Category Archives: Hedderly

Manufactured in Chelsea

I was looking through some old proof sheets for John Bignell’s book Chelsea seen from its earliest days (enlarged edition 1987 but now out of print), in which Bignell contrasted his own photographs with equivalents from an earlier era. I decided to use some of the old photographs in a post but couldn’t think of a unifying theme. Then we got an email enquiry about the effect of that “structured” reality TV show set in Chelsea on the real borough. (Short answer: none at all probably.) And so I had a title for a random selection of images of Chelsea as it was in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The first image is probably the oldest. We begin as Chelsea itself did on the riverside.

The Old Swan

This is the Old Swan Tavern, before the Embankment, at low tide I would assume judging from how far back the photographer is standing from the river steps and the obliging patrons. I think this is a James Hedderly photograph. The Old Swan lay at the end of Swan Walk near the Physic Garden. This of course was not the original Old Swan but I don’t want to make things too complicated (for myself) at the moment. There are some paintings of the Old Swan in this post.

I’m following a winding path through Chelsea east to west, south to north taking in high and low society. This entails a few leaps back and forth in time. This picture is a distinctly post embankment view of Lombard Terrace, which lay to the west of the Old Church.

Lombard Terrace

The distinctive art nouveau buildings on the left are 72-74 Cheyne Walk, designed by C R Ashbee. They were built on the site of Maunder’s fish shop, a building painted by many, including Whistler which is appropriate as number 74 was  the last house in which he lived. The building was demolished by 1927 and the fight to save some of the remaining houses was one of the causes around which the Chelsea Society was formed. Whatever was left was destroyed along with the Old Church in an air raid in 1941.

The picture below shows part of the original Lombard Terrace with Mr Spell’s Post Office and store on the corner of Danvers Street. I think that’s Mr Spell and his daughter standing in the doorway. This is another picture by James Hedderly.

Cheyne Walk - Hedderly

I’d quite forgotten this picture so I was quite struck by this view looking north from Battersea Bridge up Beaufort Street.

Beaufort Street

Belle Vue House on the left remains and the terrace of tall houses beyond, but on the right all the old houses of Duke Street have gone.

We’re not quite finished with Cheyne Walk. Let’s take a walk past the King’s Head to the pleasingly named Aquatic public house.

Cheyne Walk - Turner's House

The three boys are just about to reach the house with the balcony rail on the roof line, where JMW Turner lived. We saw a picture of it by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd in a previous post.

If we turn back back and go up Beaufort Street we can cross the King’s Road into a quiet cul-de-sac called The Vale, where William and Evelyn de Morgan lived.

The Vale

The Vale now intersects with Elm Park Road but at this time it was a dead end, just a pleasant residential enclave. (That man Whistler lived at mumber 1) Here is an interior from number 4:

2 the vale

We don’t know who the lady is, but she looks quite comfortable.

We go back to the main road for a couple of pictures

Kings Road

A horse bus on the King’s Road, at the corner of Sydney Street, pretty much where the Old Town Hall (and Chelsea Library of course) are today. The King’s Road still had many purely residential houses along this stretch.

We can take a short detour down nearby Oakley Street to take a look at one of its famous residents.

Dr Phene

The good Dr Phene strikes a pose outside the house in which he never actually lived. He only had to go across the road to his actual house. Read more in this post. It’s a fact that I’ve never been able to use on the blog, but another local resident I’ve written about, Margaret Morris once took a party of local residents on a tour of the house. I don’t suppose the two of them ever met but I’d like to imagine they did.

Speaking of my personal obsessions here’s another one, a photograph showing the teacher training establishment Whitelands College, home of the May Queens. Behind those walls lay a unique story, which I have covered here and here. (You can probably expect another one in April). Readers of History Today (February issue) can see a rather disturbing photograph of the college quadrangle a few years after the Staff and students moved to Putney.

Whtelands College

I promised you a bit of high life so here is a picture of the King’s Dinner held in Burton’s Court in 1902 as part of the celebrations for the coronation of Edward VII. The idea was that the poor of Chelsea would be served by charitable members of high society.


The lady in white is clearly doing her best but apparently the whole affair was a bit of a disaster, with not enough food, general bad behaviour and insulting language used against the lady volunteers, some of whom had to flee the scene.

By contrast there was a servants’ dinner at Chelsea Town Hall (organised by the Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young Servants), where 40 ladies served the maids.This was a smaller and much more civilised affair

Servants' dinner

And everyone went home with a gift bag.

The Chelsea Flower Show was always a big social event, attended by the highest in the land.

Queen Alexandra at the Chelsea Flower Show

Queen Alexandra in 1913 accompanied by some important men.

But let’s go back to ordinary life. This is the street market in Marlborough Street.

Marlborough Road

The shoppers of 1900 look pretty smart.

Finally a picture in another Chelsea street, Upper Cheyne Row showing a horse drawn fire engine.


Is there something wrong here? I’ll leave that thought with you.


I think I must have set some kind of record for the number of hyperlinks I’ve inserted into this post, so just ignore them if they irritate you. I balked at linking to all the Hedderly posts. Why not try the search box?

