Tag Archives: Old Church Street

Short posts – leisure

From time to time I have to scan pictures for enquiries and requests and inevitably you see other images you like in the picture chests and think “I should scan that as well”. So I often do, on the assumption that we’ll need to scan them all eventually so why not now. So another batch of pictures get done which are only connected by the fact that they have caught my interest. And this is what we have today.



The embankment. Two girls wearing some kind of harness are pulling a third, in the riverside gardens on Cheyne Walk, in 1927, but the driver isn’t sitting in a carriage, she’s running with them. It doesn’t look like that much fun to me, but in the 1920s you had to find your fun where you could. At least they’re getting some exercise.

The picture below is from a slightly later period.



A picturesque view down Old Church Street, showing a dog being walked (he is showing some interest in another dog, which has been picked up by a girl in school uniform, while a young couple look on with interest), a pair of men delivering milk or groceries (the one in the distance has the benefit of a horse drawn wagon, the nearest one has to pull his own wagon), while a couple of boys are lingering at the edge of the picture (it looks to me as though one of them is having his ear examined by his mother, but that could be me reading too much into it.

The image below is a photograph of a painting by Philip Norman, who was also a London historian.


“The back of old houses in Cheyne Walk”. With rather a large garden for the use of young children and small animals. I’m not sure precisely where these houses were but my impression is that they were near Beaufort Street.

Chelsea, of course has one or two celebrated gardens, like this one.



This shows “the last of the old cedars” in the Apothecaries Garden. The cedars were famous  from Fuge’s print. (He did one image from each direction. This is north, I think. The version I had was in colour but it didn’t seem quite right to me so I put a filter on this to tone down the red. Not enough?



(Archive trivia: In addition to images of the Physic Garden, the Local Studies also possesses a wooden box, reportedly made from the wood of one of these trees.)

The picture below also features the trees, along with a group of botanists engaged in detailed study.



The next picture also comes from the 18th century, where as you can see, a number of people are entertaining themselves or being entertained in a small but ornate walled garden. Drinking, dancing, listening to a musician (playing what, exactly?) or taking a turn round the fountain. This according to the caption is Spring Gardens, a small establishment which was located on a site where Lowndes Square was subsequently built.



I naturally turned to Warwick Wroth’s “London Pleasure Gardens of the 18th Century” (1896, reprinted 1979), a pleasantly exhaustive survey of gardens large and small to learn a little more. It turns out to be more complicated than I thought.  It seems there was a Chelsea Spring Gardens and a Knightsbridge Spring Gardens. Both were “places of public entertainment” featuring displays of “fireworks and horsemanship” with other devices employing fire and water. One of them was connected with a couple of taverns, the Star and Garter and the Dwarf’s Tavern. The co-proprietor of the latter was the celebrated John Coan (“the unparalleled Norfolk Dwarf”) who laid on for his guests “a most excellent ham, some collared eel, potted beef etc, with plenty of sound old bright wine and punch like nectar”. The quotation is from a notice reprinted in Faulkner’s History of Chelsea. On this occasion Mr Coan was available to guest, but for another shilling they could see “The bird of knowledge”. I would have looked in on that.

In the picture though, it seems to be a quiet day. I can’t leave John Coan without showing you this picture by Marianne Rush entitled “The house at the Five Fields where Coan the Norfolk Dwarf exhibited himself”. How much of this is the artist’s imagination I can’t say. But there is plenty of interesting (though out of scale?) detail. Rush is one of my favourite artists in our collection.



Finally a picture of a private garden, which is definitely quiet. In Kensington, this is a view from Bullingham House which was off Kensington Church Street. (There is a photo of the house from the garden showing these same steps in this post. )



This is a pretty and well composed picture (it has been used on a greetings card) showing the typical large garden of a house of the 1860s, when much of Kensington was suburban. The crinoline dress is well suited to a sunny afternoon in a quiet corner of London with a privileged young woman enjoying some hours of leisure. Compare it to a the pictures in this post , taken a decade or so later, particularly the first image which shows another lady walking down steps into a garden. (The last photo in the post shows her doing some serious relaxing.)

In the end a theme did emerge from this near random collection of images: leisure, hence the title. I should do a whole post on people relaxing in gardens. One day.

Forgotten buildings: Catharine Lodge


The 1936 houses on Old Church Street I wrote about last November were built (along with two other neo-Regency houses in Chelsea Square) on the grounds of a single house with a large garden. Bath Lodge, as it was originally called, was a late 18th century or early 19th century building, constructed according to the Survey of London of 1913 to house a staircase which came from Bath House in Piccadilly, acquired as payment for a gambling debt. The same book goes on to describe as  rumour the suggestion that the new Bath Lodge was used for gambling and that it was frequented by the Prince Regent.

The detail below, from Thompson’s 1836 map shows Bath Lodge as one of several detached houses in the still semi-rural area north of the King’s Road.

Thompson detail 002 Chelsea Carlyle Paultons Queens Elm

(You can see that Carlyle Square appears under its original name, Oakley Square.)

We can choose to believe those unsubstantiated rumours if we wish and the story about the staircase. And we can see the staircase as several photographs of it survive from the period when the house was a private residence.

Catherine Lodge interior - staircase CM2108

There it is looking up from the ground floor hall.

Catherine Lodge interior - staircase CM2109

And there’s the second flight of stairs with a handy chair on the half landing in case the owner wanted to contemplate the feature around which the house was designed.

But let’s not get too far ahead of the story. In the 1850s the name of  the house was changed to Catherine Lodge. And whatever scandalous purposes it had served were set aside by the new occupants.

Catherine Lodge School prospectus c1857 CM2211 - Copy

Trafalgar Square (now Chelsea Square – the name was changed in the 1930s as part of a general elimination of duplicate street names in London) was growing around the house. But note the term Brompton used in the address with its slightly more respectable connotations than Chelsea. It was just the right area for the  exclusive girl’s school Mrs Field and Miss Lowman had set up .

Catherine Lodge School prospectus c1857 CM2211

The new name was given to the house by Mrs Field, whose grand-daughter was called Catharine Jones. The school prospered for forty years or so, even boasting a school magazine inexplicably called the Katherine Wheel. (One issue repeated those Prince Regent stories.)

The school closed in 1895. For a while there was a sporting club in the house, the Trafalgar Cycling Club which was a good fit with the tennis courts in the Square but its final incarnation was as a private house.

Catherine Lodge rear view CM2108

In the 1920s the house was the home of Sir Albert Gray, his wife and their staff. These photographs show what the interior looked like, a far cry from the  ultra modern decor which would come to the Church Street side of the site in the 30s.

Catherine Lodge interior - library CM2109

[The library, a comfortable study for an educated well-read man, who would become Mayor of Chelsea during his time in the house. The pictures are all of Nelson’s commanders].

But as well as the photographs we also have a memoir of life in Catharine Lodge written by one of Sir Albert’s kitchen maids, Edna Wheway.

Copy of Edna Wheway

Edna, aged 19 when she came to Chelsea worked at the house for two and a half years mainly as a kitchen maid but also learning how to be a cook.

Catherine Lodge interior  - fireplace CM 1509

The white marble chimney piece, which the Survey admired. Cleaning it was probably not one of Edna’s duties although her work was not entirely confined to the kitchen. Her first encounter with Sir Albert was when she was scrubbing the front door step and a tall aristocratic gentleman suddenly spoke to her: “We’ve not met before have we?”. Edna was embarrassed to be found wearing “a coarse hessian apron over my dress”. To avoid being seen again in what she called “a badge of poverty” she made herself  some white aprons out of material from sugar sacks. Despite this parsimony over uniforms, Edna describes the Grays as good employers. She made friends in the house such as Tommy the cat whom she once rescued from the oven in the range where he had fallen asleep. Among the other staff, her particular friend was  Emily the under-housemaid.

Emily would have been familiar with this sculpture in the hall. It took me a while to work out that it was as captioned, Leda and the Swan. At one time it was believed to be by Michaelangelo, but in the end the “adverse views” of experts prevailed and it was attributed to a less significant artist.

Catherine Lodge interior  - hall  CM2108

One day when the Grays were out of the country and the servants were living communally like modern housemates, Edna, Emily and John the footman decided to explore the cellars of the house looking for a secret passage which was supposed to lead down to the river. (Chelsea was riddled with such passages if all the rumours were true). They found a passage behind the coal cellar which “went a fair way” but were eventually deterred from entering a doorway obscured either by curtains or an accumulation of cobwebs and dust when a gust of wind blew their candles out. They cleaned up their clothes and claimed to have been out for a walk.


