Tag Archives: Maunder’s

Christmas days: realia – the head in the gable

My new year’s resolution will be to get the blog back on track with regular posts. As a start, I’m returning to short posts for Christmas. The theme this year is realia.

Realia is a word which was used in the olden days of libraries to mean “real” things, objects and other non-book items. I used to like the implication that books, the main objects of my career and a large part of my life were therefore unreal, illusory things. In a way of course they are, or at least their physical forms are only the piece which sticks out from the realm of imagination into the “real” world. So this week we have some short posts about objects.

Way back in the history of this blog I wrote a post called The Famous Fish Shop about a shop owned by a Mrs Maunder which once  stood on Cheyne Walk before the Embankment. For some reason it was a favourite of local artists. You can go back to that post with the link and see some of them. This is the first, by historian Philip Norman:



The detail to look for is that plaque or medallion above the top window. A head in profile.

At Chelsea Library in the 80s and 90s there was an archives room (“Archives 4” to be precise) which had a number of objects gathering dust on slate shelves. These objects were largely ignored in my time at Chelsea and never sorted out until we consolidated the last bits of the collection at Kensington in 2012 – 2013. One of them was an oddly shaped wooden case with a glass front. This:



I can’t remember when I first looked closely at it properly and read the label.



Somehow then, the actual medallion from the wall of Maunder’s fish shop is still with us while the rest of the building didn’t even see the 20th century, let alone the 21st. The stone is crumbling and when I moved it to a position in which I could take pictures I thought for a moment the whole thing was about to collapse. But it didn’t.



I’ve now moved it to a more secure spot where it can sit quietly and remember Old Chelsea.



Obscure Books

Instead of books of the year, this time around I’m writing about obscure books I’ve enjoyed over a number of years. Regular readers know I like science fiction and the supernatural. All the books this year have elements of both, but also an indefinable quality which defies categorization.


Todd Grimson’s Brand New Cherry Flavour (1996) will not be obscure much longer.  An adaptation will soon be seen on Netflix. How that will work out will be interesting to see. It’s a story of decadent life in Los Angeles. Aspiring young film maker Lisa Nova seeks revenge on a producer who exploited her and seeks the aid of a sorcerer. The vengeance gets spectacularly and bizarrely out of hand.

She dreams a horror movie into existence, and some of the cast make their own leap into reality…..I decided I would read it again before publishing this post, but I haven’t finished it yet and it’s Christmas morning already. So take my word for it, it’s genuinely weird.

Grimson wrote a couple of other books including Stainless, a vampire novel also set in 80s California..

Monkeys of Christmas

You can’t leave the simian pluffies out Christmas, or keep them out of the archive.



There will be a couple more Christmas posts this week. A happy Christmas to you all.

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.

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