Cheyne Walk: No. 6

Pages 45-49

Survey of London: Volume 2, Chelsea, Pt I. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1909.

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Ground landlord, leaseholder, etc.

Ground landlord, Earl Cadogan. Leaseholder, F. T. R. Bigham, Esq.

General description and date of structure.

No. 6 is the largest and in many ways the most interesting of the old houses in Cheyne Walk. Although, externally, its design seems late in character—on account, perhaps, of the somewhat ponderous simplicity of its detail—yet, it must have been building at the same time as its neighbours, since its first tenant appears in the rate-books in 1718. The date on the lead cistern (now in the garden), 1721, is only five years after the great garden of the Manor House was given over to the builders by Sir Hans Sloane. The appearance outside is severe, but substantial and strong, the warm-coloured brickwork with fine red brick cornice-mouldings and string-courses being partly hidden by trees. Everything is simple—the double wood gates with stout iron grilles, (fn. 1) the brick piers and stone ball finials, and the large front doorway with its plain overdoor, fanlight and flight of stone steps. Impressive as the entrance front is, it is surpassed by the garden elevation, which presents one of the most charming and characteristic London exteriors to be found. The garden at one time communicated with Flood Street, and this, therefore, formed a second entrance. The fine flight of steps, the dignified garden doorway, the wide-jointed stone paving and the beautifully proportioned windows give an air of distinction, which is also very picturesque.

The interior of the house shows the same simplicity and dignity. The ground floor is traversed from north to south by the entrance and staircase hall paved with black and white marble tiles in large and small squares. The stair is broad and imposing, with three twisted balusters to each tread, the string being ornamented with well-carved brackets, and newels formed of fluted columns with carved caps. To the left, as one enters, are two large reception rooms or "parlours" (back and front) with a small "powder closet" in addition, projecting towards the garden. To the right is another good room in front, used as the dining-room, the back part being occupied by a pantry and the secondary staircase that leads down to the basement and up to the servants' rooms. The passages and rooms are panelled throughout with large panels characteristic of the beginning of the 18th century, with the exception of the top floor, which will be described immediately. The details are particularly simple and effective.

All the fireplaces in the principal rooms are formed with a plain marble "surround," of a flat section, excepting the north-west room on the ground floor, where the marble is heavily moulded (8 inches wide), and is similar to that described in Paradise Row. In the place of a chimney-piece or overmantel the panelling of the rooms is continued round the chimney breast, having a long narrow panel immediately over the fireplace and a square one above.

Ascending the staircase we find on each half-landing a fine pair of sash windows with heavy glazing bars. The panelling is beautifully finished on each side of the stairs, which are themselves of fine workmanship.

On the first floor the two front rooms are connected by a small apartment directly over the entrance hall, and these three form a suite of panelled drawing-rooms. To the east is a passage to a servants' bedroom and the second stairs; to the west a small lobby, whence one enters the room over the back "parlour" and the "powder room" beyond. Over the door to the lobby is a beautiful wrought-iron grille, upon the centre of which are the arms of Danversimpaled with those of Babington. (Danvers: Gu. a Chevron between three Mullets or. Cr. a Wivern or. Babington, of Rothley Temple: Ar. ten Torteaux 4, 3, 2, 1, in chief a Label of three points az.) Behind the lobby are two deep cupboards entered from the back room, one being ventilated above the door by a wooden grille formed of balusters of very slender proportions. There are two more of these grilles on the first-floor landing.

Danvers and Babington.

The second floor (which is the top storey) is remarkable in being panelled entirely with 16th and early 17th century panelling fixed in every variety of position—sometimes inverted, sometimes on its side—apparently with no idea of design but merely used as a covering for the walls. Some of this panelling is of curious detail, Jacobean in character, while other portions are quite early Elizabethan, with the rails chamfered above and beaded below, in the somewhat primitive manner of the time. There is no indication of the source of this woodwork, but it seems likely that it all came from one old mansion and quite probably one in the immediate neighbourhood; indeed, Sir Hans Sloane—through whose indifference to her ancient treasure Chelsea has felt her greatest losses—may well have torn it from the walls of his manor house and sold it to the builders, who were already covering the old manorial garden with bricks and mortar. However this may be, the panelling is undoubtedly genuine, and, being painted cream to match the later work, it mingles, in its interesting effect, something of the grotesque.

The two fine lead rainwater heads on the entrance front are adorned with shields of the same material, on which the Danvers coat of arms is seen in low relief.

The lead cistern, which is of excellent design, has already been mentioned. It stands in the garden, where it is becoming somewhat weather-worn, and bears no initials or inscription beyond the date 1721. The date is the same as that upon the Walpole cistern, and the interlacing lines of the moulded panels are very similar in the two designs.

