Chelsea Walk


Chelsea is somewhat far from the city centre, but that does not mean that the shops and cafes of the main street (King's Road, once Charles II's private road to Hampton Court) are inferior to those of the city centre. At one time, there was a small village here, and something of its atmosphere can still be felt today. The name means the place where chalk was unloaded from ships and spread as fertilizer. In 1703, there were 300 tiny houses here, but then the population began to grow rapidly.

We arrive at Sloane Square station by tube train and get off the train. But you should not rush to leave. Let's take a look at what's above the platform. There's a big square blue tube of some sort. The River Westbourne flows within. The river, which starts in Hampstead, had long ago been channelled into an underground bed, but was overtaken by the construction of the station. So it had to be channelled. By the way, you can see this pipe even without entering the station, if you look from the right place in the nearby street between the houses. But I can say from my experience that this place is hard to find.

We exit the station to a square called Sloane Square. The square dates back to the 18th century and contains mainly houses built in the 19th and 20th centuries. In the square there is a fountain with a statue of Venus. The statue dates from 1953 and sits atop what looks like a large vase. But let's take a closer look, on the side of the "vase" there is an engraved image of King Charles II and his mistress sitting on the bank of a river watching swans swim by.

We continue along King's Road to the left of a house called Peter Jones. At the place where the house ends, we look to the left. In the narrow side street, there is a cheerful figure of a boy jumping over a bollard. This is a hint to a nearby school, which we will see soon.

Soon we will make a small detour to the Duke of York square on the left. There is also a restaurant where we can have a little meal, but there is also the school building mentioned above. It was founded in 1801 for the children of soldiers who died in the war. It currently houses an art collection called the Saatchi Gallery.

There is also a statue of a man with a fluffy wig standing there. This is Hans Sloane, a man who was a doctor by profession but is best known for his collection which formed the basis of the British Museum. A square and a Underground station are named after him, but we will also see something related to him on the further journey.

At the south-west end of the same square, there is a long stone slab in the pavement, on which is carved a map of the King's Road with important objects.

Let's move on. We turn left onto Cheltenham Terrace and then right onto St Leonard's Terrace. In the distance we can see large red buildings through the closed park area. This is the Royal Hospital. It was designed by Christopher Wren and commissioned by King Charles II to house war veterans. In essence, it was something like a luxury retirement home. And even now you can live there if you can prove that you have served in the British army, are at least 65 years old and have no relatives to support and take care of. The residents are called Chelsea Pensioners.

We move along the street, at house No. 18 we notice a blue plaque, from which we learn that Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, lived here. Soon we will turn left onto the street Durham Place. From here we can still admire the Royal Hospital buildings through the park. But on the other side are residential buildings, each costing about six million pounds. Let's keep in mind that the part of the building, which we tend to call the block of a terraced house, is an independent house in this country and has its own number.

We turn onto Royal Hospital Road, you know what it's named after. On the street is the National Army Museum, which shows the history of the army from the 17th century to the present day. The modern building stands on the site of the former home of Sir Robert Walpole, the first British Prime Minister. The house was destroyed in an explosion in April 1941.

We turn left onto Tite Street. Oscar Wilde lived here in house number 34 for ten years. He loved to write in a room overlooking the street. And from this house he was also taken to the prison...

We are about to reach the Thames, but turn right - Dilke Street. The artists' club was located here. But let's detour to Clover Mews for a moment. Stables were once located here and a people of servants lived here. This name - Mews - is very characteristic of London and is hardly found outside London. It is a service street. In the living of a wealthy family, servants were needed, as well as equipment, such as food. But it was not suitable for the milkman to enter the main door of the mansion. That's why there was a service street, from where stuff was brought in through the back door and horses were harnessed to the stable. Over time, the stables disappeared and often turned into garages. And instead of servants, artists, poets and other creative people often settled in the houses. Especially in the "golden sixties", these were very popular residences.