And I’ve had to rush through some of the background detail so fact checking is welcome. Next week I’ll go back to a much smaller area.



Fiction in Kensington and Chelsea 3: Offshore

When I do these posts about fiction set in Kensington and Chelsea I’m normally scrabbling around for pictures to go with the text but this post came about because there were plenty of pictures of the specific location.

Chelsea Reach houseboats 1975 Bignell

A view of the houseboats at Chelsea Reach, with both Battersea and Albert Bridges in the background (even the distant chimneys of Battersea Power Station). A quinessentially Chelsea view from 1975. Chelsea reach was one of the subjects of James Hedderly’s early photography, and the location of the Greaves Boatyard, where the artist Walter Greaves painted and got some mentoring from one of his customers James McNeil Whistler. By the time John Bignell took this photograph the boating on the Reach was all residential.

The writer Penelope Fitzgerald had gone by then  but the experience of living on one of the boats had left its mark and she used the enclave of houseboats as the setting for her Booker-winning novel Offshore.


This is the cover of the first hardback edition, a view which would be quite familiar to readers of this blog as it shows the main landmark looking in the other direction, Lots Road Power Station.

Chelsea Reach 1960s jb334 - Copy

I’ve cropped this Bignell picture to show the whole sweep of the view looking west as the river curves towards Wandsworth. The houseboats are just visible on the right.

In real life Fitzgerald lived in the last boat along which was called Grace, nearest the offices of the Chelsea Boat Company. She lived there with her semi-estranged husband and their two daughters – there was also a son, away at boarding school. He was not surprised apparently to not find himself depicted in the book. The heroine Nenna James lives with her daughters Martha and Tilda in a fictional boat also called Grace – her husband in in Stoke Newington, a far away part of London in the early sixties.

The houseboats would eventually become fashionable and sought after locations but for the author and her fictional alter ego they were quite grim. This was a time in Fitzgeralds’s life when she had very little money.


At low tide, the boats sat on the smelly Thames mud the and residents weren’t supposed to use the toilets. At high tide they were afloat, not always a comfortable position:

At that moment Lord Jim was disturbed from stem to stern by an unmistakeable lurch….she seemed to shake herself gently, and rose. The tide had lifted her.

Cheyne Walk - looking east, riverside 1972

On every barge on the Reach a very faint ominous tap, no louder than the door of a cupboard shutting, would be followed by louder ones from every strake, timber and weatherboard, a fusillade of thunderous creaking, and even groans that seemed human.

Cheyne Walk - looking east, riverside 1972 (2)

These two pictures taken by John Rogers in 1972 depict that sense of being cut off by water. The passing vehicles on Cheyne Walk might have little sense of the little world on the water beside them.

Cheyne Walk - looking west from Riley Street 1970 KS 1946

Fitzgerald depicts a dislocated, melancholy community on the houseboats, shrouded in fog, both literal and metaphoric, which Bignell does justice to in this picture:

Chelsea Reach in fog Bignell 94

For the two girls Martha and Tilda the foreshore at low tide is a kind of playground.

houseboats and goose 1968 jb213

Not wanting to compete with local children from Partisan Street (Dartrey Street) for  coins, medal and lugworms they go on expeditions across the bridge to the other side of the river. On one occasion they go with a handcart to scavenge the wreck of a Thames barge. They look for tiles in the mud.

Tilda lay full length on a baulk of timber…..far beyond the point at which the mud became treacherous..she stood poised on the handlebars of a sunken bicycle.

She retrieves two tiles which turn out to be by de Morgan. They take them to an antique dealer at a shop called Le Bourgeous Gentilhomme where they get three pounds, a decent sum for two young girls in 1961.

Bignell depicts some equally dangerous play on the river.

Chelsea Reach 1960s Bignell 81

Near the end of the novel the small family have a visitor, a teenage boy from Vienna called Heinrich. The girls take him to the King’s Road, up Partisan Street – a rough place..the refuge of crippled and deformed humanity – which Tilda no longer fears, past the Moravian burial ground where they tell him the urban myth about the Moravians being interred in a standing position, “so on Judgement Day they can rise straight upward.” (Not true by the way – every so often I have to deny it). The King’s Road is already like a gypsy encampment, another life compared to their impoverished life on the barge.

Nenna and her daughters eventually go to live with her sister in Canada. In the last chapter a storm hits the river and two of the other characters find their boat slipping its moorings and heading into the river, as good a way to end as any.

I haven’t found a picture of stormy weather on the river but here’s one of Bignell’s elegant views looking east.

Albert Bridge (2)

Fitzgerald turned her experience of comparative poverty into a sucessful book. In 1979 she won the Booker Prize against the odds. (There’s a fascinating account of the TV coverage in Hermione Lee’s excellent 2013 biography of Fitzgerald). So for her at least her life on the houseboats at Chelsea Reach turned out well.

I once saw the actress Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan!) disembarking from one of the houseboats in the more fashionable 1980s. That would be another story.