On the garden side are one-storied projections added, probably, during the tenancy of Doctor Dominiceti, the Venetian doctor who has been the subject of so much comment and not a little criticism. His extensions to the house were for the purpose of providing additional "fumigatory" rooms for his baths, and the two apartments on the west side, approached by a small spiral stair from the garden, seem to be the only ones that remain. They are small square rooms and have windows fitted with one sash with heavy glazing bars. The sash being raised, slides into a slot in the thickness of the wall and so admits the air. The upper of the two rooms has a curious metal-lined recess (2 feet 4 inches high, 1 foot 6 inches greatest width, and 9 inches deep), the shape of which suggests the reception of a large medicinal bottle of some kind. On the east is a little projecting room, carried over the area to the basement. It is approached from the house by a heavy door covered with iron bands and studded with nails, and at the north end has a door leading into the garden. This room seems to have formed the means of communication between the house and "the elegant brick and wood building" which Faulkner tells us was erected by Dominiceti on the east side of the garden, and which is shown in Richardson's Survey of Chelsea Manor, in the British Museum (1769). We are told that it communicated directly with the house and was 100 feet long and 16 feet wide. In it "were the baths and fumigatory stoves, adjoining to which were four sweating bedchambers to be directed to any degree of heat."

In the basement of the house is another door protected by iron and nails. The kitchen has a three-light transomed window, which seems to have been taken from an older house. Beyond this there is nothing specially interesting. The servants' staircase is of simple design, the balustrade being a diagonal interlacement of strips of wood, the longest portions reaching the entire length of each flight of steps, from the top of one newel to the base of the next.

Condition of repair.

The house is in excellent repair.

Historical notes.

No. 6 Cheyne Walk seems to have been built for Joseph Danvers, whose name appears in the rate-books from 1718 to 1753 and whose family resided here until 1764. Joseph Danvers of Swithland, in the county of Leicester, was the son of Samuel Danvers and Elizabeth Morewood of Overton. He represented Boroughbridge, Bramber and Totnes in Parliament, and was created a baronet in 1746. He married Frances, daughter of Thomas Babington, Esq., of Rothley Temple, Leicestershire, and, as described above, a shield in the house bears the Danvers arms quartered with those of Babington. The following entry is in the Register of Marriages in the Chapel of the Royal Hospital: "1748, May 26, Hon. John Grey (brother of the Earl of Stamford) and Lucy, daughter of the Hon. Sir John [? Joseph] Danvers, Bart., of Swithland, co. Leicester." Sir Joseph died in 1753 and had au only son and successor, Sir John Danvers, who died in 1796 without male heirs. (fn. 2) The first Lady Danvers lived at No. 6, after her husband's death until 1759, when the house appears in the parish books under the name of her son, Sir John, who in 1764 severed the connection of his family with the house, a connection which, as we have seen, had lasted close on half a century.

In 1765 the house was taken by Dr. Dominiceti, who started here the medicinal baths which seem to have excited no little interest and considerable hostility at the time. Faulkner says, "In March, 1755, Dr. Dominiceti opened his baths at Bristol, being then the first of the kind in Europe; and in May, 1764, he took a house at Millbank; and from that time till the year 1780 had upwards of sixteen thousand persons under his care. His baths were very costly, well made, and convenient; and from his own publications it appears that he expended upwards of £37,000 in erecting, contriving and completing his house and baths in Cheyne Walk. Among his visitors and patients at Chelsea was his late Royal Highness Edward Duke of York, who entrusted the preservation of his life and the recovery of his health (says the Doctor) to his sole direction for above a month; and that in direct opposition to the advice of the physicians and surgeons of the Royal Household."

Dominiceti's greatest champion was Sir John Fielding, the blind magistrate, half-brother of the novelist, who published a vindication of the Doctor's practice. To his patron he dedicated the pamphlet entitled "A plan for extending the use of artificial water baths, pumps, &c., by Bartholomew de Dominiceti.—Chelsea, Nov. 1, 1771." Faulkner prints several extracts from both Fielding's and Dominiceti's pen, and he further reminds us of the entertaining discussion recorded by Boswell wherein Dr. Johnson expresses his contempt for the Chelsea physician, declares "there is nothing in all his boasted system," and to an apologist,—doubtless the biographer himself—makes use of the now famous but obviously unfair retort: "Well, sir, go to Dominiceti and get fumigated, and be sure that the steam be directed to thy head, for that is the peccant part."