The street ends and straight ahead is the Chelsea Physic Garden. London's oldest botanic garden, contains ≈5,000 different medicinal plants. It was founded by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries in 1673, mainly so that medical students could learn about different herbs. The venture was supported by Sir Hans Sloane, whose statue is also in the garden. Britain's tallest olive tree grows here. And here is a greenhouse with the interesting name Tropical Corridor. The land was only given by Sloane to use, not for real. The rent for the use of the land was £5 per month. And this money is still being paid to Sloane's descendants! Only possible in England. :-)

Now we finally reach the river. A little to the east, the Golden Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park, built in 1984, a gift from Japanese Buddhists, is clearly visible across the river. But we are located at Chelsea Embankment. This means that even in the middle of the 19th century we would be in the water right now. The river bank has been filled in to build a sewer under it. In the past, sewer pipes ran directly into the river from the street, and the situation gradually became unbearable. There was even an occasion when the parliament had to stop for a week because of the unbearable stench. Due to the filling of the bank, a beautiful park area and a new street, Cheyne Walk, were created. Who hasn't lived on this street!

Keith Richards [house number 3]; Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull [48]; Composer Ralph Vaughan Williams [13]; Elizabeth Taylor [22]; Author of Dracula Bram Stoker [27]; Philosopher Bertrand Russell [14]; Artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti [16]; Writer George Eliot [4]; Prime Minister David Lloyd George [10]; Engineers Marc and Isambard Kingdom Brunel [98]; Football player George Best.

And once, much earlier, King Henry VIII and his daughter, who later became Queen Elizabeth I, lived in these areas.

In the middle of the street, we can make a small detour to Oakley Street to see house No. 42, where Bob Marley once lived.

On the corner of Oakley Street is the sculpture Boy with Dolphin (1975) by David Wynne, a self-taught artist and zoologist. The statue is made after the author's 9-year-old son and seems to defy the laws of physics, the boy floats in the air with a tiny fulcrum. Looking towards the river, we see a dark green booth. This is the Cabmen Shelter, one of thirteen preserved.

Meanwhile, we can detour to Cheyne Row to see Carlyle's House. Thomas Carlyle probably wrote the most comprehensive account of the French Revolution, but is not particularly respected as a writer today because of his highly racist and anti-Semitic views.

At the point where Cheyne Walk ends, there is a church - Chelsea Old Church. The church was bombed in WWII, but has been beautifully restored. Behind the church, behind the garden, you can also find the grave of the aforementioned Hans Sloane. But on the river side there is another statue, Thomas More sitting on a chair. A wealthy and successful lawyer, later the king's lord chancellor. His house was near here. But when Henry VIII declared himself the head of the Anglican Church, More decided to remain faithful to Catholicism. The king resolved the situation by having More executed in 1535 and taking up residence in his house himself. Exactly 400 years later, in 1935, poor Thomas was canonized.

We pass through the small park Ropers Gardens and in front of us is the magnificent Crosby Moran Hall. It was built by Sir John Crosby in 1466 at a completely different location - Bishopsgate. By the way, King Richard III lived there. But in 1910, this building was moved here piece by piece and is a protected building.

We go back through the park and continue along Old Church Street. On the wall of house No. 46 we see a sculpture depicting a cow's head, it is a reminder that a dairy was located here for centuries. We continue on the road until we reach the street from which we started - King's Road. There we turn right and make a small detour to Carlyle Square, this man was mentioned above. As we continue, we pass Dovehouse Green. It was the cemetery of the aforementioned church until 1882. Currently, a nice place to rest your feet in the shade of trees in warm weather.

Going further, you will see dark green ceramic tiles on house no. 131-41. This is the former Temperance Billiard Hall, built in 1912..14. Billiards were discontinued there in 1960, now here is an antique shop, you can enter and admire the interior.

A little further on is a peculiar building known as the Pheasantry. The entrance is a triumphal arch on which four bronze horses pull a chariot. It was once the site of artist Amédée Joubert's studio and exhibitions. Currently there is a restaurant.

Going further, we see several blue plaques on the walls, which mark the residences of famous persons. For example, Helen Lyndon Goff, who we probably don't know much about, but she was one of the best actors in Mary Poppins.

You could also turn onto the dead-end Bywater Street. It is one of London's "rainbow streets". No, not what you think. Every house there is brightly painted in its own way, somewhat chaotic, but somehow beautiful.

And we are back at the Underground station where we started our journey.