In this watercolour by W E Fox you can see the pillar box near the house where Edna and Emily put odd objects such as a sprig of mistletoe to surprise the “miserable-looking” postman. They watched from the window. Edna notes that the mistletoe got a smile out of him before they ducked back out of sight.

Edna moved out of London to take up a position as a cook and was married in 1927. Sir Albert Gray died the following year and Catharine Lodge was demolished in 1931 as part of  a general development in what was still called Trafalgar Square. I don’t know if anyone preserved the staircase.


Edna’s book was called “Edna’s Story: memories of life in a children’s home and in service, in Dorset and London” and was published in 1984.

The photographs of the interior are from an article called “A relic of Old Chelsea”.

Both watercolours are by W E Fox.


From Bauhaus to our house: Old Church Street 1936

I’ve borrowed part of this week’s title from the book by Tom Wolfe which is probably a little unfair as on the whole Wolfe is against “modern” architecture as practiced by the Bauhaus school. I’m looking at two houses that were distinctly modern in 1936 but are now regarded as elegant features in the varied architecture of one of the oldest streets in Chelsea. Strictly speaking only one of them is a product of the Bauhaus, the Levy house as it was known in 1936, designed by Walter Gropius and Maxwell Fry. The other, the Cohen house was designed by Eric Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff.

Although they are two distinct houses they were designed to fit together. Here they are in 1936, the Mendelsohn/Chermayeff house in the foreground, the Gropius/Fry house further up the street.

street view 1936

I’ve walked past these houses hundreds of times, and always liked them. I used to think the Mendelsoh/Chermayeff house with its long street frontage looked more like a factory or an academic building, (or the location for a Kraftwerk video), than a house.

But inside they were definitely ultra modern living spaces:

MC plan - Copy

As you can see the Mendelsohn/Chermayeff house was equipped with its own sunken squash court and library.

GF plan- Copy

And next door there was space for some traditional functions with rooms for the butler, the secretary and on the roof floor for three maid’s rooms. There was a viewing platform looking down on the garden. The 30s was one of the first decades of sun worship.

GF south view 1936

The plot of land the two houses were built on had once been the grounds of a single house. This was divided into two with a pair of more conventional houses on the Chelsea Square side. The two sets of architects on the Old Church Street side and their clients agreed to create one spacious garden they could share.

GF garden view 1936

The Gropius/Fry house had its long axis at a right angle to the Mendelsohn/Chermayeff house which made the garden space larger. It also means the house is mostly hidden from the street so it looks a little insignificant next to the long facade of the other house. The view above from the garden shows it best. You can see the large windows, the terrace and the covered space which links the two properties. Below is the garden terrace of the second house:

MC 1936

On the left you can see a side door and window on the southern wall of the house. The view below is from 1982.

MC 1982 01 exterior

You can almost (probably not quite) make out the glass conservatory that was built on this side in the 1970s. There have been two of those. I remember the first one from when I first lived in Chelsea. It had a rounded top like a traditional glass house and seemed to be full of thick vegetation almost to bursting point. This was replaced by a slightly more spacious square-topped conservatory. This version has now also filled out with plants.

The interiors of the houses are arguably more striking than the exteriors.

GF staircase 1936

An austere hall and staircase in 1936.

The picture below is from a magazine feature. The original owners of the Gropius/Fry house the playwright Ben Levy and actress Constance Cummings had lived there for many years and had filled the house with conventional furniture.

GF 02 detail

By contrast in 1982 minimalism was back, as you can see in this interior view of the Mendelsohn / Chermayeff house.

MC 1982 03

The white 1980s decor suits the house quite well.

MC 1982 04

The view below shows the garden terrace of the Levy house after extensive changes to the exterior.

GF 01 exterior

Some grey cladding has been added, and that viewing platform has been filled in, no doubt for a sensible reason although it does detract from the sweep of white along the street view.

You might prefer to think of it in those bright summer days of the mid-1930s, looking like a pavilion at the beach in a fictional resort like Vermillion Sands or like part of an ocean liner. This photograph seems to catch the essential optimism of these houses. (This optimism is all the more remarkable when you consider that both Mendelsohn and Gropius were in London after recently fleeing from Nazi Germany. Both of them subsequently moved on to the USA. )

GF 1936


The 1936 pictures are from the Architectural Review (Volume 80). The 1982 pictures are from the Connoisseur magazine. The other pictures are from a cutting in our collection, undated and unattributed, but possibly Good Housekeeping, and possibly from the 1950s.

