Tag Archives: Physic Garden

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.


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.


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