Battersea Bridge - looking east from Cheyne Walk 1970 KS 1926


The photographs were by John Bignell and John Rogers, both mainstays of the blog. Thanks particularly to John Rogers for his many contributions to the Local Studies collection.

100th post: Bignell meets Hedderly

100 is a special number so it deserves a special post.  I can’t actually arrange a time travelling meeting between the two Chelsea photographers John Bignell and James Hedderly but I can bring them together in another way.

John Bignell was not only a photographer but a student of photographic history. He wrote a visual history of Chelsea, “Chelsea seen from its earliest days” (1987). And he owned a collection of Hedderly photographs. On one occasion as you’ll see he recreated a Hedderly picture. But as a Chelsea photographer he literally went over the same ground as Hedderly and you can see echoes of his predessessor , conscious or unconscious, in his work.

Here’s an example. In the picture below Hedderly is looking east along Cheyne Walk in the pre-embankment days. The road is roughly paved and narrow. The wooden fence on the right marks the river’s  bank. On the left you can just see the edge of the King’s Head and Eight Bells public house. The image has faded over the years so the white misty background beyond the trees may be deceptive. It will have gotten more mysterious as the print has aged so we may have lost some detail but you can get the quiet atmosphere of riverside Chelsea in the 1860s.

001 Hedderly - H36 Cheyne Walk by King's Head

Nearly a century or so later in 1950 Bignell took this picture.

001 Bignell - Kings Head and Six Bells 1950 1840A

The foliage is lusher, there’s a garden on the right beyond which is a very much wider Cheyne Walk. The buildings in the background have changed with the exception of that one with the ornamental porch. The lampost looks very similar too although it may have been replaced with one which looked the same. You see a little more of the pub. And of course there is a small crowd of pub-goers who have spilled out of the bar onto the street. The men look about as casual as Chelsea  men got in 1950, the women slightly more so. In contrast to the 1860s picture only a couple of them are paying the slightest attention to the photographer. I wonder if the man in the double-breasted jacket is bringing a drink for Bignell.

The two pictures fit together remarkably well. This is not so obvious in the next pair.

003 Hedderly St Lukes

This is one of Hedderly’s rare north of the King’s Road pictures, possibly a commission. It shows the “new church” St Luke’s in Sydney Street. The church would have been thirty or so years old in this picture. The churchyard to the left looks well populated.  But the church, surrounded by trees, is still in a suburban setting.

The view by Bignell shows the urban setting of the late 1950s.

003 Bignell - St Luke's Church JB5 box

The trees are still there but London has caught up with the church and surrounded it. In the background you can see one of the domes of South Kensington. In the foreground however is another building Heddderly would have seen at some point in his life, the Chelsea Workhouse. It wasn’t a workhouse in Bignell’s day but you can see the forbidding nature of the place.

Both photographers were fond of riverside views.

002 Hedderly - H01 boats - bridge in background

I’ve featured Hedderly’s pictures of Chelsea Reach and the area by the Greaves boatyard in another post. This is an image I’ve never used before. You can tell the direction of the picture from the just visible view  of old Battersea Bridge in the distance.

002 Bignell Chelsea Reach 1965

Bignell’s 1965 view shows the current Battersea Bridge being crossed by four buses. The suspension towers of Albert Bridge can also be seen, with Battersea Power station in the distance, a couple of the chimneys visibly smoking.  The crucial difference in the hundred years between the pictures is the use being made of Chelsea Reach. The sailing barges are gone, replaced by houseboats, and the men at work have been supplanted by a pair of daredevils playing around on a nearly sunken barge at high tide. It probably looks more dangerous than it was. Bignell is certainly standing by quietly with his camera, apparently unconcerned. But their mothers wouldn’t have been too happy.

This image is one of Hedderly’s best photographs:

004 Hedderly CM1003 Trees of Cremorne

This is a view taken from the tower of Chelsea Old Church. It shows the tangle of closely-packed houses and wharves between Cheyne Walk and Beaufort Street before the embankment. Beyond are the larger house of Lindsey Row and the trees of Cremorne Gardens. Bignell owned a print of this picture and made an enlargement of it. I was examining it this morning imagining myself walking along Lombard Street towards Johnson’s Coal Office and then into Duke Street past the Adam and Eve Tavern. You could cross Beaufort Street and walk along the riverside to the wharf at Cremorne where the boats brought pleasure seekers to the Gardens all the way from London. Is one of those buildings visible in the distance Ashburnham House?

Bignell was so fascinated by this picture that in 1978 he too climbed the tower of Chelsea Old Church (though not of course the same tower, but a meticulously restored copy of the one Hedderly climbed) and took his own picture.

004 Bignell - Chelsea Riverside JB335

From this vantage point Bignell saw the sunken garden named after Sir Thomas More’s daughter Margaret Roper, the four lanes of Cheyne Walk which now pass right through where the old houses and taverns stood, and part of the old river too. He saw Crosby Hall, transplanted from the City in the1920s and where the pleasure gardens were, the towers of the World’s End Estate. You could barely make out the industrial landscape beyond the gardens in the 1860s picture, just a few chimneys. In 1978 Lots Road Power Station was still generating power and still had two of its chimneys.

