Author Archives: Dave Walker

Charles Conder’s bohemian days

Conder created an Arcadia peopled by dreamy, capricious figures who lead lives of luxurious idleness. They wander at dusk on the margins of tranquil, lapis lazuli seas, of lakes cerulean under the midday haze, or dally in the shade of richly foliaged trees. Scented breezes may stir their garments, but they know neither wind nor rain. There is no harshness or violence among these privileged beings, for those who dwell in Arcadia do not suffer from privation or ambition. But there is a wistfulness, sometimes, in their glances; their laughter ceases, they seem to grow weary of their own perfection, of being without past of future. They are touched by a nostalgia for the world of real men and women, of struggle and tragedy. Such moments pass; their eyes are caught again by a seductive smile, the notes of a flute or mandolin are wafted from across the water, and their faces grow tender from the contemplation of unending beauty.

Sir John Rothenstein. (1938)

Spring by the Sea

In February 1905 the artist Charles Conder and his wife Stella Maris invited their friends to a fancy dress party at their home in Cheyne Walk.

From Conder's House plate 52

The invitations might have looked like this one Conder created for another costume party

Invitation Card plate 72

Note that phrase “disguise imperative”. Conder had created a room for Edmund and Mary Davis at their house in North Kensington decorated with water colours on silk which was featured in the Studio magazine in the same year. The writer Arthur Symons recalled the “most wonderful Fancy Dress Ball the Conders gave.”

John Rothenstein had this to say about the party:

One at least of the parties given at 91 Cheyne Walk was memorable enough to be talked of to this day. A the guests arrived at the house lit with many-coloured lanterns there was an air of tense exectancy. For weeks it had been rumoured that those most renowned for the ingenuity and magnificence of their fancy dress were planning to outdo themselves. The highest expectations were fulfilled. Marie Tempest came as Peg Woffington, the Broness de Meyer as Hamlet, Mr and Mrs Edmund Davis as a pair of poodles, Mrs Lawson as as Dutch boy, and Mrs Florence Humphrey as a Conder lady. The fan which Conder offered as prize to the wearer of the dress judged the most beautiful was won by Madame Errazuiz, a dazzling South American. This party … represented the Conder’s social apotheosis.

Conder had married Stella, a wealthy Canadian widow, in 1901 and had subsequently moved in an elevated social and artistic circle.

The masquerade 48

I first came across Conder’s name when I saw this picture reproduced in a book.

La Morte Amoreuse p68

La Morte Amoreuse – The Dead Woman in love. An enigmatic picture with an intriguing title. As I looked at more of his pictures they seemed to have the same slightly macabre quality.

The shadow p56

The Spectre, also referred to as The Shadow.

Conder belongs to the same fin de siecle world as Aubrey Beardsley, who was a friend of his. Conder contributed to the Yellow Book and to Savoy magazine. Some of his work resembles Beardsley.

A fairy prince plate 8

“A fairy prince” could easily have come out of a decadent narrative like Beardsley’s Under the Hill.

A masque plate 7

Another masque. Along with Under the Hill I was taken back to the Picture of Dorian Gray, Pierre Louys’s novel Aphrodite, Flaubert’s Salammbo, the stories of Lord Dunsany, J K Huymans’ A Rebours (Against nature). You could have had a lot of quoted passages laid before you from my immersement in fantastic literature in the 70s. This was before fantasy trilogies clogged the bookshops and once you’d read your Mervyn Peake, Fritz Leiber, Robert E Howard and Clark Ashton Smith, to name a few, you had to dig deeper to find that weird frisson.

Before he washed up in Chelsea as the husband of a rich woman, there had quite a quite different side to Conder. When he was 16 years old he had been sent to Australia by his father partly to prevent him becoming an artist. It didn’t work of course and Australia actually provided him with inspiration and the company of other artists. A large part of his work features bright skies and open spaces . He returned to Europe in 1890 but remained to many an Australian artist like our friend Mortimer Menpes.

Charles Conder Rickett's Point

Rickett’s Point.

A holiday at Mentone

A holiday in Mentone. (The Australian one, obviously)

Silver sands.

On the seashore.

He combined sun, sand and a mythological air in this picture.

Charles Conder Hot Wind

Hot wind.

Conder’s relaxed life in Cheyne Walk did not last very long. He died in 1909 aged only 41, of tertiary syphillis, something his earlier biographers hint at without actually saying. Stella did not survive him by long. She died of burns after falling asleep while smoking in 1912.

Conder Stella and Florence H

Conder and Stella with their friend Florence Humphrey.

If like me you’ve never come across Conder before, there’s plenty out there to see online and even in UK galleries. One or two things in Australia too if you’re down that way. I’ve found it fascinating to go from one image to an artist’s whole life and work, especially after finding out his Chelsea connection. There’s much more  you could say but as I’m not really an art historian I’ll just end the post with another picture.

The pink dress.


Some of the images came from Charles Conder: his life and work (Bodley Head 1914) by Frank Gibson. I also used  The life and death of Conder (Dent 1938) by Sir John Rothenstein.

There are quite a few Conder pictures on the BBC Your Paintings website:

You can also see paintings in our collection there:

I can also recommend  Ann Galbally’s excellent biography Charles Conder: the last Bohemian (Melbourne University Press 2003).

I went to see an exhibition by another Chelsea riverside artist a couple of nights ago, Hugh Krall. If you’re in Chelsea you should have a look. More details here.

Finborough Theatre Posters

After the interest in the post on Royal Court Theatre posters I had a look at our other collection of theatre posters, for the Finborough Theatre, a smaller establishment which is nevertheless a significant outpost of theatrical life in Kensington and Chelsea.

Once again I have to give you a disclaimer that I know almost nothing about theatre so I have simply chosen posters I llke.

Harajuku Girls - Copy

You know I like Japanese stuff so that’s a good start. Three Japanese girls, Mari, Yumi and Keiko, contemplate their future in night time Tokyo.

The art of the theatre poster is an old one, possibly as old as the theatre itself. I’ve come across  examples in the Local Studies collection of posters and handbills ranging from the detailed announcements of the programmes at the Cremorne Gardens to events at the smaller establishments in the Borough. You’ve seen some examples by John Hassall in another post. The modern theatre poster which anyone who travels in London cannot fail to have noticed is the continuation of a long tradition.

The theatre poster designer sometimes works with photographs of the cast or the sets but mostly has to come up with unique images which convey the nature of the production and catch the eye in different sizes, displayed on walls or (much reduced) in magazines and newspapers.

Here are some examples which caught my eye, from a collection of posters recently donated to the Local Studies collection.

Lost Boy - Copy

A musical sequel to Peter Pan set on the eve of World War 1.

Grand Tour - Copy

A revival of a 1979 Broadway production in which a Jewish man and an anti-semitic Polish officer meet in Paris and share a car to flee the Nazis while competing for the affections of the same woman.

Carthage - Copy

The death of a boy in a young offenders unit.

Variation on a theme 2014 - Copy

A Terence Rattigan revival (of a “forgotten classic”) which featured Rachael Stirling.

The Hard Man 2014 - Copy

I was drawn to this one,also a revival,  because I’d read Boyle’s autobiography A sense of freedom (1977) years ago, and seen David Hayman’s portrayal of him on TV in an adaptation of the book. Boyle spent years in the Scottish prison system eventually ending up in a special unit at Barlinnie Prison where he turned to art and literature. The Hard Man was first produced in 1976.

Unscorched 2013 - Copy

A child protection officer searching the internet for child pornography which takes its toll on him, hence the main image of a figure trapped in a TV.

Dream of perfect sleep 2014

A family drama about dementia and terminal illness.

Summer day's dream 2013 - Copy

A revival of a play first performed in 1949, a post-apocalyptic story about an agrarian existence interrupted by outsiders from the wider world.

Almost near 2014

A play which links soldiers in Afghanistan with a child in the UK.

Pig Girl 2015 - Copy

A captive woman confronts her killer.

Sommer 14- a dance of death 2014 - Copy

The famous German dramatist explores the outbreak of World War 1 through  the medieval mystery plays and the charcater of Death.

Therese Raquin 2014 - Copy

A musical version of the Emile Zola novel of adultery and murder. I of course remember the TV adaptation with Kate Nelligan

Silent Planet 2

A detainee in a Russian mental hospital and his interogator share the world of literature.

London Wall - St James - Copy

A drama of office life first performed in 1931, this show was transferred as other productions have been to another theatre . (I had to crop the image slightly.)

The Finborough Theatre was founded in 1980 above the Finborough Arms pub, Finborough Road. It has been presenting new writing and reviving older plays ever since. It continues to provide an astonishing variety of theatrical  experiences inside an innocuous building at the junction of two streets in the southern end of Kensington/Earls court.

Their website:



Thanks of course to the Finborough Theatre for donating posters and handbills to the Local Studies Collection. I can’t write anything very insightful about the productions themselves but I am delighted by these images and glad to have them and others in our collection.