Thanks to David Le Lay for his thoughts on the buildings and an explanation of the grounds. Obviously any misconceptions or errors are my own.

Finally here is a picture I took late this afternoon as the sun was going down showing the Mendelsohn / Chermayeff house with its second conservatory. The now dark grey Gropius / Fry house is just visible in the distance.

Copy of DSC_2712

Another postscript (June 2016)

One of the comments below leads to this excellent article about Chermayeff:  https://misfitsarchitecture.com/2016/06/30/career-case-study-7-serge-chermayeff

Late in the afternoon: Walter William Burgess

You have been here before. You have stood on this foreshore, seen those beached barges waiting for the next tide. You’ve walked those streets. But the last time you were looking through the eyes of the photographer, an artist who worked through light falling on a glass plate. This week you’re seeing the scenes below through the imagination of a man who worked with pencil and ink, and by scratching lines on a sheet of metal. Just as William Cowen created a rural idyll in the area between Kensington and Chelsea (Idle days in southern Kensington – see list of posts opposite) so Walter William Burgess created an urban fantasy out of what he saw in Chelsea in the second half of the 19th century.

Here is Lindsey Wharf again, the barges with their sails furled and the men walking on the mud up to the stairs.

Back on solid ground this is Lindsey Row looking west echoing the view we saw in the Hedderly post Tales of the Riverbank.

The tide is in and there seems to be more activity in the street. To me it looks like an afternoon scene. Smoke from the chimneys and people on their way home. That same horse and cart waiting in the first picture are now on their way. The sky is full of clouds, birds are on the wing. The guys from Green’s boatyard have moved a tricky job out into the street.

Past the bridge in Cheyne Walk the high tide touches the road.

A milkmaid heads towards the Old Church. Two men with time on their hands relax and talk just feet from the water. This picture has the feel of an earlier period than the others, perhaps the 1830s or 1840s when Chelsea was still half rural full of market gardens and nurseries. Burgess has slipped us into a time machine of his own.

We’re moving away from the waterfront now. This is Justice Walk. The Wesleyan Chapel building is still there even that strange cage like structure over the basement yard. The building has also  a court house been a wine merchant’s house. The street may take its name from a resident of nearby Lawrence Street the famous magistrate and founder of the Bow Street Runners Sir John Fielding. A story persists that it has a tunnel in the cellar which leads to the river. Chelsea has quite a few of those rumoured hidden passages. Very few of them can be found today.

I used to walk through this alley every evening on the way home from work. it’s quiet, tranquil rather than spooky although I once saw two of the modern equivalents of the Runners in action there. I can’t say more than that here.

Now we’re looking south down Old Church Street. There are cafes, shops, houses. A woman I think I should recognize from a Hedderly photograph walks with her son. Some other children are playing with hoops. Hoops are a bit of a craze in Burgess pictures. It looks like another late afternoon. The hint of growing shadows, more smoke in the air.

Burgess’s Chelsea has secret places too behind the public streets.

The Moravian burial ground. If you remember this patch of green has been used in our century for exercising a lion. But it has obviously always welcomed animals. Who is the figure in black on the path?

I’m not good with botany but I know that’s a cedar tree looming over the Sloane statue. In our archive room there is a cedar box made from wood from this garden. A couple of potted plants sit in front of Sloane like some kind of offering. At the left another stone deity stands surrounded by plants.  From the Physic Garden you can move on to the Royal Hospital. In the picture below two Pensioners have left the Hospital to stroll up Franklin’s Row. It’s one of my favourite Burgess pictures.

It’s the sheep that make the picture for me. But go back and look through these pictures again. You’ll find animals in every one. Horses, chickens, dogs and cats. The goat. If he couldn’t insert four legged creatures Burgess made do with birds. He couldn’t keep the animals out. Perhaps it was part of urban life in those days. Even in the city we shared our space with them. Is there an unknown animal among the exotic plants in the Physic Garden? WWB might know for sure.

Walter William Burgess lived from 1845 to 1908. Very little is known about his life but given the time he was in Chelsea it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that he knew Hedderly, the Greaves brothers and maybe Whistler as well. Many of Burgess’s pictures are collected in a folio volume called Bits of Old Chelsea.

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.

%d bloggers like this: