Tag Archives: Margaretta Terrace

Side streets of Chelsea: part one

Most people have heard of the King’s Road, and when these photographs were taken it was at the height of its cultural / historical significance, Chelsea was one of the fashion / youth culture centres of the world. But off the main road were ordinary streets, home to the affluent and the less than affluent. These pictures were taken by the library photographer John Rogers in the early 1970s as a contemporary record of how Kensington and Chelsea looked. It was then a relatively new borough, the result of an amalgamation of the old separate Metropolitan Boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea, so the photo survey was one of the first attempts to show the character of the new entity.

The pictures have that quiet mood we’ve seen before in the survey pictures. They remind us that this is now a historical era, even if some of us think we can remember it. There are less people and fewer cars. And there’s an atmosphere about them, the hint of a more optimistic, less frantic time.

Markham St 1970

Markham Street, off the northern side of the King’s Road. A young woman with a string bag goes shopping. Further west in Burnsall Street a man checks out some jackets.

Burnsall Street

As always in these photo survey pictures I’ll be very pleased if you can identify the cars even when they’re not exactly classics.

Further south there are more traditional scenes.

Danube Street from the east

This narrow street is Danube Street, off Cale Street. The building on the right still has that shop front almost the same except for a different paint job.

On the south side of the King’s Road you could have found your way to this quiet autumnal backwater, off Christchurch Street.

Christchurch Street east side 1974, KS 4175Something about this photo takes me back to  my 1974 when I had been in London for less than a year.

So does this tranquil spot in Dilke Street:

Dilke Street north side 1974 KS4347

Dilke Street, which runs parallel to the river, deserves a second look:

Dilke Street south side 1974 KS4344

This distinctive house can still be found on Google Maps. The trees behind the wall are in the Chelsea Physic Garden.

The trees below on the other hand are in Margaretta Terrace. This street, rumoured to be the site of a plague pit was built by Dr John Samuel Phene and named after his wife.

Margaretta Terrace east side 26-27 1973 KS 4534

But in 1973 as John passed by, a small child ran between a Rover and a Citroen, two cars characteristic of middle class life at that date.

Margaretta Terrace is behind Oakley Street which I used to walk down on my way home from working at Chelsea Library, past the site of Dr Phene’s famous house heading along Upper Cheyne Row towards this narrow passage:

Justice Walk from west KS 3083Justice Walk may get a post of its own one day, or maybe my whole walk home. You can see a view from the other end in this post on WW Burgess.

If I’d turned left I’d have walked down Lawrence Street.

Lawrence St W side The Cross Keys P.H 1970 KS 3197

This is the Cross Keys, a public house dating from 1708. In 1970 the existence of a large number of pubs in Chelsea was taken for granted but many of them have gone now. The Cross Keys avoided being turned into a residential property in 2012 but is currently closed and up for sale again.

When I was walking home in those days my journey finished in Beaufort Street. Further west back in 1970 a major building project was in progress.

Cremorne Road looking west 1972, KS 3920Cremorne Road was just as busy in 1972 as it is today. The World’s End Estate was rising and places like this were gone:

Dartrey road 1969 KS1835A doorway in Dartrey Street just before demolition.

Some of the old neighbourhood still survived in 1972:

Burnaby street south side 1972, KS 3993

Burnaby Street, at the intersection with Upcerne Road (I think). Note the word Shed on the wall. Not a reference to the small building in your garden, but part of the Chelsea football ground, home to one of the original firms of football hooligans (according to Wikipedia  I’m sure one of my Chelsea readers could give us chapter and verse).

This nearby street is no longer on maps:

Meek St looking W 1972  KS3999A black cat crosses Meek Street in the thirteenth picture. He’s in no danger from passing traffic.

For the most part as we’ve seen the streets are calm. There are plenty of these pictures so expect a part two in the next few weeks. Let’s have one more for my friend Carrie, at the other end of Chelsea.

Pavilion Rd east side 107-103 1970Pavillion Road – what car is that, motor enthusiasts?

Postscript

This is a topic I’ve had on the back burner for a while, but for a couple of reasons, one medical (I’m not at work right now after a small accident on Monday night) and one practical (our scanning equipment is locked up in the Library basement during some building repairs), I’ve decided to go with it this week.

While at A&E I had an idea for a post which may be next week’s. This is the blogger’s life – everything you see makes you ask: is there a blog post here?

Stop press: I’ve just seen a tweet saying  the Cross Keys is to re-open. Story at:

http://chelseasociety.org.uk/cross-keys-reopen/

 

Advertisements

Dr Phene in his garden

So there he is. Dr Phene in his garden. A neatly dressed elderly man with a flamboyant beard. Dr Phene was a minor celebrity in his own time. He is still famous in a small way. A local eccentric who collected artworks from all over the world. A poor man’s Sir John Soane if you want to be cruel.

He built a famous house which he never lived in. Shall we look at the house?

The house is as famous as the man. Stories abound about Dr Phene and his house. His wife or his fiancé died and the wedding breakfast, already laid out was preserved untouched in the house just like Miss Havisham’s. I’m glad to say this is not true. A woman to whom he was engaged died of a rheumatic fever but that was many years before he built the house. He later married his cousin Margaretta. Some say the marriage soon failed others that it lasted for some time before Margaretta left and went to live in Paris. He did name a street after her though – Margaretta Terrace.

Another story told about Dr Phene is that Queen Victoria came to see the new houses he was building off Oakley Street and was pleased enough with them to say he could name the new street after her, but he declined as he had already promised the name to his wife. If this is true it sounds quite a daring thing to do. He may have made up for the slight later by writing a long narrative poem: “Victoria Queen of Albion – an idyll of the world’s advance in her life and reign” published in 1897. (I have a copy of the book here with me but I’m going to spare you any quotations from this work. It doesn’t make much sense to me even with the explanatory footnotes and illustrations.)

It’s also true that Dr Phene never actually lived in the house but he and his friends seem to have spent time in it, long enough to have created among other features a mortuary for cats within its walls. Or would that be another apocryphal story? The house is described as being in the style of a French chateau or an Italian palazzo depending on the source and either way as a celebration of Dr Phene’s rich and varied ancestry. He is said to have avoided completing the building because of a dispute over the rates with the Chelsea Vestry, which is a dull enough explanation to be plausible, but perhaps he simply never got around to finishing it. He had another house nearby in Oakley Street which wasn’t exactly conventional in appearance either.

I love the composition of this photograph. Dr Phene, Dr Phene’s dog, Dr Phene’s maid posing for another illustration of his eccentricity.

For the record then, Dr John Samuel  Phene: a traveller, a collector, a scholar, a poet, a recluse (who nevertheless seems to have had many friends), a property developer. An innovator in architecture and planning, he was the first person to think of planting trees in streets but also perhaps a lover of decay. The famous house was on the corner of Oakley Street and Upper Cheyne Row. It was built in the grounds of the literally crumbling eighteenth century mansion Cheyne House. The garden was overgrown and unkempt except where Dr Phene had carved out a section for the display of his collection of sculptures.

I think these two photos, probably taken after Dr Phene’s death, demonstrate the sheer strangeness of the house and garden better than any number of stories. And the depth of Phene’s obsession with collecting exotic objects. That is still real long after the rumours have been forgotten.

The garden and its contents are looking a little the worse for wear. Perhaps this was at the time of the sale of the house. The building itself continued to stand empty until its demolition in the 1920s.

I haven’t exhausted the mine of contradictory stories about Dr Phene. The photographs tell their own story. I always come back to the first picture: Dr Phene in his garden. Aloof, diffident but quietly satisfied with his efforts and the persona he has created.

But I can’t help adding one more picture, one more mystery. Here is Dr Phene in a more sociable setting on a charabanc tour in 1860.

I think he’s the man on the far left with the casual pose and the already impressive moustache. But he could be deceiving me.


%d bloggers like this: