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Chelsea Bridge, River Thames, London, England.jpg
Chelsea Bridge
Grid reference: TQ275775
Location: 51°29’15"N, 0°10’6"W
Post town: LONDON
Postcode: SW3, SW10
Dialling code: 020
Local Government
Council: Kensington and Chelsea
Chelsea and Fulham

Chelsea is an affluent town in Middlesex forming part of the metropolis south-west of the city of Westminster. It is bounded to the south by the River Thames. Its frontage runs from Chelsea Bridge along the Chelsea Embankment, Cheyne Walk, Lots Road and Chelsea Harbour. Its eastern boundary was once defined by the River Westbourne, which is now in a pipe above Sloane Square tube station. The modern eastern boundary is Chelsea Bridge Road and the lower half of Sloane Street, including Sloane Square. To the north and north-west, the area fades into Knightsbridge and Brompton, but it is safe to say that the area north of King's Road as far north-west as Fulham Road is part of Chelsea.


Early history

The word Chelsea (also formerly Chelceth, Chelchith, or Chelsey,[1]) originates from the Old English term for "landing place [on the river] for chalk or limestone" (Cealc-hyð: chalk-wharf, in Anglo-Saxon). The first record of the Manor of Chelsea precedes the Domesday Book and records the fact that Thurstan, governor of the King's Palace during the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042–1066), gave the land to the Abbot and Convent of Westminster. Abbot Gervace subsequently assigned the manor to his mother, and it passed into private ownership. The modern-day Chelsea hosted the Synod of Chelsea in AD 787. In the ancient records, it appears as Chelchith, which Norden, a writer of considerable note, derives from the Saxon words ceale or cele, meaning "coldness", and hyd, meaning "hythe", (landing-place, port or haven).

King Henry VIII acquired the manor of Chelsea from Lord Sandys in 1536; Chelsea Manor Street is still extant. Two of King Henry's wives, Catherine Parr and Anne of Cleves, lived in the Manor House; Princess Elizabeth – the future Queen Elizabeth I – resided there; and Thomas More lived more or less next door at Beaufort House. In 1609 James I established a theological college, "King James's College at Chelsey" on the site of the future Chelsea Royal Hospital, which Charles II founded in 1682.

Figure Court of Royal Hospital Chelsea

By 1694, Chelsea – always a popular location for the wealthy, and once described as "a village of palaces" – had a population of 3,000. Even so, Chelsea remained rural and served London to the east as a market garden, a trade that continued until the 19th-century development boom which caused the final absorption of the district into the metropolis. The street crossing that was known as Little Chelsea, Park Walk, linked Fulham Road to King's Road and continued to the Thames and local ferry down Lover's Lane, renamed "Milmans Street" in the 18th century.

Statue of King Charles II on the site of the Chelsea Flower Show

King's Road, named after Charles II, recalls the King's private road from St James's Palace to Fulham, which was maintained until the reign of George IV. One of the more important buildings in King's Road, the former Chelsea Town Hall, popularly known as "Chelsea Old Town hall" – a fine neo-classical building – contains important frescoes. Part of the building contains the Chelsea Public Library. Almost opposite stands the former Odeon Cinema, with its iconic façade which carries high upon it a large sculptured medallion of the now almost-forgotten William Friese-Greene, who claimed to have invented celluloid film and cameras in the 1880s before any subsequent patents.

Statue of Thomas More on Cheyne Walk with Chelsea Old Church in the background (2006)

The memorials in the churchyard of Chelsea Old Church, near the river, illustrate much of the history of Chelsea. These include Lord and Lady Dacre (1594/1595); Lady Jane Cheyne (1698); Francis Thomas, "director of the china porcelain manufactory"; Sir Hans Sloane (1753); Thomas Shadwell, Poet Laureate (1692). Sir Thomas More's tomb can also be found there.