Hedderly took a companion picture from the Church which he joined to the first to make a panoramic view. This is  part of it:

005 Hedderly Old Battersea Bridge

Almost the whole length of the old bridge, and the industrial zone on the Battersea side of the river.  Bignell didn’t try to get the whole view in again but his second shot takes in more of the bridge and the area west of the Power Station. Lots Road’s younger cousin Fulham Power Station with its four in line chimneys is on the left of the picture.005 Bignell - Chelsea Reach late 60s jb334

Bignell had a great reverence for Hedderly’s work and must have felt a connection between them. It’s unlikely that James Hedderly ever imagined the possiblity of that link or realised the great attention which would be paid to his work in the future. What would he have said or thought if he could have seen Bignell’s work and glimpsed some of the sights he would see and the technical possiblities that were to come?

Bignell - Albert Bridge at night 1951

[Night view of Albert Bridge 1951]


The 100th post on the Library Time Machine, a point I must have thought was possible when I started but I couldn’t have imagined how I would get here. The answer of course is just find some pictures every week and write something about them. Sometimes the ideas run three or four posts ahead, sometimes they stretch no further than next week (or less on a few occasions).

The other thing I imagined was that I would run out of ideas. It’s true that a lot of the big topics have been covered but only a few of them have been done so thoroughly that I could never go back there again. So we might visit Cremorne Gardens again one of these days or take another look at Marianne Rush or William Burgess. There are even a few unseen Linley Sambourne pictures knocking about on the hard drive. And judging by the continuing popularity of the Duchess of Devonshire’s Costume Ball we’ll almost certainly be going there again . I’ve probably done all I could on Walmer Road and Hurstway Street but there are plenty of other streets to walk down in the past and the present. One or two artists you haven’t seen yet. And yet more forgotten buildings and secret places. So all other things being equal it is just about possible that we might get as far as 200 posts in another eighteen months.

The conclusion is that there really is no end to history even in a small (but significant) part of one city, in one country, on one world.

Back to Old Church Street with Mr Hedderly

This is my 53rd post on this blog, so it’s almost exactly a year since my first post. When I started I wasn’t sure exactly how I would find something to write about every week but I was sure about where I would start. The one subject I knew I wanted to share with you was the photography of James Hedderly.

Just after the middle of the 19th century an ordinary man started to haul fifty pounds of complicated equipment around his neighbourhood so he could take photographs. His friends and neighbours humoured him by standing still or just watched him in silent amazement. Or perhaps they realised that they were also participating in something new. They watched him and now we can watch them.

So once again we are in Old Church Street facing the Black Lion Tavern.

My friend the lady with the basket isn’t here on this occasion but Mr Hedderly has assembled the same mixed bag of people deliberately and accidentally posing for him.

The boy slouched against the wall, the guy with curly hair, a bowler hat and what looks like a leather jacket, the boy sitting in the window, the barman in the apron, the stout middle aged man who can’t do his jacket up, a young girl behind him, a couple of smartly dressed younger men with time on their hands,  a couple of indistinct figures behind them probably children, a girl who has managed to get into the picture twice by moving just enough and a man just edging into the right side of the picture – quite a cast for a simple daytime picture. They all get our attention. Look long enough and they might all tell their stories.

Leave the idle fellows at the tavern and come back down Old Church Street to the river to meet some of the working men.

Alldin’s Coal Wharf at low tide. Arch House marked the end of Cheyne Walk at this time. It was a substantial and solid looking building compared to the cramped old houses and shops in Lombard Street and Duke Street which lay behind it. The confident looking man perched on the precarious arrangement of planks looks like management to me, keeping an eye on the staff.

The four men standing on the river bed all carry items related to the coal business – spades, a coke sifter, a coal sack (the man holding the sack looks like a classic coal man, his face grimy with coal dust. The three on the street might be drivers. There’s a man in the window behind them joining the picture.

Behind Arch House was Allen’s Lime Wharf.

Allen’s was one of the ramshackle collection of buildings on the river bank. You can just see part of Lombard Street on the left and the poor state of the houses in it. Look in close up at the state of the roof of Allen’s.

The undulating uneven roof tiles and patches of what looks like moss, the tiny attic window which looks like it is about to fall inwards. The whole house look like it is held together by the dirt of decades. This picture is one of Hedderly’s crispest images and it captures those moments of stillness in what must have been a hectic day. No faces at the window though. I would love to see one of those in a Hedderly picture.

Just a few yards away are some more upmarket houses and retail establishments.

I can’t quite make out what sort of shop Mr White runs, but Wheeler’s Medical Establishment next door must be some kind of pharmacy. A group of middle class people are posing for Mr Hedderly, or again standing just as mystified as the tavern’s customers. One of the ladies has left a ghostly presence but if you look to the left you will see some even vaguer traces of a couple of men, possibly workers from Alldin’s.

And Mr Hedderly gives us another mystery woman standing in the doorway of the house next to White’s, a young woman in indoor clothes drawn outside perhaps by curiosity.

If we head eastwards along Cheyne Walk towards Oakley Street we can see Golding’s Pier Hotel.

