Long before miniskirts appeared in the window of Mary Quant’s iconic Bazaar store on the King’s Road in the 1960s, Chelsea has been the height of fashion.
Life in Chelsea may mean designer shopping, top-end galleries and trendy cafes, bars and restaurants. Or even scarlet-clad Pensioners, reality TV celebrities, the annual flower show and football, but this exclusive part of residential London looked very different when it was settled by Saxons.
Chelsea began life as a Saxon village some miles from the thriving town of London. Its name is derived from the Saxon words cealc (chalk) and hythe (landing place for boats).
The clean air and open countryside of Chelsea drew the nobility and aristocracy from the London to build large riverside palaces. One of the first country houses to appear on the Chelsea riverside was built for Sir Thomas More in 1520 and later became known as Beaufort House, which sat on a site near to where Beaufort Street is found.
After Henry VIII visited Sir Thomas in Chelsea, the king commissioned the building of a new manor house as a wedding present for Catherine Parr. Completed in the 1540s, it was later the home of Elizabeth I, along with Lady Jane Grey and Anne of Cleves.
Meanwhile, Kings Road got its name because it was used by Charles II, who ruled between 1630 and 1685, as a route between his palace in Whitehall and Hampton Court.
By the early 1700s, the isolated palaces along the Chelsea riverbank were beginning to disappear, either through renovation or the building of new houses. The most significant development came in 1717 when Sir Hans Sloane leased land in Henry VIII’s Great Garden for building what is now Cheyne Walk.
But in the early 18th century Chelsea was still largely rural and known to nearby London as a market garden centre – a trade that continued well into the 19th century and led to the development boom which enabled the district to merge into London’s metropolis.
Where is Chelsea?
Now part of Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, the district is covered by the SW3 postcode and is largely defined by the Kings Road running from Sloane Square to Lots Road in the west and Fulham Road to the north.
Chelsea’s southern boundary stops at the River Thames, where the frontage runs along Chelsea Embankment from Chelsea Bridge to Cheyne Walk and Chelsea Harbour. The eastern boundary is now considered to be Sloane Street and Chelsea Bridge Road and includes parts of Belgravia and Sloane Square.
However, it is worth bearing in mind that although The Boltons – one of the most expensive streets in the UK – lies west of the World’s End estate and falls under the West Brompton postcode of SW10, residents would also describe themselves as living in Chelsea.
Transport links in Chelsea
Property in Chelsea is highly sought after thanks to its central location and excellent transport links. The nearest tube stations are Sloane Square, served by the Circle and District lines, South Kensington, served by the Circle, District and Piccadilly lines, and West Brompton on the Wimbledon branch of the District line and the Overground to Clapham Junction.
Imperial Wharf railway station, next to Chelsea Harbour, provides overground services to Brompton Road and Clapham Junction, while Thames River Services operate from Chelsea Harbour Pier, providing commuters with direct access up the Thames to the City.
Sloane Square and South Kensington Underground stations are in Zone 1, while West Brompton and Imperial Wharf are in Zone 2.
Property in Chelsea
From grand townhouses, Victorian terrace cottages painted in ice cream colours and Arts & Crafts homes built between the wars to modern studio apartments, bijou mews houses, detached villas and contemporary riverside developments, the mix of architectural styles available in SW3 – and the parts of SW10 that residents consider Chelsea – is impressive.
The core of the original village by the Thames retains impressive Georgian properties, but the area’s housing stock is characterised by 19th century red-brick terraces and mansion blocks in a network of pretty streets and garden squares off the King’s Road, including Wellington Square and Markham Square.
Carlyle Square is particularly popular because it offers a range of house sizes and the square isn’t listed, so buyers have more of blank canvas when they apply for planning permission for extensions.
Arguably, the most exclusive and expensive place to buy and rent property in Chelsea is around Sloane Square and Knightsbridge tube stations, where SW3 and SW1 meet. The freeholds of many of these properties are owned by the Cadogan Estate.
Other desirable streets include the white townhouses of Tregunter Road, Godfrey Street’s terraced houses fronted with bright flower boxes and the Georgian houses in Cheyne Walk, which offer fantastic views of the river.
The largest new development under construction is the Chelsea Barracks site on Chelsea Bridge Road opposite the Royal Hospital. The masterplan allows for 448 new homes, including 123 affordable, a new leisure facility with a swimming pool, plus five acres of public and private gardens and streets.
Living in Chelsea
The curved façade of Peter Jones department store on Sloane Square marks the beginning of the King’s Road – the beating heart of Chelsea and home to an abundance of high-end fashion stores, smaller independent clothes and shoe shops, plus a wide selection of contemporary furnishing stores and antique shops.
Other smart shopping locations include Park Walk, with its selection of galleries and antique shops, and the area of Fulham Road known as The Beach, where the 24-hour restaurant and brasserie Vingt-Quatre is a major draw.
For a side-order of people watching, the Bluebird Café is a favourite of the Made In Chelsea gang, but for those who prefer to cook at home, a farmers’ market is held in Bute Street every Saturday.
Arts, culture and green space in Chelsea
Charles II not only built King’s Road, he bequeathed to the nation one of London’s finest buildings – the Sir Christopher Wren-designed Royal Hospital, which is home to 300 scarlet-clad Chelsea Pensioners and the annual Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show.
Not far away is the Chelsea Physic Garden. Founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London for their apprentices to study the medicinal qualities of plants, the Physic Garden is now a botantical research centre with the finest collection of herbs and medicinal plants in the country.
For indoor entertainment, The Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square has a long and distinguished reputation for supporting new writers. The Finborough above the Finborough Arms pub in Finborough Road is a leading fringe theatre. There are three cinemas: the Chelsea — part of the Curzon group — in King’s Road shows first-release and art house films, while Cineworld King’s Road and Cineworld Fulham Road are multiplex cinemas.
The Saatchi Gallery in Duke of York’s HQ off King’s Road is Charles Saatchi’s art gallery, while writer Thomas Carlyle’s house in Cheyne Row was visited by Dickens, Ruskin and Tennyson. The property, owned by the National Trust, is open to the public between March and October.
Other notable buildings include Grade I-listed St Luke’s Church, where Charles Dickens chose to get married. The little park behind St Luke’s also offers a moment’s peace away from the bustle of Chelsea life.
Although many people associate Chelsea Football Club with the area, Stamford Bridge – the club’s home ground – is actually in the SW6 postcode area.
Education in Chelsea
Primary schools in Chelsea judged Outstanding by Ofsted include Oratory RC in Bury Walk; Christ Church CofE in Robinson Street; St Joseph RC in Cadogan Street; Our Lady of Victories RC in Clareville Street and Servite RC in Fulham Road.
Outstanding secondary schools are St Thomas More RC in Cadogan Street and Chelsea Academy in Lots Road.
For parents seeking independent fee-paying schools, the choice includes Eaton House (boys, ages five to seven) in Eaton Gate; Garden House (co-ed ages three to 11, although boys and girls are taught separately) in Turk’s Row; Cameron House (co-ed, ages four to 11) in The Vale; Falkner House (girls, ages two to 11) in Brechin Place and Glendower Preparatory (girls, ages four to 11) in Queen’s Gate.
Other fee-paying options for educating children up to the age of 13 include GEMS Hampshire (co-ed, ages two to 13) in Manresa Road and Wetherby Place; Sussex House (boys, ages eight to 13) in Cadogan Square; Knightsbridge (co-ed, ages three to 13) in Pont Street; and Hill House (co-ed, ages three to 13) in Hans Place.
The private secondary school choice includes More House (girls, ages 11 to 18) in Pont Street; Francis Holland (girls, ages four to 18) in Graham Terrace; the Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle (ages three to 19); and Queen’s Gate (girls, ages three to 18) in Queen’s Gate.
- The borough has the highest life expectancy for both men and women in London at 83.1 years and 87.2 years respectively.
Image source: geograph.org.uk and flickr.com
(Duncan, Sarah, Jason Andrew, Lisa Wills & Derick Leony)