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.
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.
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.
I’d quite forgotten this picture so I was quite struck by this view looking north from Battersea Bridge up 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.
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 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:
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
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.
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.
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
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 in 1913 accompanied by some important men.
But let’s go back to ordinary life. This is the street market in Marlborough Street.
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.