Next to the Hotel is a coffee house. Look closer.

Do you see the billboards outside?

Can you make out any of the words? I see Leah, the name of a play perhaps, and the even more enigmatic words Fat Boy.

The last picture for today is quite different from the others.

I don’t know whether it’s sunlight shining down over the top of the house, or just the limitations of the camera but the light seems to isolate the garden and the solitary figure sitting in it. Who is he?

The big clue is the handwritten caption – back of Rossetti’s house. Rather than try to puzzle out whether it’s Rossetti himself or his brother William the question I wish could be answered is how did Mr Hedderly and his camera find their way there?

Go on then. One last close up.

Hard times: working in riverside Chelsea

We’ve seen the riverside at Chelsea in its pre-Embankment days documented by James Hedderly and others but this week’s pictures were all taken after the construction of the Chelsea Embankment. Duke Street and Lombard Street were swept away and the picturesque jumble of houses and taverns facing directly onto the river were demolished. This picture looks across the river towards the industrial landscape of Battersea. We’ll look more closely at that in a moment but look at our man first. He’s standing on the river bed at high tide. That walkway is still there today and many years ago when I was more agile than I am today I climbed down and stood where he is standing. I wouldn’t recommend it, and I imagine the ladder you could use then is better protected today.

I’m not sure what he’s doing. There are chains down there, mooring points for barges perhaps and he might be clearing mud from the walkway. Victorian industry was labour intensive. The cheapest way to do something was to get a person to do it with the simplest tools to hand. He had a moment anyway to look up at the camera.

Across the river there is no embankment but rather than the houses and small wharves of the Chelsea side you see moorings for large barges with spindly piers reaching out to them.

Warehouses, chimneys, a saw mill. There is a barely visible lock on the left I think behind which there was a creek with access to more industrial spaces.

We’re testing the limits of magnification here. But you can read the sign in this one:

Life and work were still conducted at a smaller scale on the Chelsea side as shown here:

The former site of Lombard Street is now part of Cheyne Walk although the shops on the northern side have survived. Mr Spells (and his daughter?)  also have time to pose for Mr Hedderly. No-one thought to clean up the horse manure which is quite visible in the foreground. It was probably a constant for passers-by.

You can make out the well-stocked windows and the sign on left which you can read the words Savings Bank but not the whole message.

The white building is our old friend Maunders’ Fish Shop. This view looking back westwards shows one of the new gardens built after the Embankment and the parade of shops called Lombard Terrace. This is one of the best views of the Old Church. It looks as though there is early morning mist – a pleasing effect but I have to admit to covering up some chemical decomposition by converting the picture to greyscale. I still like it though.

Looking in the same direction from further east is one of Hedderly’s most familiar images:

The King’s Head and Eight Bells with a crowd of shop keepers and other interested parties, all maintaining their poses, perhaps encouraged by the two policemen. The street sign for Cheyne Row is quite visible.

Moving eastward again:

Behind the trees you can see the grand house of Cheyne Walk but in the foreground timber is waiting for loading or unloading, together with a piece of casual advertising aimed at passing boat traffic.

We can’t leave the new riverside without a slightly earlier view of the Embankment under construction.

You can see how much land was gained. Cheyne Walk became a wide new highway instead of a semi-rural riverside track. Chelsea became part of Central London, losing some of its qualities as a picturesque backwater. Ironically just as this was happening the focus of commercial life was moving north towards the King’s Road.

Tales of the riverbank: Chelsea before the Embankment

I left you last week in Chelsea Reach among the boatyards and wharves at the western end of that stretch of the river. This photograph shows the intersection with Beaufort Street (then called Beaufort Row) at Battersea Bridge.

The road called Lindsey Row leads west towards Cremorne Gardens, advertised on the board at the left of the picture. (“Cremorne open daily, one shilling” – I can’t quite make out the opening time) To the right of the board you can see another sign proclaiming the existence of Greaves and son, boat builders. The house nearest the camera is Belle Vue House, one of the grandest in the neighbourhood. Its eminence has not deterred the three men leaning against the railings who are obligingly posing for Mr Hedderly.

I imagine them as a trio of idle fellows hanging around for want of anything better to do. Does the one on the right lack a leg? They are keeping a wary eye on Hedderly. Or perhaps they’re friends of his.

If we cross the road heading east we enter the  narrow passage of Lombard and Duke Streets which link Beaufort Street with Cheyne Walk. You can see some images of these streets in my Famous Fish Shop post (see list of posts opposite). This photograph shows the view from the river taken from the bridge at low tide with the river entrance to the Adam and Eve tavern .

It looks a bit ramshackle amid the haphazard arrangement of buildings which all backed precariously onto the river.

Beyond this section the riverside opens up in the area near the Old Church.

The man on the left is standing outside the King’s Head public house. The fence marks the bank of the river. Boats rest on the mud and shingle. It’s possible the waters crept up onto the road at particularly high tides as they still do occasionally today at Putney.