Bignell and women – models, friends and strangers

Like many working photographers in his heyday, the 1950s and 1960s John Bignell took photographs of women as portraits, for newspapers, for fashion shoots, in street photography, in “art” photos, individual commissions and even what we now euphemistically call glamour photography.  For this post I’ve been looking through some of the lightly categorized boxes of prints we have (“London”, “unidentified people”, “identified people”) to try and find some of his less well known work. Some of these images are finished pieces of work, some look like he was just playing around. All of them I hope are intriguing in their own way or evocative of a particular time.

Bignell - models getting ready

This is an example. Three young women, possibly models, getting ready for a fashion shoot or a show, which Bignell thought was worth printing.

This one is an outdoor shot.

Woman by riverI can’t quite place the background, but near a river, the woman possibly on a boat. Whover the lady is, it’s a good picture of her.

The contact sheet below has a recognizeable background.

Contact sheet 03

The houseboats near Battersea Bridge, with the Battersea shore in the distance. I assume that Bignell was following her around taking pictures for a magazine pr newspaper article but I don’t know who she is. As with all these unknowns I hope someone who reads this post will have some ideas. If it’s someone you know or used to know it could be a pleasant surprise.

I do know this lady:

Contact sheet 02 Thea Holme

It’s Thea Holme, who wrote a history of Chelsea published in 1972. The book is now out of print but available through second hand dealers. I still consult it from time to time. Again, the contact prints look like they are going to accompany an article. Several show the writer “at work” writing or researching.

There are portraits in the boxes of prints with nothing on the back but a date or an enigmatic note.

woman 1955

This one just says 1955. A woman very much of that decade as the next one is not.


There is some quality of familiarity in some of these pictures which makes me think that Bignell was good at making his subjects relax. I feel that he knew them, so therefore I must know them, and their identities are just out of reach.

This is one out of a trio of pictures.

Woman hat grass 001

I’ve just called them “Woman hat grass”.

Woman hat grass 003

Bignell liked to work with props. Here’s another hat picture.


The same woman? The same hat definitely.

This is another kind of prop.

Iris Polkiakova 01 1957 328

There are several shots of Irina Polkiakova, publicity pictures from 1957 for a burlesque performer. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post Bignell knew Paul Raymond, who put on burlesque shows at the Chelsea Palace and at his own Raymond Revue bar in Soho. Bignell has left us quite a few examples of his glamour work, although these are almost innocuous by modern standards.

Dorothy Insull 03 1959 339

Dorothy Insull in 1959. It’s interesting that Bignell has often noted the names of his models in this kind of work. Presumably he thought he would never need to remember the names of the women he knew socially. Some of the erotic pictures simply seem odd now – a nude woman sitting at a typewriter, a naked woman in a doorway picking up a milk bottle – some of them obviously tongue in cheek – a naked woman holding a slip or a nightdress in one hand, a box of the washing powder Omo (older readers may remember this product) in the other, with the caption “brighter than white” on the back. I’ve refrained from posting those last three because we’re no longer so casual about these matters, or as innocent as people were in Bignell’s time. However, I will show you one of his arty nudes. Look away now if easily offended.

Nude model in garden with sundial

That one might also fit into a set of weird/esoteric Bignell images.

As might the last two images, of a woman Bignell hasn’t named but I feel we should know.

Woman in studio 02

My colleague Tim has pointed out that the woman looks like one or both of the women in the painting. Could this be a photograph of an artist’s model and the painting of her? In the second image she adopts a model’s pose.

Woman in studio 01

Possibly the pose of the male figure in the background. Is he another picture of her?

Surely someone knows who she is? I’ll leave that one with you. I’ll just note as I have before that Bignell hasn’t made it easy for us in terms of date, names and places. Fortunately the pictures themselves are always worth examination.


I was preoccupied with medical matters again this week so  I returned to Bignell who can always be relied upon to provide images which don’t need a great deal of commentary.

Postscript to the Postscript

The comment from London Remembers below points out that the woman and sundial picture is reversed which I hadn’t noticed. I tried flipping it and thought it looked better that way. But why?

Nude model in garden with sundial - Copy - Copy

Any thoughts on the location?

The Pageant in colour


Tickets - Copy


In the early years of the 20th century a fever was sweeping through the country – pageant mania,. At you will find accounts of the Sherborne Pageant of 1905, “the mother of all pageants” and many others including Chelsea’s own Historical Pageant of 1908, the first in London.

