Tag Archives: James Hedderly

Cheyne Walk: heading west 1970

I was looking for a picture of 120 Cheyne Walk, where Arthur Ransome lived for a while in the period he describes in his book Bohemia in London. Number 120 is right on the edge of the World’s End Estate in a short terrace of 19th century houses between Blantyre Street and the smaller, older and more famous house next to it where JMW Turner had his last home.

That section of Cheyne Walk, from the Old Church to Cremorne Road traditionally took you from the grandest and most affluent part of the street into a much lowlier part of Chelsea as you enter Lots Road. When I looked at John Rogers’s  1970 photographs I naturally thought here’s a blog post. So here you are.

It’s an area that’s very familiar to me. My mother-in-law lived in Milmans Street, and my wife and I spent the early years of our marriage in a flat in Beaufort Street, so I’ve walked along this part of the embankment, crossed both bridges, caught buses north and south on many occasions. A bit arbitrarily I’ve decided to start here:

We’re right by Chelsea Old Church. You can see the Sloane Monument and the houses nearby which feature in a photograph by James Hedderly, as do many of today’s locations. There is the drinking fountain monument to George Sparkes (if the East India Comapny) and the 1969 statue of Thomas More (“Scholar, Statesman, Saint” as it says on the plinth.)

And there is the Old Church itself, reconstructed after the war, following severe damage during an air raid in 1941.

Next to it is Roper’s Garden, a sunken garden also built on the site of buildings destroyed in the air raid. I have sat in it many times. The small block of flats is called Roper’s Orchard. Margaret Roper was the married name of one of Thomas More’s daughters. The statue in the garden is called Awakening and is by Gilbert Ledward, who was born in Chelsea.

The sheltered seats at the top of the stairs were a pleasant spot to shelter if the rain caught you on your way home from Battersea Park.

In the background you can see part of Crosby Hall, an ancient building which formerly stood in Bishopsgate in the City of London which was disassembled and reassembled in Chelsea in the 1910.

When I lived nearby Crosby Hall and its attendant buildings were used as a hall of residence. The hall was rented out for ceremonies and wedding receptions. This pictures shows the open front onto Cheyne Walk. In 1989 the building was acquired as a private residence by Christopher Moran who built a pastiche of a Tudor palace around it so you can’t see this view any more.

Across the river in Battersea there have been considerable changes as well. many of the buildings visible in the distance are no longer there.

The photographer John Rogers has captured a pretty quiet moment on the road.

This iron structure sits in the small green space where Battersea Bridge meets Cheyne Walk and Beaufort Street.

 

Belle Vue House, on the right is on the opposite corner. There is a well know Hedderly photograph showing the same corner more than a hundred years earlier.

 

 

This is the view looking west, on a February morning in 1970, the same day as almost all the other pictures this week.

 

 

You can just about make out this quizzical bird looking east. He sits on the gatepost of another ancient residence, Lindsey House.

 

 

Lindsey House is another ancient house (built 1674), subdivided in the 18th century. The various parts of it have been home to the artists Whistler and John Martin and the engineers Marc and Isembard Kingdom Brunel.

 

 

We’re going to move past the end of Milmans Street as I’ve covered it before.

Moving west, this collection of houses curves away from the main road and leads north into Riley Street. Car spotters can start here although I’m sure no one will be able to identify the car under cover on the left.

 

 

These should be pretty obvious though.

This is the point where Munro Terrace curves away to become Riley Street. (once upon a time Davis Place became World’s End Passage) , with Apollo Place hiding behind the main road.

Apollo Place (partly visible on the right in the picture below) was once the home of Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran. On more than one occasion when I was at Chelsea Library teenage girls would ask to consult the electoral register to locate him. (When I worked at Brompton Library I would see groups of teenage girls gathered outside the home of another Duran Duran member in Gilston Road, off Fulham Road).

The building on the corner used to be a pub (or at least a “beer retailer” as listed in the 1899 Kelly’s directory. The 1888 edition lists The Queen’s Arms at this number, along with a “fried fish shop”)

 

Next to it was another more long lasting pub, the King’s Arms.

 

An apocryphal story is told about a local celebrity buying one of these two pubs and closing it down because of the noise. I won’t name the person concerned because I don’t know if this is in any way true. Many pubs in Chelsea have closed since 1971 for a variety of reasons.

Closeby, the building below is the house of JMW Turner (have a look at it here)

Or for comparison:

 

A picture from the late 1940s I think.

Now go back to the first picture in the blog to see the taller buildings next to these as we move west. Those still survive but the ones in the final two pictures have gone.

 

 

This is the corner of Luna Street (have a look at Luna Street another others here). You can see the street name, just about, and the word “shed” referring of course to one end of the Chelsea Football ground, and the group of fans associated with it. The final picture shows what remained of the terrace around number 132 as Cheyne Walk becomes Ashburnham Road.

 

 

Marked by an advertisement for Carlsberg Special Brew. Close to this point is the end of Lots Road which we’ve looked at before. I’ve touched on the houseboats in another post but we may come there again in the future.

Postscript

This was a light post in terms of text and commentary but I know many of you will enjoy the pictures and don’t need much comment from me. I welcome any comments, corrections or reminiscences from readers. I’m a little late posting this week because of some last minute fact checking and link creating. I’m off now to see if I can find a 19th century photograph of the King’s Arms which I have in my mind but I don’t think I’ve ever scanned it.

A little later….. I found it and will scan it soon.I also discovered that you can just see the King’s Arms and the Queen’s Arms side by side in one of my early Hedderly posts. (the 6th picture.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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.

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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.

Houseboats

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

Postscript

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.


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