This picture shows the Old Church. It was almost totally destroyed by bombing in the War and reconstructed afterwards so although you can still see a broadly similar view today only the Sloane Monument remains exactly as it was. The two figures are slightly blurred but add life to the picture. Look at them more closely:

Their dress helps us date the picture to the early 1860s. The one on the right has a shorter dress so she is probably younger. They might be mother and daughter or sisters. You can only get so much detail out of photographs like these. You wish the younger one had kept her head slightly more still.

Further down Cheyne Walk the houses become bigger and more palatial as we approach the intersection with Royal Hospital Road. The painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti lived in one of the houses in this photograph.

There are still many working boats visible here and more wharves further east.

At the end of the road you can see a number of business premises but even high resolution scanning can’t tell us the name of the establishment in the pale building apart from the word Chelsea.

The next photograph is one of my favourites by Hedderly.

It’s an interesting view of the houses and some road works but look at the dude on the right (I think that’s the right word for him).

What’s he up to, in his stylish coat and bowler hat? Can you make out the person he’s talking to? It looks to me like he’s chatting up some young woman, possibly a maid from one of the big houses, if that doesn’t sound too Downton Abbey (or more accurately Upstairs Downstairs).

Despite the technical limitations of their equipment I think the early photographers like Hedderly already understood the artistic possibilities of their new medium. The portrait, the posed group photo, the naturalistic views of people and places. And in this case the candid photograph when the photographer catches someone unaware that they are being observed. So this man’s casual actions are preserved forever to show again that people in the past behaved in much the same way as they do today.

Down by the River: Chelsea Reach in the 1860s


This is Chelsea Reach where today you will see a collection of picturesque houseboats. The boats are a long established Chelsea institution which have braved bad weather and road widening schemes alike but long before they were there the Reach was a place for working boats. Most of the houses in the background are still there but you will no longer see sailing barges resting on the foreshore or the sign on the wall at the centre of the picture.  Don’t strain your eyes trying to read it. Here is a closer view:

The name of course is Greaves. This is the family business of Walter and Henry Greaves, amateur artists as well as boatmen. The street behind the wall looks calm and prosperous, the passersby are unhurried. This is a quiet residential stretch of the riverside. The tightly packed shops and taverns of Lombard Street/ Duke Street are just out of shot. To the left the road leads to Cremorne Gardens. But no-one is in a hurry to get there this morning. A man sits on the wall. Could that be one of the Greaves brothers themselves keeping a eye on James Hedderly, who has carried all his photographic equipment onto the muddy river bed? We think they were acquainted maybe even friends as fellow tradesmen of Chelsea’s riverside. (Hedderly was a sign writer at this point in his life).

Hedderly took many photographs of this area. Here are some of the barges moored to the west of the Greaves boatyard:

In the background you can see the old Battersea Bridge looking ethereal, although this is probably due to the quality of the photograph rather than weather conditions on the day.

Here a little further down is a pair of coal barges at Lindsey Wharf:

And a close-up of the men working on the barge, pausing to face the photographer and look out at us:

The next picture looks back at the Greaves boatyard from the east :

Just behind the boats to let sign is another for Lindsey Wharf. The boats built and rented out by the Greaves family were mostly rowing boats. The brothers rowed customers out on the river themselves. Some of those trips were purely business, taking passengers to their destinations like river taxis as boatmen on the Thames have done for centuries.  But Chelsea was already a place for artists and some of the passengers were making sketches of what they saw from the river. One of those customers was James McNeill Whistler who would have a profound effect on the lives of the Greaves family.

This is a view at low tide probably taken from the bridge, shows what must have been the whole of the Greaves business, the narrow rowing boats sitting on pontoons waiting for customers.

When I started writing this post I intended to take you all the way along Chelsea’s riverside, but we seem to have lingered in one small stretch of water. Perhaps it’s the spell of the river or perhaps post-Christmas languor. Either way we’ll be back here again before too long both with Mr Hedderly and the Greaves family.

I hope you all had a happy Christmas.


The famous fish shop

Philip Norman’s 1905 book “London vanished and vanishing” describes a “quaint building…four doors west of a tavern called the Rising Sun”.  It was Maunder’s fish shop and its address was 72 Cheyne Walk according to the 1889 edition of Kelly’s Chelsea Directory. The shop had been demolished by the time of Norman’s book but he had painted it.

The interesting thing for me is that he wasn’t the only one, and Elizabeth Maunder’s modest establishment was painted, sketched, etched and photographed in its time. Here is a painting by Alice Boyd:

Here is a drawing by Percy Thomas:

And here is an etching by William Burgess from his collection “Bits of Old Chelsea”:

Burgess was a talented engraver and watercolourist who created many images of Chelsea. I’ll devote a whole post to him sometime soon; this picture has one of his characteristic touches which I will explain then. See if you can guess what I mean. Finally here is a photograph of the building just before its sale and demolition.