Chelsea Historical Pageant poster 1732

Loyal readers will remember that I have written several posts about the Chelsea Pageant, mostly through the eyes and lens of the photographer Kate Pragnell, one of the first professional woman photographers. Feel free to go back to those posts and see some of the odd  sights such as St George and  a small lion (and the Dragon), druids, Romans, grey nuns and black nuns, Tudors and Stuarts, Nell Gwynne and several incarnations of Elizabeth I. In this post I’ll be mostly looking at the artwork of the Pageant.

Cassivelaunus and the Druids 1st episode Caesar's Crossing

The Chelsea Pageant was an event held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital to celebrate the history of Chelsea in ten episodes of dramatic performances, music and dancing. The performers were largely amateurs and the organisers were the great and the good of Chelsea, headed by Earl Cadogan but including two crucial figures in Chelsea Local History, Reginald Blunt, the historian and journalist who was one of the founders of the Chelsea Society and J Henry Quinn the Librarian at Chelsea Library. That’s what you see on the face of it, a festival of local history and identity.

May Day in Chelsea Fields circa 1500 3rd episode May day Revels the Miracle Cart

But is there something deeper at work? At the optimistic start of a new century, looking forward to social and technological progress was some part of the Edwardian psyche yearning to connect with the stories of an older country. Look closely at the picture above, one of the commemorative set of postcards. On the Miracle Cart can you see a devil?

The funeral of Anne of Cleeves 6th episode

Why opt for a procession of black clad figures? What posessed this number of women to dress as nuns for the occasion?

Chelsea Pageant 1908 Nuns - Copy

We know that there were 1200 performers in the Pageant, most of them amateurs, all playing their part in the tableaux and ceremonies, all engaged with the mammoth task. Not to mention committee members, set constructors, authors of the ten episodes, musicians, dancers and designers. The sketches of the costume designer have survived.

Lady Sandys p37 - Copy

His conception of Lady Sandys,….. and a photograph of the design as it was executed

Episode 4 Lady Sandys (2)

The Princess Elizabeth:

Princess Elizabeth p45 - Copy

Along with a remnant of the dress material

Material - Copy (2)

I found it slightly harder to locate the woman who wore the dress but I think she’s in this picture:

Elizabethan group

The one on the far left. I like this image.  The women look like “ordinary” people and although the pose and the setting are far from authentically Tudor/Elizabethan the women look as though they belong in those costumes and feel comfortable in the fantasy. (Edwardian cosplay?)

Actually, I’m wrong about that. It’s a great picture and I couldn’t leave it out but I’ve now had a good look through a copy of “The Book of Words” as the longer version of the souvenir of the Pageant was called and I found this captioned picture of the actual Princess Elizabeth, played by a woman named Dawne O’Neill. Perhaps they used the dress pattern several times.

princess elizabeth

A full cast list was never provided by the organisers but we have identified some of them from an autographed copy of the Book of Words

I don’t thnk this one is in the picture either:

Lady Jane Grey p46

Here are some of the characters in postcard form:

Catherine Parr interceding for Lord Dudley 5th episode with Princess Elizabeth and Lady Jane Gray

Catherine Parr intercedes for Lady Jane. And as a photograph:

Episode 4 Catherine Parr intercedes for Lady Jane Grey

You can see the “real” Princess Elizabeth not doing too much acting third from the left and the other one behind her thinking “That could have been me”.

The signature of the designer, Tom Heslewood  appears on some of these pictures like this one:

Lady Mary Howard p62 - Copy

Which was easier to find:

Episode 7 - Copy - Copy

Heslewood himself took part in the Pageant as an actor too, and secured a good role for himself:

Charles II 79 reverse

Opposite an equally well known partner:

Nell Gwynne p79

Here they are with Nell persuading the King to build the Royal Hospital

Charles II Nell Gwyn and the old soldiers 8th episode Nell persuades

In the actual grounds of the Hospital of course. I’ve used this picture before but it belongs here:

Chelsea Pageant 1908 Episode 8 Founding of Chelsea Hospital 1681

I’ve wandered away from interpretation and gone back to simply admiring the pictures, colour and monochrome, and being grateful that J Henry Quinn and his staff took care to assemble a small archive about the Pageant.

The Pageant itself was not the sensation of the year. This was London after all with many competing attractions for the pleasure of the people. The ticket prices were high, the organisers couldn’t get the grounds for as long as they might have wanted, but it was a critical success and remains a colourful event in the history of Chelsea.

Queen Elizabeth attends a masque 7th episode Faerie Queen


I’ve enjoyed going back to the Pageant after a long gap. There is still plenty of material to look at and a few stories to tell.

If you don’t mind indulging me this week’s post is dedicated to the memory of two school friends of mine: Carl Spencer who died in 1999 and Ian Thompson who died last week. Both of them were taken suddenly from their families and friends.

