Crooked usage, and other tales of then and now

This week’s post started as a straight borrowing of one of Bill Figg’s book ideas, left behind in a loose leaf folder of photographs showing the same location at different times. We did the same sort of thing on our Virtual Museum project a few years ago. It’s a durable idea and worth repeating. Of course the complication is that Figg’s “now” is the early 1990s.  So really it’s “then and then”. But I can live with that if you can.

This is view in Cale Street, further north from the workhouse (see this post)  showing the northern side of St Luke’s Hospital, another little photographed building. (Actually, ever since I said that I had seen very few pictures of the workhouse i keep coming across them.)

 

 

Figg refers to this as the Crooked Usage entrance. It’s not certain that he took many of the “then” pictures, which accounts for the relatively poor quality of some of them. Photographs of photographs basically.

His modern picture, taken in 1993,  is not perfectly aligned because the fire escape you see in the middle is part of the former Chelsea Women’s Hospital, which is still there today, but that’s the point of “now” pictures.

 

 

Now, about that term Crooked Usage.At first I wondered if it was just a bit of local folklore, which Figg knew plenty about. Was that a real street name, for what appeared to be just an obscure entrance? Well, no. I did a bit of digging  and it seemed that not only was it real, but that it had been the subject of correspondence in the Star newspaper (not the current one) in 1920. A man named J Landfear Lucas, who perused the “stationery office’s list of streets” by way of amusement posed the question of what the name meant. An anonymous correspondent from Broadstairs called simply Student replied that “usage” was a term applied to the strips of common land or paths which ran between private plots of cultivated land which were used by all. “A crooked usage would be one such strip which departed from the usual straight line.

Here is a detail from the 1862 OS map showing Crooked usage, midway between Robert (Sydney) Street and Arthur (Dovehouse Street)

 

 

But there’s a problem, isn’t there? As the Antiquary notes in 1907: “How this singularly inappropriate name came to be assigned to this street must ever remain a mystery and can only be regarded as the outcome of purely poetic fancy, untrammeled by any regard for prosaic fact. It runs in as straight a line as any tie-square could make it and , except by a stray cat or two, appears to be entirely unused. There do not appear to be any house in it, and the London directory knows it not.” Or to put it another way, Crooked Usage is more or less straight and not really crooked.

And it does look to me as though there were some houses. Look at this further detail.

 

 

There, opposite the grounds of St Wilfred’s Convent is the pleasant sounding Elm Cottage, home of John Adams, one of the subscribers to Faulkner’s History of Chelsea. It looks like a nice spot to live as well, as do many of the lone properties marked on the maps of this period and earlier. (Sadly, no pictures appear to have survived. I imagine it being like some of the small houses I’ve looked at in posts about Old Brompton. Look at this one for an example.)

Crooked Usage is no longer on the map. But here it is today.

 

 

It’s either the access road going down between the two hospital buildings, (the Royal Brompton and the former Chelsea Hospital for Women) or the driveway in front of the BOC tanks. It must have survived for some time though. St Luke’s Infirmary and Chelsea Women’s co-existed as separate institutions for many years.

We must now follow Cale Street to another odd feature of Chelsea history. This postcard is captioned Sutton Dwellings but what Figg wanted to show was the area known as Chelsea Common with, as he says in his notes, “not a blade of grass” visible.

 

 

In later years estate agents and some local residents made much of the tiny patch of land’s status as a common. There was once “an ample expanse of field and woodland” between the King’s Road and the Fulham Road which was enclosed in 1674 to raise parish funds and thrown open again in 1695. (According to Richard Edmonds in his useful 1956 book Chelsea: from the Five Fields to the World’s End)

Famously, one eccentric resident,  sadly no longer with us, announced her intention of buying  a goat to graze on the common, as was her right. Although even at the time there wouldn’t have been much room.

 

 

Although it must be admitted it’s a much nicer spot these days. It has also been called Chelsea Green in its day but that is also quite an ambitious name.

Still on the common, we turn back to Dovehouse Street. This picture, according to Figg, is from 1950.

 

 

It’s hard to recognise now, but this is the junction of Dovehouse Street with South Parade and the taller buildings in the background still form part of the rear of the  old Brompton Hospital. This more modern view makes it clearer.

 

 

The west side of Dovehouse Street has been almost completely redeveloped.

 

 

E J Magrie and Sons, General Smiths, was located near the King’s Road end.

A 1990s view shows part of the fire station and the 1960s building next to it.

 

 

Below, from this point Figg was able to take a picture across the car park hospital, showing one section of the new building and the elegant tower of St Luke’s Church beyond it.

 

 

 

He couldn’t quite find the right spot to match this earlier picture.

 

 

An overgrown garden or patch of waste ground waiting for its future role.

Finally a “then”picture with no corresponding “now.”

 

 

This is a view from South Parade some time after WW2 showing an open space, looking across at Chelsea Women’s. The raised garden area in the foreground must have been mostly paved over to make the stepped feature so familiar today to local residents. To complete this part of Figg’s job, I went down there to try and take a matching photograph.

 

 

Could that be the same tree? Possibly. That’s my shopping in the foreground by the way, and I’m standing close to the top of Chelsea Square. My son pointed out to me that the garden portion of the square is also now known as Chelsea Common. Chelsea seems to be prone to this sort of thing. Chelsea Cross, Chelsea Triangle (in which land vehicles disappear?). Perhaps the Chelsea Pentagram will be next.

 

Postscript

There will be more then and now courtesy of Mr Figg in the near future. (We haven’t even finished with Dovehouse Street) In the course of my walk I also spotted one of his  Hidden Chelsea / building details which may also form the basis of a future post.

None of my musical or literary heroes heroes have died this week so let’s spare a thought for Sudan,the last male northern white rhino, the so called gentle giant. Survived by his daughter and grand-daughter. He was born in Africa, lived part of his life in a European zoo but eventually returned to his homeland and died in Kenya this week. His frozen seed may one day revive his species.

 

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