A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 12, Chelsea. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2004.
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LOCAL GOVERNMENT FROM 1837
In 1837 the vestry resolved to petition the House of Lords against the introduction of the Poor Law Amendment Act in Chelsea, (fn. 1) but the parish was nevertheless included in Kensington Union that year. By early 1838 the vestry was lobbying against Kensington board of guardians, stating that the existing parish arrangements under the 1821 Act for poor relief were sufficient and seeking to leave the union. (fn. 2) By autumn 1838 the parochial committee was able to report that the burden on the poor rates had risen sharply after the guardians assumed management. (fn. 3) The vestry petitioned the Poor Law Commissioners for release from the union, but the commissioners refused and set up an investigation into the parish and union finances. Meanwhile the vestry alleged that proxy votes for election of the board of guardians had been misused. There were also allegations of unchristian dissection of paupers' bodies. (fn. 4) The investigator's report showed that expenditure strictly on poor relief had been reduced by joining the union, (fn. 5) a result disputed by the vestry, which sent a memorial signed by 1,960 ratepayers to demand release from the union. It then proceeded to challenge the legality of the formation of the union. (fn. 6) In 1839 a dispute between guardians and parochial committee over access to the workhouse boardroom led to an alleged riot. (fn. 7) Later that year the vestry unsuccessfully petitioned first the Home Secretary for release from the union, (fn. 8) and then the Poor Law Commissioners to constitute the parochial committee a board of guardians. (fn. 9) A proposal in 1840 to seek an Act to separate Chelsea from the union was defeated after dissension in the vestry, (fn. 10) but the Poor Law Commissioners eventually offered to consent to a separation on condition of changes to the local Act. (fn. 11) A new Act of 1841 abolished the parochial committee and established a separate board of guardians for Chelsea, with 20 members elected from four wards established for the purpose. The Act vested the workhouse in the board of guardians, made it the rating authority, and also transferred to the surveyors of the highways powers of the parochial committee relating to sale of dust in the old part of the parish. (fn. 12)
BOARD OF GUARDIANS
The board elected under the local Act of 1841 (fn. 13) was subject to the standardized rules of the Metropolitan Poor Act from 1867. (fn. 14) Besides the 20 elected members there were seven ex officio by 1890; (fn. 15) from 1894 the wards were rearranged to correspond with the new wards used to elect vestrymen, and there were 24 elected guardians, and, in 1900, two co-opted. (fn. 16) The board ceased to be a rating authority in 1901, (fn. 17) and its remaining functions passed to the LCC when it was abolished in 1929. (fn. 18)
The parish's recovery of control of its paupers failed to restrain expenditure. The amount spent on the poor increased from £10,159 in 1840, equivalent to a 1s. 8¾d. rate, to £19,193 in 1850, equivalent to a 2s. 3½d. rate. It was better controlled in the 1850s, standing at £19,663 (1s. 10¾d.) in 1857. (fn. 19) That March there were 1,481 poor in the workhouse and 4,481 relieved outside. (fn. 20) In 1874-5 such spending was only £12,415, less than in most Middlesex parishes; £9,807 of that was spent on workhouse inmates and £2,608 on outdoor relief. (fn. 21) Expenditure on out-relief had been very sharply reduced since 1867, though it crept up again. (fn. 22) In 1890 the corresponding figures were £10,662 and £3,102, with a further £5,930 to maintain lunatics, a total little more than the officers' salaries and largely offset by grants from the Metropolitan Common Poor fund. By far the greater part of the board's expenditure then consisted of precepts or charges by other bodies. (fn. 23) The cost of the poor thereafter increased; by 1900-1 the corresponding figures were £19,407, £4,286, and £9,851. (fn. 24) In 1904-5 Chelsea had 35.4 paupers per 1,000 of population, a higher proportion than Bethnal Green (28.7); in January 1905 there were 1,719 in the workhouse (probably including the infirmary), and 669 relieved outdoors, beside 12 vagrants and 321 lunatics. (fn. 25) By 1914-15 in-maintenance had been reduced to £15,686 and out-relief to £1,515, but the cost of keeping the insane in asylums had risen to £11,673, not counting a £23,240 contribution to the Metropolitan Asylum district. Chelsea paid £2,504 to the Metropolitan Common Poor fund but recovered £17,065 from the LCC. (fn. 26)