In 1718, the Raw Silk Company was established in Chelsea Park, with mulberry trees and a hothouse for raising silkworms. At its height in 1723, it supplied silk to Caroline of Ansbach, then Princess of Wales.[2]

Chelsea once had a reputation for the manufacture of Chelsea buns, made from a long strip of sweet dough tightly coiled, with currants trapped between the layers, and topped with sugar. The Chelsea Bun House sold these during the 18th century and was patronised by the Georgian royalty. At Easter, great crowds would assemble on the open spaces of the Five Fields – subsequently developed as Belgravia. The Bun House would then do a great trade in hot cross buns and sold about quarter of a million on its final Good Friday in 1839.[3][4]

The area was also famous for its "Chelsea China" ware, though the works, the Chelsea porcelain factory – thought to be the first workshop to make porcelain in England – were sold in 1769, and moved to Derby. Examples of the original Chelsea ware fetch high values.

The best-known building is Chelsea Royal Hospital for old soldiers, set up by Charles II (supposedly on the suggestion of Nell Gwynne), and opened in 1694. The beautifully proportioned building by Christopher Wren stands in extensive grounds, where the Chelsea Flower show is held annually. The former Duke of York's Barracks (built 1801-3) off King's Road is now part of Duke of York Square, a redevelopment including shops and cafes and the site of a weekly "farmers' market". The Saatchi Gallery opened in the main building in 2008. Chelsea Barracks, at the end of Lower Sloane Street, was also in use until recently, primarily by ceremonial troops of the Household Division. Situated on the Westminster side of Chelsea Bridge Road, it was bought for re-development.

Chelsea Bridge from the south bank

Chelsea's modern reputation as a centre of innovation and influence originated in a period during the 19th century, when the area became a Victorian artists' colony. It became prominent once again as one of the centres of the "Swinging London" of the 1960s, when house prices were lower than in Kensington.

The borough of artists

Chelsea once had a reputation as London's bohemian quarter, the haunt of artists, radicals, painters and poets. Little of this seems to survive now – the comfortable squares off King's Road are homes to, amongst others, investment bankers and film stars. The Chelsea Arts Club continues in situ; however, the Chelsea College of Art and Design, originally founded in 1895 as the Chelsea School of Art, moved from Manresa Road to Pimlico in 2005.

Oscar Wilde's house on Tite Street, Chelsea
Crosby Hall on Cheyne Walk. Parts of this building date back to the time of Richard III, its first owner. But it is not native to Chelsea – it is a survivor of the Great Fire of London. It was shipped brick by brick from Bishopsgate in 1910 after being threatened with demolition. (January 2006)
The north block of Chelsea College of Art and Design (formerly the Royal Army Medical College) is actually in Pimlico.
Chelsea pensioners in scarlet coats and tricorne hats at the Founder's Day parade in the Royal Hospital Chelsea
Sloane Square tube station at the western end of the King's Road, with the Westbourne river pipe

Its reputation stems from a period in the 19th century when it became a sort of Victorian artists' colony: painters such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, J. M. W. Turner, James McNeill Whistler, William Holman Hunt, and John Singer Sargent all lived and worked here. There was a particularly large concentration of artists in the area around Cheyne Walk and Cheyne Row, where the Pre-Raphaelite movement had its heart. The artist Prunella Clough was born in Chelsea in 1919.

Chelsea was also home to writers such as George Meredith, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Leigh Hunt and Thomas Carlyle. Jonathan Swift lived in Church Lane, Richard Steele and Tobias Smollett in Monmouth House. Carlyle lived for 47 years at No. 5 (now 24) Cheyne Row. After his death, the house was bought and turned into a shrine and literary museum by the Carlyle Memorial Trust, a group formed by Leslie Stephen, father of Virginia Woolf. Virginia Woolf set her 1919 novel Night and Day in Chelsea, where Mrs Hilbery has a Cheyne Walk home.

In a book, Bohemia in London by Arthur Ransome which is a partly fictional account of his early years in London, published in 1907 when he was 23, there are some fascinating, rather over-romanticised accounts of bohemian goings-on in the quarter. The American artist Pamela Colman Smith, the designer of A. E. Waite's Tarot card pack and a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, features as "Gypsy" in the chapter "A Chelsea Evening".

A central part of Chelsea's artistic and cultural life was Chelsea Public Library, originally situated in Manresa Road. Its longest serving member of staff was Armitage Denton, who joined in 1896 at the age of 22, and he remained there until his retirement in 1939; he was appointed Chief Librarian in 1929. In 1980, the building was purchased by Chelsea College of Art and Design.

The Chelsea Collection is a priceless anthology of prints and pictures of old Chelsea. Begun in 1887, it contains works by artists as notable and diverse as Rossetti and Whistler. During his time at the Library, Armitage Denton built the Collection assiduously, so that by the time of his death in July 1949 it numbered more than 1,000 items. At the end of the 20th century, the Collection totalled more than 5,000 works, and it continues to grow.

The Chelsea Society, formed in 1927, remains an active amenity society concerned with preserving and advising on changes in Chelsea's built environment. Chelsea Village and Chelsea Harbour are new developments outside of Chelsea itself.

Swinging Chelsea and today

Chelsea shone again, brightly but briefly, in the 1960s Swinging London period and the early 1970s. The Swinging Sixties was defined on King's Road, which runs the length of the area. The Western end of Chelsea featured boutiques Granny Takes a Trip and The Sweet Shop, the latter of which sold mediæval silk velvet caftans, tabards and floor cushions, with many of the cultural cognoscenti of the time being customers, including Keith Richards, Twiggy, and many others.

The "Chelsea girl" was symbol of, John Crosby wrote, what "men [found] utterly captivating", with a "'life is fabulous' philosophy".[5] Chelsea at this time was home to the Beatles and to Rolling Stones members Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards. In the 1970s, the World's End area of King's Road was home to Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's boutique "SEX", and saw the birth of the British punk movement.

By the late 1970s, the growing bohemian and punk population moved from Chelsea into nearby Notting Hill and further north to Camden Town, with the rapid gentrification of the two areas, both of which remain places with a significant population of artists, musicians and those who work in other creative industries, particularly Camden Town.

King's Road remains the major artery through Chelsea and a busy road, and despite its continuing reputation as a shopping mecca, is now home to many of the same shops found on other British high streets. Sloane Street is quickly catching up with Bond Street as one of London's premier shopping destinations, housing a variety of high-end fashion or jewellery boutiques.


Chelsea Football Club is located in Stamford Bridge in neighbouring Fulham, close to the border with Chelsea. As a result of Chelsea's expensive location and wealthy residents, Chelsea F.C. has the wealthiest local supporters in the country.[6]