I can’t say why all these artists felt compelled to depict Mrs Maunder’s shop. Why are certain places recorded for us while others are lost and forgotten – vanished as Philip Norman puts it? One thing is sure, that none of these images could have been created until the artists had the space to step back from the shop, which they wouldn’t have had until the creation of Chelsea Embankment. Before Maunder’s had a address in Cheyne Walk it was located in Lombard Street one of a pair of streets between Beaufort Place and Cheyne Walk (the other was Duke Street) both of which were partly demolished to make way for the Embankment. This small stretch of riverside Chelsea has been recorded in numerous formats. On the river side was the rear of several buildings including the Adam and Eve tavern shown here in a photograph by James Hedderly but also depicted by Burgess and other local artist including Walter Greaves. (We’ll come back to him at a later date)

On the land side were the two narrow streets of shops and taverns. This view is east to west with Beaufort Place, now Beaufort Street just visible in the distance.

From the other direction the streets look like this:

You can see Arch House at the end creating a narrow tunnel which leads to Cheyne Walk. And if you look carefully at the buildings on the left you can just about make out the fish shop again.

I can’t tell you anything about Mrs Elizabeth Maunder. Trading fish before refrigeration must have been a little unpleasant for the shopkeeper and the customer but you have to think it was a popular shop for a while at least, and Mrs Maunder must have had a tolerant disposition to put up with all those artists forever drawing or painting.  If we could get the Local Studies Time Machine going she’d probably be pleased to see us. Lombard Street / Duke Street is one of those forgotten streets I would have like to walk down.

Mrs Maunder’s shop was demolished in 1892 but lives on, possibly the most depicted shop in Chelsea.

I know some of you like me appreciate the facilty to zoom in on the details of old photographs so here is a close-up of Duke Street looking west. Although the image is blurred you can still make out some interesting features.

Night flight 1861: runaway balloon at Cremorne

This is a detail from a James Hedderly photograph. Among the trees on the right you can see the firework platform of Cremorne Gardens, one of the great entertainment attractions of Victorian London now gone almost without trace. There seem to be very few photographs of the place at all although there are plenty of prints on posters and handbills and illustrations in magazines like the Illustrated London News. So we think we know what it looked like and we think we know what it was like to visit the place. Mass entertainment as we know it today began in the nineteenth century in the pleasure gardens and music halls of Victorian cities. 

The staples of Cremorne were music, dancing, variety shows and fireworks. At first these would have been enough to pull in the crowds. But the various proprietors of Cremorne also needed spectacle. Death defying stunts were provided on a regular basis including performers such as the Female Blondin, the Flying Man and the Italian Salamander. I’ll return to those three on another occasion but for our first visit to Cremorne I want to talk about the first great sensational obsession of proprietors and punters alike – balloons.

Balloons were the first invention that got us into the air and although they had been in regular use since the eighteenth century for military and scientific purposes as well as the occasional spectacular public show it wasn’t until places like Cremorne started regular shows that large numbers of people got a chance to see them in action on a regular basis.

Here’s an early poster advertising a balloon event and a later print of a balloon taking off near the fireworks platform.

Of course once you’ve seen a balloon ascend a few times it might start to seem too easy and just not thrilling enough. Mr Green, the Nassau Balloon man livened up proceedings by taking “a lady and a leopard” up with him as passengers.  Later someone asked themselves what if we suspended something from underneath the basket? A horse maybe? Or a cow? How about a woman in classical costume riding the cow while the balloon ascends? She can then represent the goddess Europa whose sacred animal is the bull – educational as well as spectacular. This actually happened and I wonder how they persuaded the woman in question, a Madame Piotevin that it would be perfectly safe to sit on a terrified animal while ascending hundreds of feet up in the air dressed as a Greek goddess.  Other variations on the theme followed including the trip I’m going to describe now.

On July 24th 1861 the aeronaut Mr Lythgoe was scheduled to take paying passengers for a flight in his balloon. Mr Arthur Vivian and his friend Noel Anderson “having been disappointed a month before at Crystal Place” put their 5 guineas down to make sure they would secure a place. But the afternoon of 24th July turned out to be cloudy, windy and looking like rain. By 4.00pm Mr Lythgoe was on his way home, but after “a gleam of sunshine” Mr Adams, the secretary authorised the inflation of the balloon and Mr Lythgoe was summoned back.  The balloon took a long time to inflate and Mr Lythgoe had some misgivings but Mr Adams thought it would be a great climax to the evening’s entertainment if they set off after the fireworks at 10.30pm. “Several bystanders now endeavoured to dissuade us” according to Mr Vivian but despite strong winds and a torrential downpour they set off at 10.45.

Night flights had been done before. The adventurous Mr Green had set off fireworks from above to the general delight of the crowds. On one occasion he ascended at night during a heavy rainstorm. He and all his equipment were soaked. He was blown off course as far as Harrow where he was rescued, dirty and dishevelled by “four young ladies” who had been following the balloon from below.