Though the vestry had claimed in 1838 that the old Chelsea workhouse in Arthur Street was 'replete with every convenience and in every respect suitable for the purposes of such an establishment', (fn. 27) it was not fit to house all its paupers in 1841, and the board took over the Victorian Asylum at Chiswick, formerly occupied by the Children's Friendly Society, to accommodate women. (fn. 28) In 1843-4 it greatly enlarged the workhouse, to the designs of W.G. Colman. A plan for a new east range was abandoned; instead old buildings in the yard were demolished, and a new central range was built from east to west across it, including a new master's house, vagrant ward, and dead house, and abutting an older west range on Arthur Street, which was retained, widened, and modernized. There seems also to have been a short east cross-wing. (fn. 29) A further enlargement, voted in 1849, was designed by William Hudson and built in 1850. The east wing was heightened and lengthened to make a new men's dormitory; a young men's dayroom was added; the women's (probably the west) wing was extended south to the burial ground. The additions allowed the guardians to introduce the statutory classification and segregation of paupers by sex, age, and sanity. (fn. 30) From 1860 to 1865, prompted by complaints of inadequate accommodation for imbeciles, the guardians extensively reconstructed the workhouse to the designs of G.C. Handford. In 1860-1 the north-west wing along Arthur Street was completely rebuilt and extended north to Britten Street. The south-west wing had to be propped up because of dry rot, and in 1864-5 it was rebuilt. The guardians also decided on a southward extension to the east wing, completed in 1865. Extensions to the north-east wing were also planned. (fn. 31) The resulting workhouse had an H-plan with two long wings extending north-south the whole length of the site. (fn. 32) An infirmary, later St Luke's Hospital, was built on a site north of Britten Street in 1872 and repeatedly extended; it was joined to the workhouse by a subway under the road. (fn. 33) In 1881 the Local Government Board authorized the purchase of adjoining land to the east to enlarge the workhouse. The new buildings in Britten Street, designed by A. & C. Harston and built 1881-3, included a block for able-bodied men and workshops, and a stoneyard. (fn. 34) It was decided to build south to King's Road, where the guardians rented no. 250 for demolition. (fn. 35) Two blocks also designed by Harstons were built east of the burial ground in 1882-3 to accommodate old men, a boardroom, and offices. (fn. 36) The southern block, still standing in 2001, of yellow stock brick with emphatic grey-brick bands, comprised basement and four main storeys, of double depth, with a short wing at the west end and three main bays. Following further acquisitions of adjoining houses in Robert (later Sydney) Street, (fn. 37) a grandiose plan of 1895 by M.J. Lansdell & E.J. Harrison to rebuild almost the entire workhouse on a different alignment (fn. 38) was abandoned, but part of it, involving eastward extensions of the 1883 blocks as far as Sydney Street to house aged women and infirm women, was carried out from 1903 to 1905 at a cost of over £41,000. (fn. 39) The southern extension, still standing in 2001, of basement and four main storeys, was mainly of plain stock brick but had what the Local Government Board described as an elaborate elevation to Sydney Street, designed to obtain architectural effect and involving unnecessary outlay which was not justified by the result. (fn. 40) The elevation, Baroque in style, was in red brick with stone dressings, having flanking twin towers. Other alterations included work on a block in Arthur Street, apparently split from the old master's house. (fn. 41) The workhouse passed in 1929 to the LCC, became known as the Chelsea Institution, and was apparently administered as part of St Luke's hospital. It was demolished in the 1970s (fn. 42) except for the south-eastern block on Sydney Street, which survived in 2001.
The board itself met at the workhouse. (fn. 43) New offices in King's Road, south of the workhouse, were built as part of the 1883 extensions. Of red brick with Portland stone dressings, they had two storeys over a basement and three bays with a central shaped dormer gable, and a front door at the west end. (fn. 44) They were extended eastwards to Sydney Street in 1903-5, to designs by Lansdell and Harrison, and included a boardroom. The extension was also of three bays in red brick with stone dressings, and had a central entrance surmounted by the borough arms, and at the east end of the south front a large bay window, surmounted by a brick pedimented gable topped by an aedicule with an inscription. A new boardroom had been planned in 1895 for the façade wing of the adjoining ward block but it seems not to have been so used. (fn. 45) In 1929 the offices passed with the workhouse to the LCC, which had by 1960 leased part to the Polytechnic School of Chiropody. The LCC's proposal to demolish the structure failed. (fn. 46) After an award-winning conversion in 1998, (fn. 47) the building and the surviving ward block behind it were in use as private offices and galleries in 2001, and various small shops and a noodle bar occupied the garden area and basement in between.