Thomson’s miscellany

Since I first encountered the art of Hugh Thomson in the 1903 edition of Frances  Burney’s Evelina I’ve been looking for more of his artwork both online and in the books in our basement stores. Just as with Yoshio Markino there is a treasure trove of material waiting to be discovered when you first encounter a book illustrator.

In Thomson’s case the fascination lies both in the images themselves and the way they recall half-remembered illustrations from children’s books. As a child I moved from Muffin the Mule to Winnie the Pooh to books on Greek and Roman myths to Marvel comics. Thomson’s illustrations seem to me to be half way between classic book illustrators like Rackham and Greenaway and the great artists in the comics, both British and American.

I found several books illustrated wholly or partly by him: the two J M Barrie plays I’ve written about (here and here), the Highways and Byways of London (part of a travel series – he was involved with several others), poetry by his friend Austin Dobson: Rosina, and others, the Mrs Gaskell novel Cranfield and the illustrations he did for the Jane Austen novels.  (I  bought a reprint of his heavily illustrated edition of Pride and Prejudice, well worth checking out) And finally (for now) there was of course the 1931 biography of Thomson by M H Spielmann and Walter Jerrold.

Thomson was born in 1860 in Coleraine in Ireland but spent a large portion of his life in and around London. He died in Wandsworth in 1920. For most of his career he was a prolific and successful artist. The rest of this post is a selection of some of the work I have come across.

One of his late commissions, published posthumously was a set of coloured pictures for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s the Scarlett Letter, a historical novel about a woman condemned to wear the letter A on her clothes for conceiving a child out of wedlock.

Hester Prynne fron the Scarlett Letter

Hester Prynne while “standing on the pillory scaffold recalls ‘her own face, glowing with girlish beauty, and illuminating all the interior of the dusky mirror in which she had been wont to gaze at it'”. Below she wears the A for adultery:

hester prynne in the scarlett letter

In 1912 he worked on Oliver Goldsmith’s 1773 comedy She stoops to conquer. We’ve already seen Thomson had a particular liking for 18th century settings .

she stoops 006

The play is a tangled story of impersonations, misunderstandings and intrigue over marriage and inheritance. As in Evelina, Thomson captures how we imagine the life and manners of a pre-photographic period. (Thomson studied the history of costume to ensure accuracy).

she stoops 001a

Kate and Constance out and about, looking unsure of themselves. Below, Kate adopts the identity of a maidservant.

hugh-thomson-oliver-goldsmith-s-play-she-stoops-to-conquer-or-the-mistakes-of-a-night-act-3-scene-1 - Copy

Which all ends in tears, by the looks of it.

she stoops 003 - Copy

But never mind. There’s flirting:

She stoops to

And dancing of course, before the play has run its course.

Keep up the spirit of the place.

“She stoops” was Thomson’s “big book” for the autumn. The next year he did Quality Street after a lunch with J M Barrie who described the pictures as “quite delightful” and Thomson, after his death as “a man who drew affection at first sight.”

Still in the 18th century, Thomson’s pictures for Austin Dobson’s the Ballad of Beau Brocade (1892) – one of several books by Dobson which he illustrated.

The old sedan chair from the Ballad of BB

Some comedy business with a sedan chair,

Ballad of beau brocade 02

and a then a carriage,

Ballad of Beau Brocade 02 (2)

After which the young lady needed a bit of lazing around, nodding off in the window seat. William Pitcher singled this picture out for praise noting “with what exquisite lightness and conviction has HT touched in the effect of the short muslin blinds blowing out of (the) window”.

Thomson also worked on Dobson’s collection the Story of Rosina and other verses (1895)

Rosina 005

“Harp-prest bosoms” – a fascinating image. This period  was one where Thomson was frequently sought after by publishers. One asked him to do Washington Irving’s Old Christmas but he thought he couldn’t better Randolph Caldecott’s version.

Rosina 010

Nuns on the trail of a magpie. Why not?

A late piece of work, from 1915, not published at the time:

Caleb Plummer and his blind daughter from the Cricket on the hearth

Caleb Plummer and his blind daughter Bertha from Dickens’s Christmas novella The Cricket on the Hearth (1845)

After Dickens, then Shakespeare. Thomson shows the Merry Wives of Windsor in mischievous good form. (1910).

merry wives 03

Tricking Falstaff into the laundry…

merry wives

and into the water.

merry wives 05

That’s all for now. We’ll see Hugh Thomson again. There are still the London pictures and the Austen books, and all the scenes of rural life. But we’ll leave him for the moment.

