Survey of London: Volume 2, Chelsea, Pt I. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1909.
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XXVI.—No. 5 CHEYNE WALK.
Ground landlord, leaseholder, etc.
General description and date of structure.
A panel preserved from a lead cistern and fixed upon the garden wall of No. 5 is inscribed with the date 1718, from which it appears that this house was built at the same time as the others, which we have described in Cheyne Walk.
The front elevation has been modernised and scarcely gives promise of the delightful work to be found within, although the fine wrought-iron gates suggest its antiquity. These gates are, however, somewhat of a puzzle, for at first sight their size and importance seem incongruous when compared with the modest dimensions of the building. The threegates occupy the full length of the frontage, that in the centre being divided from the two smaller ones by fine brick piers surmounted by a good stone cornice and vases of quite exceptional excellence. The piers seem to have been designed for large double gates; they are 11 feet apart, and would take two gates each 4 feet wide, as well as the wrought-iron panels or pilasters. The pilasters are here placed on each side of the single gate, and the rest of the space is made out with plain railings. The wrought-iron scroll work which crowns the gate and railings includes two charming lamp-stands and a monogram of interlacing initials. The two smaller gates have each some simple scroll work upon the bar under which they open.
The first doubt that naturally arises in the mind—as to the reason for a large centre gate and two small ones in front of so confined a forecourt which gives access to a house whose entrance door is not central but placed at the extreme left—is partly dispelled by Mr. Wm. Ascroft, who has made the following note: "The doors were originally in the centre, opening into a large hall, now the dining-room. The approach was by a wide flight of steps with stone balusters and low wall. The pavement was of tesselated marble, the larger squares white, the smaller black, some pieces of which may still be seen at the gate." The central door would certainly make the gates seem less meaningless, but the latter would even then be quite inappropriate to the size of the house. It seems probable, too, that the former position of the door in the centre was in itself an innovation, since there is no reason to suppose that the plan of No. 5 was an exception among its fellows in the Walk. I would suggest, therefore, that the same occupant of the house, whose ambition required a central doorway and a large hall, effected the transfer of these three gates and piers from some larger mansion to give greater distinction to his home.
Regarding the original source of the gates nothing is known; but an interesting suggestion has been made by Mr. E. L. Meinertzhagen which, while as yet unproved, is worth being placed on record. In the Moravian archives at Hernhutt in Saxony are preserved certain drawings of Lindsey House, Chelsea, as renovated by Count Zinzendorf in 1750. In Mr. J. J. England's careful drawings from the originals, published in his account of the Moravian Settlements, some fine iron gates are shown on the river front, which bear a striking general resemblance to those at present before No. 5. The piers, vases, two side gates, and scroll ornament are quite in agreement, but the centre is filled with double gates, in the drawing—as we should expect it to be—and the lamp-stands are supported by brackets from the piers. These gates are no longer at Lindsey House, and Mr. Meinertzhagen suggests that they may have been bought by a resident in Chelsea who lived so near, at the time of the relinquishment of the property by the Moravians (c. 1750). Nothing, indeed, seems more probable, and the peculiarity of their present situation would thus be fully explained. Should further research confirm the suggested explanation, the monogram in the gates will perhaps be found to be the remains of the letters E.L., the initials of Erasmus Lewis, who lived at No. 5 from 1748 to 1751. The 18th century monogram was perhaps designedly ambiguous, and a reference to the drawing (Plate 42) will show how impossible it is to be certain about its interpretation. Should our surmise be incorrect and the gates be the original ones belonging to the house, it would be easy to maintain that the letters were merely two B's intertwined, the initials of Baron and Lady Bloomburg, the first tenants. The ironwork is greatly decayed and much of the decorative portion is lost.
We have already mentioned the change in plan that the ground floor has undergone, corroborated, as it is, by the loss of all early work in the hall and front room. Of the remaining portions of the building the staircase is of interest; but, although more elaborate than those of Nos. 2 and 3 (having twisted balusters), it resembles them in giving way to the poor detail beyond the first flight. The back rooms and their powder-closets on the ground and first floorsalone preserve their panelling, and on the latter, the rooms are divided by a lofty archway, the angle fireplace having also fluted pilasters that go the full height of the room on each side of the chimney-piece. There are remains of panelling in the bathroom on the second floor.
Condition of repair.
The names of Baron and Lady Bloomburg occur in the parish rate-books as tenants of No. 5 from 1718 to 1741. In 1748 Erasmus Lewis lived here and continued until 1751 (? 1753). Mrs. Vere Warner followed (1754–9), and after the house had stood empty for two years it was occupied by John and afterwards Jane Pigou, whose name remains until 1774. In the same year came Admiral Jefferies and in 1782 we find Mary Spence or Spencer here. She left in 1792, and in that year the house was taken by James Neild, who lived here till 1814.
Faulkner, who, apparently from a misprint, places the Neilds in No. 4—his mistake being repeated in the Dictionary of National Biography—tells us that James Neild was born in 1744 at Knutsford in Cheshire. He made his fortune as a jeweller and retired to Chelsea, where in company with his friend and neighbour the Rev. Weedon Butler, he conceived and carried out his many schemes of philanthropy, the two friends being both among the founders of the "Society for the Relief and Discharge of Persons imprisoned for Small Debts." They also published between them a book on the "State of Prisons in England, Scotland and Wales," favourably noticed in the Edinburgh Review, Jan. 1814. Neild had property in several counties, was High Sheriff for Bucks in 1804 and was at the same time J.P. in Kent, Middlesex and Westminster. He married, in 1778, the eldest daughter of John Camden of Battersea and had two sons and a daughter. His wife was buried with her father in Battersea Church, where there is a monument and inscription lamenting her early death.
James Neild died on February 16, 1814, and was succeeded at his house in Chelsea by his younger son John Camden Neild. The elder son being disinherited and having gone abroad, John Camden Neild lived the life of a recluse and on his death in 1852 left the whole of his fortune to the Queen. Much unfriendly criticism has been directed against the younger Neild, but Mr. William Ascroft tells us on good authority that his retirement was probably due to personal disappointments, that he had a great veneration for the memory of his father, and that he was genuinely unconscious of having any relatives who had any claim upon his generosity when he left his wealth to the Crown. His character was undoubtedly eccentric. Educated at Cambridge, possessed of considerable knowledge of legal and general literature, and with a personal fondness for the classics, he yet became a confirmed miser. He inherited a fortune of some £250,000 from his father, and he left property worth double that amount to Queen Victoria.
Thomas Faulkner, Chelsea and its Environs (2nd edition, 1829).
Rev. A. G. L'Estrange, The Village of Palaces (1880).
Alfred Beaver, Memorials of Old Chelsea (1892).
Reginald Blunt, Handbook to Chelsea.
Dictionary of National Biography (James and John Camden Neild).
Tattam's Memoirs of John Camden Neild.
In the committee's ms. collection are—
|3199.||(fn. 1) Entrance gates, front view (photograph).|
|3200.||Entrance gates, side view (photograph).|
|3201.||(fn. 1) Entrance gates (measured drawing).|
|3202.||Entrance gates, monogram (full-size drawing).|
|3203.||Entrance gates, detail of vase on pier (photograph).|
|3204.||(fn. 1) Staircase (measured drawing and details).|
|3205.||Lead vases (two photographs).|
|3206.||(fn. 1) Lead vases (measured drawing of one vase).|
|3207.||Lead cistern (photograph of panel).|
|3208.||(fn. 1) Plan (measured drawing).|