Survey of London: Volume 2, Chelsea, Pt I. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1909.
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With this volume the Committee for the Survey of the Memorials of Greater London have taken another step in their projected Survey of the London parishes. Since the year 1900, when the records of Bromley-by-Bow were published, several detailed accounts of special buildings have been embodied in the Committee's monographs, but at the same time the systematic work of the members, which had been transferred from the eastern parish to Chelsea, was not relaxed. To those who do not know the difficulties and delays which are necessarily attendant upon the organisation of so much voluntary effort, the period of eight years will seem a long one for the production of this volume. In this case, however, we have been sadly checked by the death of our late Secretary, Mr. Ernest Godman, who was taken all too soon from a field of activity in which he had earned the warm attachment of all among our little band of workers. One of the chief pleasures in bringing this first part of our Chelsea Survey to a successful issue is the consciousness that it forms some tribute to his enthusiasm and unselfish devotion to the aims we have in view.
Setting aside, however, the personal element—the intrusion of which may, perhaps, be forgiven in the case of one who is no longer with us—we venture to think that the production of a volume like this is no unworthy tribute to the place itself, to Chelsea, and in a larger sense to London, which has absorbed so many of the beautiful villages that used to lie a long distance from its busy streets and its houses of commerce. Chelsea had its own peculiar position among these villages, a position, perhaps, of preëminence due to the natural beauty of its site and to the broad and easy thoroughfare of the Thames, which was, of olden time, the London highway. For evidence of this we have only to scan the long list of distinguished men who have lived here since Sir Thomas More chose it as a place of retirement, even while he held the office of Lord Chancellor.
The melancholy departure of the gay and picturesque river traffic, and the development of the roads, notably the King's Road, have together inverted, as it were, the whole parish; they have drawn the busy life away from the waterside, and through this very neglect, have preserved for us much of the old village until the crowning misfortune befel—the making of the embankment. Yet, in spite of calamitous changes, the Chelsea of to-day possesses many relics of its past beauty, and some of these are recorded in the following pages. To live here, as the writer has done, not far from the Old Church and the river, is to understand how strong its hold can still be upon the affections—it is borne in upon one, intimately and irresistibly. The story of its illustrious men and women may kindle the imagination, but it is its atmosphere—the subtle effect of its history—that will be felt most. Chelsea is responsive to one's moods; it is a place where one cannot remain long a stranger, for it takes one into its confidence, as do all places which have been the scene of centuries of human effort, tempered by just such a quiet unchanging influence as that of the broad river which flows still, as it used to flow, by the time-worn village street. It is this atmosphere that makes Chelsea what it is, in spite of the loss of its ancient palaces, its low river-wall, its river-stairs, boats and summer-houses, and many of its most beautiful rows of humbler homes.
This first volume of our Survey of Chelsea, includes all that part of the parish looking towards the river, which lies between the Royal Hospital on the east and the Old Church on the west. The buildings are, in the main, of 18th century date, or a few years older, and they owe their existence chiefly to two events in Chelsea history. The one, the completion of the Royal Hospital in 1691, whence sprang Paradise Row; and the other, the purchase of the Manor by Sir Hans Sloane, which gave us the charming houses in Cheyne Walk. But if most of our illustrations are of the architecture of the 18th century, there is much to lead our thoughts back to still earlier years, and the trees and walls of the Manor House garden, and the remains of the house and precincts of the Earls of Shrewsbury, afford sufficient excuse for a brief outline of their history. The palace of the Bishops of Winchester, however, which lay between these houses, is entirely gone, and is not therefore included.
This is the proper place to remind those who are imperfectly acquainted with our Survey work that the chief object of these books is to illustrate by photographs and drawings all that is of special historic or æsthetic value in the districts surveyed. The subjects illustrated are briefly described in the letterpress, and as much historical information as could be placed within the slender compass of our space has been added in the form of notes. For the biographies of such personalities as the Duchess of Mazarin, Sir Robert Walpole, Sir Francis Windham and Dean Atterbury—to mention one or two names at random—the reader is referred to other sources, but where less known names have occurred we have included some few biographical details whenever possible. The text, however, must be understood to be subservient to the plates, which actually constitute our Survey of Chelsea.
In arranging the notes my thanks are due to many friends who have been most kind in their assistance. I should like to acknowledge more particularly my indebtedness to Mr. Randall Davies, Mr. J. Henry Quinn, and to Mr. Walter L. Spiers. The thanks of the Committee are due to Mr. William Ascroft, who generously placed some MS. notes on the district at their disposal, extracts from which have been duly acknowledged wherever they occur. Much information has been obtained through the kindness of the owners of the various houses, and this co-operation in the work of the Committee has been highly appreciated. Every facility was accorded the author in his research work in the rate-books at the offices of the Chelsea Board of Guardians, in which he was materially helped by Mr. Percy W. Lovell; and the Chelsea Public Library has been the source of much valuable information, besides adding to the illustrations from its excellent gallery of local views. It is scarcely necessary to do more than mention the indebtedness which every writer on Chelsea must feel to those who have made the local history their special study. In some instances it has been possible to correct their statements as the result of later research, but in a very much larger measure they have ministered to us. Such help is acknowledged by the bibliographical references.
The illustrations (with the exception of a few early photographs, prints, and lithographs) are by members of the Active Committee. The engraving of Dr. Bartholomew Dominiceti has been kindly lent for reproduction by Mrs. Domenichetti, whose family is allied to that of the Chelsea doctor.
In conclusion, my thanks are specially due to Mr. Philip Norman, our general editor, who has placed his collection of material relating to Chelsea unreservedly at the disposal of the Committee, and has spared no pains to make the volume a representative unit of the greater Survey of London.