It was a great period for book illustrators and there are amazing things to be found in the stores of public libraries and online.


As I’m writing it’s another bank holiday, just as when I wrote about Thomson and Fanny Burney’s Evelina. This time a wet one, but still conducive to reading and writing and posting lots of pictures. One more:

Rosalind andCelia Copy

This wasn’t going to be this week’s post – it was going to be next week’s, but I haven’t quite finished the one which will now be next week’s. I was writing two posts over the weekend and got engrossed in the biography.

Walter Burgess presents Homes of the rich and famous

It’s been some time since I last featured Walter W Burgess on the blog. I was recently searching for a picture of Madame Venturi’s house and found one of Burgess’s liveliest street scenes, full of characteristic detail, showing the King’s Road as a quiet suburban road.

Madame Venturi's house

The delivery man with his baskets, the ladies walking a dog straining against the leash, the eccentric tricycle, pursued by another dog (Burgess included many animals in his pictures and often had this little dog somewhere, in this case almost in duplicate.) Madame Venturi’s neat villa with a smoking chimney is right in the middle. (For more on Madame Venturi see last week’s post)

Burgess’s best work has precision (a key skill for an engraver) and a quirky character which saves it from the prettiness of which it might be otherwise be accused. Compare it with the water colourist (and engraver) W.Hosmer Shepherd who covered similar ground.

Burgess had  a bit of a penchant for the houses of local celebrities and featured many in his book of etchings Bits of Old Chelsea (1894), so we can have a Hollywood style tour of Chelsea picking them out. No film stars, but famous names nonetheless.

George Eliot's house

This house, number 4 Cheyne Walk was the home of the novelist George Eliot. She moved in there with her husband John Walter Cross. You might argue that Burgess was pushing his luck in this case. George Eliot (alias Marian Evans and Mary Ann Cross) only lived there for three weeks in December 1880. Her husband, who suffered from depression had thrown himself into a Venetian canal on their honeymoon but survived. Although both of them loved the house with its views of the river, Eliot became ill with a recurrence of a kidney condition she had suffered from for years and died before the year was out. I don’t think that Burgess is suggesting that the woman following another dog in the picture is the author herself.

Cheyne Walk provided many subjects for Burgess. At number 59 was the house of W Holman Hunt.

W Holman Hunt's house 59 Cheyne Walk33A

This was a slightly more modest residence further down Cheyne Walk, close to the Old Church. When Hunt became more famous he moved to Melbury Road in Kensington – from the early Chelsea haunts of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood to the more affluent neighbourhood of Lord Leighton.

(Apologies for the wavy picture on the scan. The original is a pencil drawing in a thick mount)

By contrast that other famous member of the Brotherhood, Dante Gabriel Rossetti moved to a big house at the other end of Cheyne Walk.

16 Cheyne Walk Rossetti's house 2

Number 16, also known as Queen House and Tudor House was the house Rossetti moved into in 1862 after the death of Elizabeth Siddall. Rossetti’s brother lived there for a while as did the poet Algernon Swinburne. I’ve mentioned Rossetti’s menagerie before, which included armadillos and wallabies but Burgess’s collaborator Richard Le Gallienne (who wrote the text of Bits of Old Chelsea) reports an incident I’d never heard before attributed to James McNeill Whistler. Apparently Rossetti acquired a zebu (an African species of cow) which had to be conveyed into the garden through the house tied up. It was tethered to a tree, a condition it disliked (or perhaps it never forgot its undignified entry into the property), and one day it managed to uproot the tree and charge at Rossetti who had to climb the garden wall to escape its vengeance. Rossetti never found a buyer and had to give it away although we don’t know to whom.

Once again I cannot say if Burgess intends the muffled up figure standing by the gate to be any of the residents. Intentionally or not Burgess has created a slightly disturbing character.

Whistler himself had several addresses in Chelsea. This is one of the Cheyne Walk ones:

Whistler's house

That could almost be the same figure outside, looking a little like some of the pictures of Whistler.

This is another pencil drawing of number 6 Cheyne Walk, the house of Dr Dominceti.

Dr Dominiceti's house 6 Cheyne Walk 715C

Bartholomew Dominceti bought the house in 1766 and provided therapy with medicated steam baths. There were 30 sweating chambers in the garden and four fumigating bedchambers. Although he attracted many famous names to the house, Dr Johnson decried his work. He left the house encumbered with debt but was remembered by many.

Mr Burgess’s tour takes us away from the river now to Upper Cheyne Row, at the end of which stood the house that Dr Phene built.  The the picture below, “the house where the coal man has just made his delivery” was the residence of the frequently impecunious journalist and poet Leigh Hunt.

Leigh Hunt's house - Upper Cheyne Row 3904

Hunt was supposedly the model for Harold Skimpole in Dickens’s novel Bleak House. Although Hunt was recognisable to all his friends he seems to have remained on friendly terms with Dickens. He was also on good terms with a man who lived round the corner in Cheyne Row , someone who was definitely the greatest Chelsea celebrity of his day.

Great Cheyne Row Carlyle's house 3899

Thomas Carlyle,historian, critic and “The Sage of Chelsea” lived in the house which is now a museum dedicated to him from 1834 (Hunt was at the door to welcome him and his wife Jane as they arrived by hansom cab) In his old age he took frequent solitary walks and has been depicted by other Chelsea artists such as Walter Greaves. This might be him in the view below:

Thomas Carlyle's house 24 Cheyne Row 710B

In deference to the great man, let’s have one more view of the house.

Carlyle's house 3900

I think that plaque is a depiction of Carlyle so presumably this is a later view, after his death and the creation of the museum .

I’ve used this picture before but Belle Vue House, on the right was the home not only of the poet and painter William Scott Bell, an early member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood but also the birthplace of the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell.

Belle Vue House Lindsey Row

Bell bought the house later in his life. Unlike the other members of the Brotherhood, Bell was not championed by John Ruskin but he retained the friendship of Rossetti.

Turner's house 3903

Burgess also takes us to JMW Turner’s house with this small sketch. Turner lived there incognito with his housekeeper Mrs Booth and died there in 1851. Compare the picture with a similar view by W Hosmer Shepherd in this post.

The house of Thomas More was also long gone by the time Burgess was working but there may have been remants of it, such as this mulberry tree in the grounds of a Catholic seminary in Beaufort Street. A picturesque view in any case.

A corner of Thomas More's garden

Heading west again the tour takes us out of Chelsea for a final celebrity resident.

Sandford Manor House Nell Gwynne's house 719C

Sandford Manor, in Fulham, is often said to have been the home of Nell Gwynne, the mistress of Charles II, and a key figure in Chelsea history and/or mythology, so I couldn’t leave her out. However very few of the many biographies of her mention this. One says that a great many houses have been associated with her, too many to be entirely credible.

But let’s think of “pretty witty Nell” as she was sometimes known walking in her garden. One of these days she can have a post all to herself.

Old Chelsea – more photographs from the Miscellany

This week’s post is a belated sequel to one I did a couple of years ago called Forgotten Chelsea – scenes you’ll never see, in which I concentrated on views which no longer exist. They all came from original photographs pasted into one of our scrapbook sets – Chelsea Miscellany. I’m returning to the same source this week to reward Chelsea enthusiasts for their patience in putting up with so many recent Kensington-based posts and to present a few more vanished places along with some that have survived but have changed considerably since the pictures were taken. They all have some kind of interesting feature or connection.

We start in the same part of Chelsea in which I finished the last post.

Earl Street and D'Oyley Street 1895 CM707

The corner of D’Oyley Street and Earl Street where there was a fascinating shop front. Above the shopkeeper are metal signs for the Weekly Despatch, the People and the Weekly (word obscured) Echo. By his feet are adverts for soft drinks: Batey’s Ginger Beer (and Ale), Batey’s Kola, Batey’s Limo (that’s one I’d like to try) and something called Coda.

Earl Street and D'Oyley Street 1895 CM707 - Copy

But also some hard news on the billboard: why did Lord Rosebery resign? Well apparently he lost a confidence vote, called an election and was resoundingly defeated. Archibald Primrose was a protege of Gladstone, the first chairman of the London County Council, a Foreign Minster and successor to Gladstone as Prime Minister (both old Etonians by the way). A right leaning Liberal but according to Wikipedia a man who had three ambitions in life: to win the Derby (well, to own the winning horse), to marry an heiress and to be Prime Minister. He did them all. These events date the picture to 1895 or 1896.

Heading in the opposite direction from last time, westwards, we stop off here on a much grander street:

St Leonard's Terrace house CM683b

The interest here is not number 19 St Leonard’s Terrace, a perfectly good house which takes up most of the picture, but the door to number 18 on the left, the house of Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, not to mention the Lair of the White Worm which made a curious Ken Russell film, and the Jewel of Seven Stars which was turned into one of my favourite Hammer films, Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb. Stoker wrote both of those at number 18 where you can find a blue plaque, but wrote Dracula next door at number 17. He also lived in a house in Cheyne Walk which makes him suitable for a blog post of his own one of these days.

Jumping to the other side of the King’s Road we come to a curious view of the garden of a house in Jubilee Place.

Rockery and figures from Cremorne in garden in Jubilee Place CM699b

The collection of masonry and plants are an early case of reclamation. Like fireplaces and garden features are recovered and traded today these items all came from the Cremorne Gardens, the visitor attraction down by the river.

A closer look shows a series of gargoyle heads around window spaces.

Rockery and figures from Cremorne in garden in Jubilee Place CM699b - Copy

And one of the toughest looking garden gnomes you’ve ever seen. I wonder if Dr Phene had a man at the sale.

Nearby was Marlborough Road, a street I’ve featured before looking crowded, but here is what must be an early morning view.

Marlborough Road 1900 CM687a

The men in the centre deserve a close up.

Marlborough Road 1900 CM687a - Copy

I imagine they must be waiting to load up the trolley for a delivery. Across the street is a manufacturer of boots. There were a few of those in Marlborough Road so I can’t quite pinpoint the building next door with an excessive number of pipes on the wall and some odd devices on the roof. Perhaps one of those steampunk imventors lived there.A little girl is at the door, knocking for entry possibly.

You can see a pair of girls in this picture of a quiet street.

King Street St Luke's Scholl on right CM697b

This shows King Street, a narrow road which ran north from Cale Street. On the right are the entrances to the two St Luke’s Schools (Boys and Girls) which were behind St Luke’s Church, Sydney Street.

We had better have a look now at the King’s Road.

King's Road south side from Town Hall eastwards and Flood street 1900 CM659c

I should have included this one in the recent transport related post. Looking east along the King’s Road from the Vestry Hall / Town Hall it shows a two animal version of the horse bus festooned with adverts. The two horses must be working hard with a full upper deck of passengers to pull.

If we turn off the King’s Road onto the northern section of Church Street, where there were (and still are) a wide variety of interesting houses.

Church Street west sid enorth of King's Road demolished 1912 CM673a

I’m not entirely sure if this is a view from the front or the rear of the house. It’s an interesting looking house and it does have one of my favourite photographic features – a person standing in a window. A close up shows more detail.

Church Street west sid enorth of King's Road demolished 1912 CM673a - Copy

Above the stone lions (are they exactly the same?) stands a woman in white, wearing a uniform, possibly a nurse or a maid watching the photographer at work. Was he aware of her looking at him? I almost avoided calling her mysterious but you can’t avoid that word with faces at the window. They just have that ghostly quality about them. The next time you look she could be gone.

The picture below is definitely a rear view.

Madame Venturi's House 318 Kings Road CM1606

Demolition is under way as the handwritten caption tells us. It returns us  to an image I used in the Forgotten Chelsea post

Kings Road north side opposite Paultons Square CM655c

The two storey villa with tall chimneys in the centre of the picture opposite Paulton Street was the house of Madame Venturi.

Madame Venturi was the wife of an Italian patriot and the friend of another, She was also a friend of the nationalist Joseph Mazzini (and his biographer), the Irish politician Charles Stewart Parnell and Tom Taylor, the editor of Punch.

Madame Venturi's House 318 Kings Road pulled down April 1911CM1606

She was also an associate of Whistler. She apparently persuaded Thomas Carlyle to sit for a portrait and she owned some of Whistler’s pictures.She wrote this about the artist’s book Ten o’clock lecture:

‘There is one most amazing and ever renewed delight in this book – the dear, impossible butterfly; now gentle as a sucking dove, now defiant dangerous as a wasp; now artful as a mousquito [sic] that pricks so delicately you don’t know where the sting entered, yet the flesh blisters and cannot forget that it did enter with a vengeance; now coy, now pert now playful, now rampant, now defiant, but always new, always graceful and gentle.”

She died in 1893 so she never saw the picturesque ruin her suburban villa became as the old Chelsea became part of modern London.



Finally, a further addition to the 2012 post in which I used this picture:

The Woodman D'Oyley St before 1897 CM707 detail

Which of course shows the Woodman public house in D’Oyley Street. I mentioned at the time that the wooden sign visible in the picture had survived and was in our archives. I said I would put it in a post when we had a photograph of it but I never followed that up. So to remedy that here is a photo taken as part of the National Public Catalogue / BBC Your paintings project:


The lighting shows the sign, which is pretty big, as it could never have been seen by patrons of the pub.

Whistler’s correspondence, where I found the information about Emelie Venturi at:


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 837 other followers

%d bloggers like this: