember the name for later.

Around Moravian corner was a row of shops with an entrance into a courtyard. The site had been rebuilt for modern use but there had been a small social housing estate called Chelsea Park Dwellings (built 1885)

Beyond them was a row of single storey buildings which were replaced in the early 21st century.

The pub on the corner of Beaufort Street had been known as the Roebuck but in the 1990s it was called the Dome, after the feature on the top. Of course, it’s had other names since.

On the other side of Beaufort Street was another unique building, the Bluebird Garage. This picture comes from a prospectus from the 1920s. The Bluebird was one of the first garages in London with all the facilities the growing band of private motorists needed.

It was later known as Carlyle Garages, and used by the Ambulance Service. In this early 90s or late 80s picture you can see the name and the generally poor condition of the building.


But a few years later the space had a new use. The garage and the two buidlings on either side were re-purposed for retail and leisure as the King’s Road headed towards the 21st century.

One of the things I like about the work of our in-house photographer from the 70s, John Rogers was the way he accidentally caught people out and about. This is before what we later called street style photography. Figg stumbled across a few interesting images in the same way.

Nice jacket, Madam.

On the south side of the road is another local landmark.


This cinema has gone by many names. The Essoldo, the Classic, the ABC, the Canon and others. A researcher has recently been looking into the history of the building for a magazine article which I hope to read soon, so I won’t attempt to list all its incarnations. Just one more:

Students of film history will date the pictures from the movies showing. This link takes you to an anecdote about another version of the building.

Staying on that side of the road, and remaining in the 1970s, some buildings which have remained intact despite occasional attempts to redevelop them.


Who remembers the Chelsea Antique Market?

Look out for that guy in the hat.


There he is again. I can remember the builder’s yard, and going in there for some household item, as we used to back then.



I wasn’t going to use the next picture but then I saw the two shops in the tall building.



The Loose Rein? Miller’s of Chelsea became a toy shop called Tiger Tiger. It was on the corner of Glebe Place, at the bottom of which was the Chelsea Open Air Nursery, which my son attended. We were frequent visitors until it closed after there was a fire in the building.

Is that why the scaffolding is there?



In this series of pictures Figg is obviously sitting in his car, parked in Manresa Road. I can’t say whether he was trying to get a picture of the shops, including the excellently named Naf Naf. or whether he was snapping passers by. But the sequence is interesting.



Do random pictures tell us much about the changes in how we dressed? In the interests of historical perspective I consulted my colleague Kimberley who is 27 years old (I have her permission to mention this fact). She thought those denim shorts were a bit tight.



I don’t quite know what the look is that this trio are doing, but whatever it is, they’ve got it.



Now check out the woman on the left of the trio, the one in the striped tights . Her carrier bag says “American Classics”.  So we know exactly where she had just been. (Kim didn’t like the hemline on that blue skirt and wondered if striped tights were a thing back then.)


They were. (I think I remember that?) Historical note: Argyll House is in the background, still the oldest surviving house in Chelsea. (Although part of the nursery building in Glebe Place may be just as old).

Speaking of history, let’s look across the road, and back to the 1950s.


King’s Parade under demolition. There was a terrace of house on the north side of the road extending from Dovehouse Street to Manresa Road.

After the demolition was complete there was a used car lot on the site.


Finally, let’s move on to Sydney Street, the goal I set myself for this post.


The Board of Guardians building at 250 King’s Road (later the Registry Office, and now private businesses) and the infirmary wing of the Workhouse, still in existence, although that central section is gone now. The billboard on the right is where the Chelsea Palace used to be – music hall, theatre, cinema, TV studios and even a bingo hall in its time. We may look at it in more detail one day. The demolition dates the photograph to the late 1960s I think. Not quite time for the current location of Chelsea Library, but close.


That was another marathon of pictures. Maybe I’m still making up for the two weeks off. Some people on twitter have already started congratulating me for the upcoming millionth page view. Thanks, but there’s still a few thousand to go. I reckon sometime in November. We can get there sooner of course. Tell your friends!

I’m already writing next week’s post which will be of interest to fancy dress fans.

19 responses to “Chelsea stories – various days and various times along the King’s Road

  • Michael Gall

    mr walker eye walk in your shadow…parallel lives sliding doors and all that jazz great post Dave

  • havanagold

    Just LOVE those shots of The Chelsea Antique Market (which opened in 1967, July I think). I spent many days in there, top psychedelic clothes venue. On 24 Aug 2017 10:01, “The Library Time Machine” wrote:

    > Dave Walker posted: “We’re returning to the photographs of Bill Figg this > week and taking up more or less where we left off in the first “Chelsea > stories”. Very few of Bill’s pictures are dated, but we can make a few > educated guesses along the way, from the various shops we s” >

  • Francis Serjeant

    Post tri boro ref post I still enjoy reading your Library Time Machine blog. In days gone by I was for six years local history librarian at LBHF. We commissioned John Rogers to take contemporary shots of the borough for a book and he also regularly produced reprints from the collection for the public.

    If you are in contact with John, please could you pass on my best wishes.

    Francis Serjeant

    former local history librarian for LBHF.

    Sent from Outlook


  • fatFred

    American Classics is moving about! In the first photo it is at 404 Kings Road and in the second it is at 400, underneath Kings House. This despite the fact that the same bloke, red top, black trousers, is in both shots! Spooky. Maybe both photos were taken same time and AC had 2
    outlets seperated by the shop with the truncated ‘deluxe’ sign?

  • Barbara Lowe

    I lived in Cheltenham Terrace in the late 60s and worked for Ossie Clark, have never seen a photo of the Quorum shop in the King’s Road? Plenty or Radnor Walk, wish I had taken more photos!!

    • Ashley Tobin

      Hello Barbara, did you know my mother Jenny,
      good friend of Ossie C and Cecelia B

    • lvr70

      Hi Barbara,

      Neat to hear you lived and worked along the King’s Rd in the 60’s.

      I have designed and funded a commemorative plaque which will be installed at the site of Mary Quant’s boutique Bazaar at 138a King’s Road. (now Joe & the Juice.) You would have passed Bazaar on your walk to work from Cheltenham Terrace to Quorum.

      You wrote: wish I had taken more photos! Me too. I was a regular at the Chelsea Kitchen. But I was wondering if you took any pics? I’m seeking photo’s of the King’s Road & Chelsea from the 60’s for a commemorative souvenir book to go with the plaque dedication.

      So, if you have a shoe box of old photo’s tucked away in the a cupboard, I would love to see them and possibly use them in the book.

      I’m a native Londoner and remember with great fondness that 60’s era.

      Thank You.
      Keith Howard

  • matthewcroxford

    Researching my family history I have just discovered that my paternal Grandmother was born in 1915 at the workhouse shown in your last photo ‘The Board of Guardians building at 250 King’s Road’. I’m now on a mission to find out as much as I can about the institution and what circumstances lead to my Great Grandmother giving birth there. Any links or further info about the workhouse anyone can offer would be most appreciated.

  • ilovemyboys

    Hi Dave, I’m part of a group working on regenerating a portion of Kings road- the curve. Do we have your permission to use some of your pictures on social media and our website? Credit will of course be given to you. Many thanks. Toks

  • Ashley Tobin

    Hi there,
    I love this nostalgic trip down Kings Rd. I lived and breathed it through the 70’s-late 90’s, mother worked at Rock Dream, I was schooled on Flood Street, then Hans Crescent, Jung outside Rock Dreams with the punks, later hung out at Classics, & The Dome in back room, pin-ball machines ruled, ate at Ed’s…I would love to see a picture of “Fly” clothing, Bluebird when it was “The Garage” clothing. Rococo chocolate, my old Dutch, Antiquarious, Tiger Tiger…thanks for this 🙂

  • Lesley

    I used to work on Kings Road in 1990. A tready market was opened by the lady that owned Kensington Markets and Hyper Hyper but I cant find much info on any of these. Pretty sure she called it the Garage and Elton John was at the opening!

  • Ashley Tobin

    The Board of Guardians building used to have c1985 a ‘fishery’ in the basement selling rainbow trout out of a giant tank, my father had an office in the building, endless holiday days spent looking agh those fish as a 10yr old.

  • Ian Muir

    A friend of mine managed Johnson’s. The leather jacket that the late George Michael wore in the video Faith and a few years later it featured in the video Freedom 90 was purchased in that store.

    I seem to remember a pub with a downstairs bar where My Old Dutch is today.

  • Jo Foley

    I am trying to research a shop in the Kings Road run by my ancestors. It was called Enquire Within for Everything… recollections? Please email if you do!

  • Graham

    Great to see a picture of the Chelsea Pot! My friends and I ate there regularly throughout our student years in the mid-80s.

  • Mike Parsons

    The Plane Tree in the pictures by Mr Figg was in the front garden of the house where I lived (in the basement) until they pulled it down in 1959. The shops opposite from Glebe Place to Brammerton Street were Fownes the wine merchant, ann art shop, Smoke Rings the tobacconist, (my Mum worked there), Builders merchants, Hemmings the tobacconist, The Express Dairy.
    I sent apoorly written manuscript to the atrchive called “Before I forget – A Chelsea Childhood. I can still remember many other shops in the Kings Road and being taken to the Chelsea Palace. A question. Peter Jones had murals up their stair cases. Were they by Rex Whistler?

    I am quite happ to come to the archive and share any otrher memories of Chelsea. I also went to Christchurch School. My aunt Helen Hart who lived at 280 Kings Rd was known as the Artists Landlady as she collected the rents for various studios woned by Garlick and sons

  • Mike Parsons

    Apologies for the previous comments. I didnt correct the typos

  • Adam

    Judging by the taxi number plate this would have been 1971 or after.

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