Proposed casual wards in Milman's Street, considered in 1888, (fn. 48) were still being opposed by the public and the elected guardians in 1893, (fn. 49) but seem to have been built by 1895. (fn. 50) At some time after 1879 the guardians bought Fairfield House, Lower Tooting (Surrey), as a branch workhouse, and extended it in, and probably before, 1894. (fn. 51) They sold it in 1906. (fn. 52)
In 1844 the vestry decided to frame a Bill to obtain extra powers of paving, repairing, and lighting the old part of the parish: (fn. 53) the Improvement Act, passed in 1845, excluded the district of Hans Town. For the rest it replaced the existing boards of highway surveyors and lighting inspectors with a board of improvement commissioners, of whom 45 were to be elected by ratepayers by thirds, and 5 appointed by the lord of the manor and owners of four large freeholds. They had powers to levy rates, to make, pave, clean, water, and drain streets, collect waste, and deal with nuisances, and to appoint staff including a treasurer and a clerk. (fn. 54) The commissioners, first elected in August 1845, began work energetically that autumn, meeting, at first in St Luke's vestry room, later in the boardroom at the workhouse, far more often than the monthly minimum. (fn. 55) Later they occupied a building in King's Road known as the Manor House. (fn. 56) Despite their early energy, by the time they were abolished under the Metropolis Management Act, 1855, they had still not brought the standard of services in most of the parish up to those in Hans Town. (fn. 57)
THE VESTRY TO 1855
Chelsea vestry remained open after the changes of 1837-1845 had reduced its powers. It seems to have met at first in the old vestry room, perhaps the vestry room mentioned until 1846, but thereafter in the vestry room at the east end of St Luke's. (fn. 58) In the late 1830s, besides regular elections of officers its business consisted mainly of its feud with the Kensington Union board of guardians, sorting out the damage caused by a venal vestry clerk, and highway matters. (fn. 59) In the early 1840s it gave considerable attention to monitoring the work of its highways and lighting boards, and to a dispute with the Metropolitan Turnpike Trust over King's Road and the removal of turnpike gates. (fn. 60) Especially after 1845, it spent time on partisan lobbying over national legislation, usually acting from a radical or Whig viewpoint. (fn. 61) It attacked the corn laws, though the most trenchant motions on the subject were rejected. (fn. 62) Motions, and elections of officers, still sometimes spawned polls attracting numerous voters: for example nearly 900 votes were cast in electing the highway board in 1845, (fn. 63) and 600 on a motion to make a road in 1847. (fn. 64) The election for churchwardens was disputed in 1841, when 592 voted; for the next ten years they were elected undisputed, but as many as 1,454 voted in an election in 1851. (fn. 65)
There were still 3 beadles in 1843, reduced to 2 by 1845; from 1840 or earlier to 1878 they were sworn as constables. (fn. 66) In 1879 the number of beadles was reduced to one, sworn as constable until 1891. From 1892 the beadle was merely 'beadle of the Old Church' and from 1895 ceased to be considered a parish official. (fn. 67)
On 1 January 1856 the functions of the improvement commissioners and Hans Town commissioners, and the next year those of the open vestry, passed to a metropolitan vestry elected under the Metropolis Local Management Act, with powers for paving, lighting, watering, cleansing, building and maintaining sewers and drains, and nuisance removal and public health. The parish was divided into four wards, electing altogether 60 vestrymen: Stanley in the south-west (9 vestrymen), Church in the centre (18), Royal Hospital in the south-east (12), and Hans Town, covering the north-east of the main part of the parish and Kensal Town and electing 21 vestrymen. The ward boundaries seem to have been different from those used for electing guardians under the 1841 Act. The rector and churchwardens were ex officio members of the vestry. Each ward had an auditor. The vestry elected the parish's representative on the Metropolitan Board of Works. (fn. 68) In 1894 the wards were increased to five and the number of vestrymen reduced to fifty. Stanley ward had 12, Church and Cheyne (formerly Church) ward 15, Royal Hospital Ward 9, and Hans Town ward 12, the same as Kensal Town ward, newly separated from it. (fn. 69)
The vestry in 1855 immediately resolved to appoint six officers (clerk, treasurer, surveyor, inspector of nuisances, foreman of the roads, and messenger) and by 1856 had a medical officer of health. (fn. 70) By 1864 there were also a food analyst, a hallkeeper, and two assistant clerks. (fn. 71) In 1878 the staff had shrunk by one, but after the retirement of the first vestry clerk in 1879 extra assistants were appointed (fn. 72) and by 1889 the staff had more than doubled. (fn. 73) By 1856-7 four main committees (works, bylaws, finance, and improvements) had been set up; they and the vestry met 130 times that year. (fn. 74) By 1888 there were 13 committees, reduced in 1889-90 to ten. (fn. 75) In its last year, 1899-1900, the vestry met 26 times and its ten committees and 3 subcommittees 106 times. (fn. 76)
The vestry was not a rating authority and obtained its revenue mainly by precept on the board of guardians. (fn. 77) Its total expenditure more than doubled from £15,905 in 1857-8 to £31,744 in 1865-6 and £37,196 in 1872-3. At first the main objects were those inherited from the improvement commissioners-paving, lighting, cleansing, watering, and local sewers - but by 1865-6 the MBW took nearly a third of the total. (fn. 78) An informed observer criticized the vestry in the mid 1870s for failing to appoint more inspectors of nuisances even though a third of the houses visited by the inspector required notice. (fn. 79)
In 1866 an active ratepayers' association met weekly and was said to monitor the vestry's activities closely. Although there was 'rivalry' in every ward, none had been contested at the last election. The vestrymen were mainly shopkeepers and tradesmen, who were anxious to serve. (fn. 80) In the early 1880s the vestry's decisions were almost always unanimous; divisions do not seem to have been consistently on party lines. (fn. 81)
A draft report of the LCC's subcommittee for the completion of schemes of local government, leaked in 1890, proposed the merger of Chelsea with Kensington. Although only a draft, the suggestion aroused strong local protests. The vestry opposed it unanimously, and in June organized a public meeting at Queen's Park hall under Sir Charles Dilke's chairmanship, which passed a resolution against it. The strength of the opposition was probably what preserved Chelsea's independence under the 1899 London Government Act. (fn. 82) The vestry resolved in 1895 to seek incorporation should any other London parish achieve that. (fn. 83)
In 1900 the parish became a metropolitan borough, though Kensal Town (ironically including the site of the 1890 meeting) was excluded and there were minor adjustments to the boundaries of the main part of the parish. (fn. 84) Besides taking over the metropolitan vestry's functions and officers, the borough council replaced the board of guardians as the rating authority from 1901.
There were to be 36 councillors for five wards: Stanley and Hans Town wards had 9 each, and Church, Cheyne, and Royal Hospital wards 6 each. There were 6 aldermen. The internal boundaries between wards were substantially those of 1894. (fn. 85) Stanley ward was divided into North and South Stanley wards in 1949, and each of the six wards thereafter had six councillors. (fn. 86)
The first council elections returned 23 Moderates (conservatives) to 12 Progressives and one Independent. (fn. 87) The 5th Earl Cadogan was elected the first mayor. After a slight swing to the Progressives in 1903, the conservative grip steadily strengthened, the Municipal Reformers gaining control of all seats in 1912, with no contests in two wards. (fn. 88) A few Liberals were elected after the First World War, and a few Labour councillors in 1945. Nevertheless Municipal Reformers before 1939, and Conservatives after 1945, continued to control the council, and in 1963 the 7th Earl Cadogan was elected its last mayor. (fn. 89)
Arms and Insignia. The borough council noted in 1901 that it had no civic regalia and accepted the offer of a mace and mayor's chain from Earl Cadogan. (fn. 90) A coat of arms, designed in 1902, was granted in 1903. (fn. 91)