Dr. Dominiceti was of a noble Venetian family. Their name is inscribed in The Golden Book of Venice, as having received a diploma of nobility from the Emperor Ferdinand III. dated 20 March 1643, and confirmed by the Senate of the Venetian Republic in 1778. In the Gentleman's Magazine for Jan. 1829 is inserted a copy of the certificate of his rank which had been signed by Ralph Bigland, Garter King of Arms. His name appears for the last time in the rate-books in 1782, when it seems he left Chelsea, as Faulkner states, hopelessly in debt. Two portraits of the Doctor, his prescriptions, pamphlets, &c., were purchased at the public sale of his effects by Mr. Powell, who lived at No. 1 Cheyne Walk, and was the son of Dominiceti's chief assistant. By the courtesy of Mrs. Domenichetti and her son, the Rev. R. H. Domenichetti, who are closely related to the Chelsea doctor's family, we have been enabled to print a portrait of Dr. Dominiceti from an engraving in their possession (Plate 45). Mrs. Domenichetti has also an interesting caricature of the Doctor receiving his patients, and a copy of his Medical Anecdotes, a large octavo volume, which includes his chief writings on medicine. In it he boldly traverses many of the opinions current at the time, and protests against the state into which the practice of medicine had fallen. The persistent attacks of his enemies no doubt compelled him to adopt strong counter measures of self-advertisement, but he had many good supporters like Sir John Fielding, and in many ways he proved himself much in advance of his times.


The break in the parish rate-books occurs the year after Dr. Dominiceti's departure, and the next entry in 1796 shows the name of the Rev. Weedon Butler. We have already noticed that he was living in No. 4 Cheyne Walk in 1782, and it is probable that very shortly after this he moved into the house under consideration. He had already started his fashionable school, of which Faulkner tells us he was master for 40 years. He left Chelsea for Gayton in 1814. Weedon Butler, the elder, had early in life been articled to a solicitor in London, but afterwards took orders. For some years he acted as assistant to Dr. William Dodd, who was executed in 1777 for forging the name of Lord Chesterfield, and whom he followed as morning preacher at Charlotte Street Chapel, Pimlico. In 1778 he was lecturer at St. Clement's, Eastcheap, and St. Martin Orgers; he was known as a miscellaneous writer. His eldest son, who had the same name, and was also a clergyman, succeeded him in the school at Chelsea. Another son, the Rev. George Butler, D.D., headmaster of Harrow School and Dean of Peterborough, in his turn left four highly able sons, one of them the present master of Trinity College, Cambridge. Mr. Francis Galton, who married one of the family, in his lately published reminiscences has referred to their intellectual distinction.

The house has been for some time the residence of Rafe O. Leycester, Esq., and has only just passed into the hands of its present occupant.

Bibliographical references.

Bartholomew de Dominiceti, Medical Anecdotes of the last Thirty Years (London, 1781). A Plan, etc. dedicated to Sir John Fielding, Knight, Chelsea, 1771.
James Boswell, Life of Dr. Johnson.
London Chronicle (Oct. 29, 1768, Sept. 18, 1766); advertisements of Dr. Dominiceti.
St. James's Chronicle (May 13, 1769).
Thomas Faulkner, Chelsea and its Environs (2nd edition, 1829).
Gentleman's Magazine (January 1829).
Rev. A. G. L'Estrange, The Village of Palaces (1880).
Alfred Beaver, Memorials of Old Chelsea (1892).
Reginald Blunt, An Historical Handbook to Chelsea (1900).
Dictionary of National Biography (Rev. Weedon Butler and his sons).
Annie R. Butler, Nearly a Hundred Years Ago (1907).

In the committee's ms. collection are—

3210. (fn. 3) Plan of ground floor (measured drawing).
3211. (fn. 3) View from Cheyne Walk (photograph).
3212. (fn. 3) View of entrance gates (photograph).
3213. Detail of gates (photograph).
3214. Detail of railings (photograph).
3215. (fn. 3) Gates and railings (measured drawing).
3216. (fn. 3) Front doorway (wash drawing).
3217. (fn. 3) Garden front (photograph).
3218. (fn. 3) Garden doorway (photograph).
3219. (fn. 3) Hall, looking towards front door (photograph).
3220. (fn. 3) Hall and staircase (photograph).
3221. (fn. 3) Staircase from hall (wash drawing).
3222. (fn. 3) Staircase and panelling (complete measured drawing and details).
3223. (fn. 3) Dining-room (photograph).
3224. (fn. 3) Staircase from first floor landing (photograph).
3225. (fn. 3) View showing iron grille, first floor (photograph).
3226. (fn. 3) Iron grille, first floor (measured drawing).
3227. (fn. 3) Wood grille, first floor landing (photograph).
3228. West drawing-room (photograph).
3229. Staircase and panelling from second floor (photograph).
3230. (fn. 3) Lead shield on rain-water head (photograph).
3231. (fn. 3) Lead cistern.


  • 1. The gates and piers seem to be a later addition to the house, but are quite possibly an anticipation of the fashion which subsequent design followed.
  • 2. Sir John Danvers' only child Elizabeth, married the Hon. Augustus Butler (brother of the Earl of Lanesborough), who took the name and arms of Danvers. Their son called himself Butler–Danvers.
  • 3. Reproduced here.