Notable residents

  • David Armstrong-Jones, Viscount Linley.
  • Anne of Cleves died Chelsea Manor 1557
  • Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Alban
  • Hilaire Belloc (Cheyne Walk)
  • John Betjeman (Radnor Walk)
  • Honor Blackman (Markham Square)[7]
  • Dirk Bogarde (Lower Sloane Street)
  • Marc Isambard Brunel and Isambard Kingdom Brunel (civil engineers); 98 Cheyne Walk
  • Charles Cadogan, 8th Earl Cadogan
  • Phyllis Calvert (actress) was born in Chelsea
  • Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (Wife of Prince William) (Old Church Street)
  • Thomas Carlyle the "Sage of Chelsea" (24 Cheyne Row – now National Trust House)
  • Christian the lion
  • Dame Agatha Christie
  • Eric Clapton (lived on King's Road during the late 1960s)
  • Petula Clark (lived at 4 Royal Avenue in the 1980s)[8]
  • Steve Coogan used to live in the area in the 90's
  • Thomas Crapper (plumbing supplies) (Kings Road)[7]
  • John Bernard Philip Humbert, 9th Count de Salis-Soglio, at 12 First Street and then 28 Upper Cheyne Row (1970s and early 1980s)
  • George Devine & Jocelyn Herbert (Rossetti Studios, Flood Street)
  • George Eliot (spent the last 3 weeks of her life at 4 Cheyne Walk)
  • T. S. Eliot (19 Carlyle Mansions, Chelsea Embankment)
  • Mary, Dowager Viscountess Fane (No. 2, Swan Walk)
  • John Fraser (botanist) (Paradise Row)
  • Judy Garland (Spent the last few months of her life there with her fifth husband until death on 22 June 1969)
  • Ava Gardner, the Hollywood actress spent the last twenty years of her life here, until her death in 1990
  • Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 7th Marquess of Salisbury (Swan Walk)
  • Elizabeth Gaskell (93 Cheyne Walk)
  • Adelaide Hall Jazz singer and entertainer lived at 74 Drayton Gardens with her husband Bert Hicks.[9] Shirley Maclaine was a neighbour and very friendly with the Hicks.
  • James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Hamilton Royalist General, owned Chelsea Place, his London residence from 1638 until his execution.
  • Herbert Hughes (musician) (Old Church Street)
  • Michael Hutchence (Redburn Street)
  • Mick Jagger and all the Rolling Stones (Edith Grove, Cheyne Walk)
  • Henry James (21 Cheyne Walk)
  • William Jones, 18th century wine merchant and naturalist
  • Roger Keyes
  • Jiah Khan (born Nafisa Khan, a British actress who appears in Bollywood films)
  • Sir William Arbuthnot Lane, 1st Baronet CBE and Lady Frittie Arbuthnot Lane lived at 72 Drayton Gardens (next door to Adelaide Hall).
  • David Lloyd George, 1st Earl of Lloyd-George (10 Cheyne Walk)
  • Harold Macmillan, prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1957 to 1963, was born there in 1894.[10]
  • Bob Marley composed his hit "I Shot the Sheriff" in a one-bedroom flat off Cheyne Walk in the mid-1970s.42 Oakley Street
  • Gavin Maxwell Novelist, journalist, explorer and author of Ring of Bright Water (9 Paultons Square)
  • Florence Montgomery Novelist and children's writer[11]
  • Sir Thomas More Lawyer, philosopher, author, statesman and Renaissance humanist
  • John Camden Neild (5 Cheyne Walk)
  • Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh[7]
  • Sylvia Pankhurst (Cheyne Walk)
  • Sir Eduardo Paolozzi (artist & sculptor)
  • Ramsay Weston Phipps (military historian. 21 Carlyle Square[12])
  • Cyril Power (artist and architect) (16 Redcliffe Street)
  • Mary Quant (Kings Road and Markham Square)[7]
  • Carol Reed (Kings Road)
  • Dante Gabriel Rossetti (16 Cheyne Walk)
  • John Shaw Junior, architect of the 19th century
  • Mary Shelley author of Frankenstein[13]
  • Osbert Sitwell (Carlyle Square)[14]
  • George Smiley (9 Bywater Street)
  • Maggie Smith (actress)
  • Chris Squire
  • Philip Wilson Steer (109 Cheyne Walk)
  • Bram Stoker (author of Dracula)
  • Algernon Charles Swinburne (16 Cheyne Walk)
  • Wilfred Thesiger[15] (Tite Street)
  • J. R. R. Tolkien (Author of Lord of the Rings)
  • J. M. W. Turner (died at 119 Cheyne Walk on 19 December 1851)
  • Mark Twain (23 Tedworth Square)[16]
  • James McNeill Whistler (21, 96 & 101 Cheyne Walk)
  • Eric Whitacre (American composer and conductor)
  • Oscar Wilde (today 34 Tite Street, 16 Tite Street in Wilde's lifetime)
  • Thomas Young, recipient of the Victoria Cross
  • Count Nicolaus Zinzendorf, founder of the Moravian Church, Lindsey House


The most desirable part of Chelsea is around Sloane Square and Knightsbridge tube. Around here, Chelsea meets Knightsbridge. This property market attracts considerable (international) attention, and is a very complex market as it consists mainly of short leases under Earl Cadogan as freeholder. Much of Chelsea is now viewed as a "Global Ultra Prime Residential Area".

Much of Chelsea (SW3) and Knightsbridge (SW1) is still owned by Earl Cadogan, through the Cadogan Estates. Most of the property owned is in and around Cadogan Square. This has a major influence on the markets as the Earl is the freeholder and generally has no desire to sell; although changes in legislation now mean the freeholder is obliged to sell lease extensions to a leaseholder at prices which are determined by the Leasehold valuation tribunal. Lord Cadogan is generally regarded as an effective and successful property developer/landlord being responsible, together with his management team, for bringing all of the fashion labels to Sloane Street, and also forward thinking developments on his own account at Duke of York Square on Kings Road, at Peter Jones and on Sloane Street. The Cadogan Estate has a considerable portfolio of retail property throughout Chelsea but notably on Fulham Road, Kings Road, and Sloane Street including Peter Jones, Harvey Nichols, and 12 hotels including the Cadogan Hotel. The Estate maintains many of the garden squares, (to which local residents can gain access by subscribing for an annual fee – and optionally the tennis courts where applicable). The area is home to several open spaces including Albert Bridge Gardens, Battersea Bridge Gardens, Chelsea Embankment Gardens, Royal Hospital Chelsea: the grounds of which are used by the annual Chelsea Flower Show and Chelsea Physic Garden.[17]


The two closest tube stations are Sloane Square (District and Circle lines) and South Kensington (District, Circle and Piccadilly lines).

The closest National Rail station to the area is Imperial Wharf railway station at Chelsea Harbour on the West London Line, which passes the western edge of Chelsea.

A Chelsea railway station (later remained Chelsea and Fulham) previously existed on this line, located between the King's Road and the Fulham Road in neighbouring Fulham, but this was closed in 1940 following World War II bomb damage and later demolished.[18]


  1. Daniel Lysons (1811). The Environs of London: Being an Historical Account of the Towns, Villages, and Hamlets, Within Twelve Miles of that Capital: Interspersed with Biographical Anecdotes. 2 (2 ed.). London. p. 45. Retrieved 14 May 2013. "[...] the most common mode of spelling for some centuries after the Conquest, was Chelceth or Chelchith; in the 16th century it began to be written Chelsey; the modern way of spelling seems to have been first used about a century ago." 
  2. Patricia E.C. Croot (editor) (2004). "Economic history: Trade and industry". A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 12: Chelsea. Institute of Historical Research. 
  3. "Chelsea Bun House", London Encyclopaedia, Pan Macmillan, 2010, p. 155, ISBN 9781405049252 
  4. George Bryan (1869), "The Original Chelsea Bunhouse", Chelsea, in the Olden & Present Times, London, pp. 200–202 
  5. Seebohm, Caroline (1971-07-19). "English Girls in New York: They Don't Go Home Again". New York: pp. 34. Retrieved 6 January 2015. 
  6. Premiership clubs by fans' wealth.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 "Historic Chelsea Article". 
  8. "Petula Clark's Downtown townhouse: Singer loved her Chelsea home so much that she turned up for a nose around... years after moving out." Retrieved 30 August 2014
  9. electoral role no 1378
  10. [1] Template:Wayback
  11. ODNB: Charlotte Mitchell, "Montgomery, Florence Sophia (1843–1923)". Retrieved 13 March 2014"
  12. Colonel R.W. Phipps (obit). The Times. Thursday 28 June 1923, p. 16, Issue 43379, Col. D.
  13. "BBC News Article on Belgravia Square". 8 March 2010. 
  14. "Open University Article on Sitwell family". 
  15. Obituary: Sir Wilfred Thesiger 1910 – 2003.
  16. "Literary Manhattan article on Mark Twain". 
  17. "Private Gynaecologist". Retrieved 28 November 2014. 
  18. "Chelsea & Fulham". Disused Stations. Subterranea Britannica. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 

Further reading

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Chelsea)