All went well at first for Mr Lythgoe and his companions. At 1000 feet they could see London laid out underneath them like a map, the streets and squares “distinctly traced by the lines of gas light” and the sounds from below, carriages and carts, human voices and even music strangely clear. They shouted out themselves startling unsuspecting animals and people below. They went higher, up to 8000 feet, now much colder.  They thought they might be 20 miles or so from London as they descended and threw out the grappling iron. They stopped for a moment but with a loud crack the rope to the grappling iron broke. They were swept upward “at a frightening pace”. “Our situation was now anything but pleasant”. Without a grappling iron the only way to land was to descend and “run the balloon against a tree or other sharp object” and burst it. The first time they tried this they crashed into some trees. Vivian was momentarily stunned and regaining consciousness found Anderson gone, flung out of the basket when they touched the ground. The balloon was ascending again “at the most awful velocity” with most of their ballast gone. Lythgoe reckoned they got to 17000 feet before they could regain control and begin to descend. They were travelling through banks of cloud. Vivian thought he could hear water below. Lythgoe assured him they could be nowhere near the sea, but a break in the cloud cover showed that they were in fact above the ocean. After this terrifying realisation there was a moment of relief. They were heading towards the shore. Once over land again a landing was imperative. They climbed out of the basket and clung on to the ropes so they could drop immediately when they were close enough to the ground. The balloon bounced along, the basket hitting the ground only to be pulled up again until Lythgoe saw them about to hit a windmill and gave the order to let go. They landed “comparatively unhurt” and tried to follow the balloon. But after Lythgoe fell into a dyke they sought shelter at a cottage “not far from Southwold”. Once they persuaded the occupants that they had arrived by balloon they were given some welcome hospitality by the farm labourer and his family. At dawn they borrowed some clothes and went out time looking for debris from the balloon. They found Vivian’s umbrella among other items. Back in their own dry clothes by 6 am they made their way to Darsham Station and caught the 7.20 train which connected with the London express. They were in London by 10.00am “without hats and coats, to the great astonishment of many bystanders”. Anderson turned up at 1pm. He had been thrown into a field of beans in Essex and had made his way by omnibus and train back to Cremorne to enquire after the fate of the balloon. The three men were re-united later in the day.

Mr Vivian wrote an entertaining pamphlet about “our balloon adventure” with some observations about future safety precautions. Mr Lythgoe foreswore further night ascents.

It’s an excellent account with all the Victorian virtues, boldness, calmness in the face of adversity and some modesty in the telling of the story. I’m glad Mr Vivian saw fit to record the adventure. I can’t help wondering though if a modern balloon party faced a similar situation, and found themselves reluctantly transported from Central London to Suffolk on a stormy night whether the transport system would get them back by 10.00am the following morning.

Mr Hedderly in Old Church Street

Mr Hedderly in Old Church Street
Mr Hedderly in Old Church Street

I can’t be precise about when this photograph was taken. The photographer James Hedderly was active in Chelsea before the building of the Embankment and afterwards. The maid on the steps on the right of the picture is wearing a crinoline which probably puts the date before 1865, but that’s just a clue. The other people in the photograph are not wearing anything which would help with the date. Fashions such as the crinoline had barely reached the working classes at that time. Perhaps the woman isn’t a servant. She’s certainly keeping an eye on the child who is barely visible in the foreground. Photographs required long exposures in those days. You had to keep still. The child, who could be a boy or a girl, has paused just long enough to leave an impression. The other people could be said to be posing for the photograph or at least have been curious enough to linger while Mr Hedderly struggled with all his equipment. They might have known him well enough to indulge him, or at least known who he was, a sign writer by trade who had taken up the new hobby of photography. What is sure is that he wasn’t taking a random snapshot. What he was doing would have been the most interesting thing that happened in Old Church Street that day.

The two men in aprons and the boy have come out to have a look. The bunch of men leaning against the fence are curious about the photographer but may simply have been hanging around outside the pub. If you look closely you can see what appear to be a disembodied set of legs with a blur of motion above them. Somehow that person left before the upper part of his body could be recorded on the glass plate.

The figure who most intrigues me is the woman standing with her half-hidden friend on the left holding a basket. It’s possible with early photographs like these with their long exposure times to bring out details with a high resolution scan. Hedderly’s photographs are full of interesting details if you can examine them at a higher resolution. But some details are just not there. I can see the woman standing looking towards Mr Hedderly. I get the impression that she’s a young woman. You can almost make out her face under the shadow of her hat. Or perhaps I just think I can. Perhaps I just want to see her face. That’s part of the mystery of photographs especially old photographs. That bright day sometime in the middle of the nineteenth century is gone, the people in the photo are dead and buried. But the moment in the photograph is still there. The maid, the child and the man by the lamppost are still there. That young woman is still standing there looking at Mr Hedderly wondering what on earth he is doing. You can almost look her in the eye but you never will. That’s the problem with photographs. Sometimes they just don’t show what you want to see.


She and the others might never have had their photos taken before that day. But if they lived for another ten, twenty, thirty years it would probably have happened many more times. So at some time a photograph of that woman’s face could have existed. I’ll never see it. That’s the other problem with photographs. Many more of them are discarded than preserved. So I’m grateful to Mr Hedderly for all the forgotten days he has kept alive.

This is the first of a series of posts I’ll be writing based on images in the Local Studies collection at Kensington Library. I’m not embarking on a systematic trawl through the collection just picking out pictures that have struck me as interesting. I hope you like them. Feel free to leave comments.

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