The first four meetings of the metropolitan vestry were held at St Luke's vestry room, but conflict with church uses brought a move to the improvement commissioners' Manor House, King's Road. (fn. 92) The vestry decided in 1856 to build a vestry hall for a total cost of £3,500, and in 1857 to acquire a leasehold of part of Manor Terrace on the south side of King's Road, opposite Robert Street, where Lord Cadogan was willing to give the freehold. (fn. 93) The premises were to contain the hallkeeper's apartment, cellarage, and a fire-proof store room; offices for the clerk, the surveyor, and the medical officer; committee rooms, and at the rear a hall about 24 feet square. There was a much-criticized and finally abortive competition for the design in 1858. (fn. 94) The executed building, with a five-bayed façade on King's Road, was begun in 1859 and completed in 1860. Designed by William Willmer Pocock and built by Piper & Sons, it was of brick, in a neo-Jonesian Italianate style. It had rusticated stone dressings, and a porch with rusticated columns; the first-floor windows had eared surrounds and were surmounted by alternate triangular and segmental pediments. The whole was topped by a balustrade with urns. There appears to have been a plain brick rear wing. The total cost was £12,000. (fn. 95) From the first, the hall was used for commercial lettings. (fn. 96)
Allegedly because of frost damage following the builder's bankruptcy, the hall walls went askew and by 1885 the building had been pronounced unsafe. The vestry decided to build a new hall and offices behind the old, completed in 1886 to the designs of J.M. Brydon and built by Charles Wall. The extension, much bigger than the original building, faced south to Manor Gardens (later Chelsea Manor Gardens), although it had entrances from King's Road. It included a hall 81 ft by 45 ft, a secondary hall west of it, and committee rooms to the east. Built of brick with stone dressings in a superficially Palladian layout but with Queen Anne detailing, the south façade placed the pedimented hall between two lower ranges. (fn. 97) The interior of the hall was decorated with murals showing Chelsea's contribution to history and culture; one panel included a portrait of Oscar Wilde, removed in 1914 after political pressure. (fn. 98)
Old Town Hall
In 1903 the borough council appointed a town hall extension committee, (fn. 99) which met jointly with a committee to reconstruct the adjoining public baths. (fn. 100) In 1904 it recommended an extension on the east side of the vestry hall and apparently the removal of the public baths, which adjoined on the east, to the west side of the site, (fn. 101) but appears to have abandoned that scheme soon after. Leonard Stokes was appointed architect for the town hall, and Wills & Anderson were appointed for the baths. (fn. 102) A.N. Coles of Plymouth's tender of £21,091 for the building was accepted in 1906. (fn. 103) Stokes's surreptitious attempt to include a dome was sternly suppressed. (fn. 104) The extension, which replaced the original vestry hall of 1860 but retained the 1886 building to its south, provided extra offices and was completed in 1908. Of brick with stone dressings, it faces north to King's Road and has concave corners with boldly rusticated quoins, three-bay pedimented ends with tetrastyle columns, and 9 bays in between, all in an allegedly 'Renaissance' style. A clock projecting into King's Road was and remained in 2001 a prominent feature. The granite plinth had an inscription, in 1908 as in 2001 barely legible, which cost nine times the estimate. (fn. 105) The Old Town Hall became the main Chelsea branch library in 1978, (fn. 106) and was still standing in 2003.
LONDON BOROUGH OF KENSINGTON AND CHELSEA
The scheme for uniting Kensington and Chelsea was briefly revived in 1945 and as soon scotched. (fn. 107) In 1958 the borough council argued strongly to the Herbert commission for the retention of its boundaries and increase of its powers, (fn. 108) and a scheme to merge Chelsea with south Kensington and south Fulham was floated. (fn. 109) Nevertheless the commission proposed that it merge with Kensington, and in 1963 the London Government Act confirmed that. (fn. 110) Resistance in Chelsea concentrated on retaining its name as part of that of the merged borough, against the wishes of the government, with shoppers queuing up in the King's Road to sign petitions. The demand met with success and the new authority was from 1965 the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. (fn. 111) Chelsea had 14 councillors and retained its six wards within its old boundaries, although there were plans in 1999 to alter them; the number of councillors for those wards had apparently been reduced to 13 by 2002. The new borough continued to be Conservative-controlled. (fn. 112) With the immediate building of a new town hall in Kensington, its administrative centre moved outside Chelsea. (fn. 113) A coat of arms was granted in 1965. (fn. 114)