Settlement and building: Twentieth century, after the second world war

Pages 91-101

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 12, Chelsea. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2004.

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In this section


Bomb damage during the Second World War was comparatively heavy for such a small borough, probably because it lay close to Westminster and two power stations, (fn. 1) but being fairly random and spread out the damage had little effect on the overall appearance of Chelsea. The most serious single incident was the destruction of a wing of the Guinness Estate in West Chelsea, where 86 were killed and 111 injured in 1944; the estate was rebuilt in 1947-8. (fn. 2) Some serious historical losses were Chelsea Old Church, where virtually the whole building together with Petyt House was destroyed except for the More chapel, and Soane's stables, part of the infirmary at the Royal Hospital. The Old Church was rebuilt on the same plan, as was Petyt House next to it, conveyed to church authorities in 1959 to be rebuilt as the church hall. (fn. 3) Sloane Square underground station, only just rebuilt in 1940, was completely demolished in an air raid later that year. Other buildings damaged during the war were Thurloe Court, Fulham Road, and Cranmer Court, Sloane Avenue, in 1940, and Ashburnham Mansions, Ashburnham Road. Heavy damage occurred in Lower Sloane Street and Turk's Row in 1944, including parts of Sloane Court at corner of Lower Sloane Street on both sides of the Rose and Crown, which was, however, left unscathed. (fn. 4)

Although Chelsea was described as one of the areas of London which were 'neither blitzed nor blighted', and did not have the large expanse of slum, sub-standard housing, the overcrowding, nor industries intermingled with dwellings that affected some areas of inner London, it did have a small pocket of such housing at the World's End which required reconstruction, while the Lots Road power station with the 'depressed houses' under its shadow were seen as a blemish on the otherwise attractive borough. (fn. 5) A good deal of rebuilding and rehousing took place in the decade or so after the war by the council to rehouse people bombed out of their houses and to attempt to reduce poor housing at World's End, though it was some time before the housing problems of World's End were permanently solved. In 1957 Chelsea still had 77 'prefabs' erected by the council, of which 3 were dismantled during that year; the council also still had 396 requisitioned properties housing 1,150 families. By March 1957 post-war building in the borough totalled 1,065 including buildings rebuilt after war damage, 683 of them by the borough council, 33 by housing associations, and 349 privately. Proposals under the Housing Act 1954 for slum clearance had stated there were 15,924 houses in Chelsea of which only 72 were unfit for habitation. (fn. 6)


The council carried on with building postponed by the war, generally in a low-key manner that was often, because of external pressure, sympathetic to its surroundings. It began on the 3½-acre site on the east side of Draycott Avenue between Denyer and Orford (renamed Rosemoor) streets: work was underway there in 1946, (fn. 7) and in 1949 214 flats in 9 blocks housing c. 1000 people were formally opened as Wiltshire Close. (fn. 8) During the Second World War the council had taken over half the houses in Elm Park Gardens, on the south side of Fulham Road in the former Chelsea Park, when they were mainly standing empty, under compulsory provision acts to rehouse those displaced by bombing, and by 1945 most of the requisitioned houses were occupied as flats. In 1946 the council, which had already converted 68 of the 108 houses in Elm Park Gardens into flats for 205 bombed-out families, sought to purchase compulsorily and convert the remaining buildings into flats, giving the existing tenants priority for rehousing. The owners argued unsuccessfully that the houses were unsuitable for conversion; (fn. 9) the council went ahead with the purchase in 1948, (fn. 10) and gradually bought up the leasehold interests over the next few years. (fn. 11) In 1953 they issued leases and tenancy agreements for the five flats at no. 1 Elm Park Gardens, originally two houses converted into flats in 1932; (fn. 12) a few other houses were occupied as flats in the 1950s. The earliest tenants included a schoolmaster and an art editor, and from the level of rent the housing was clearly not intended for working-class occupants: the ground floor flat at no. 1 Elm Park Gardens was leased for 21 years at £100 a year. (fn. 13) The need for smaller dwellings led to proposals in the 1960s to replace the houses by new blocks of flats: some of the houses had new additions at the rear overlooking the gardens, others were completely rebuilt as modern flats. Some tenancies dated from 1968, but most from the 1970s. The council also demolished the detached Elm Park House which stood in the middle of the open space at Elm Park Gardens, and replaced it with Elm Park House containing 34 bed-sitting-room flats, 20 one-bedroom and 6 two-bedroom flats, and an underground garage. All the blocks were planned to respect their 19th-century context and the gardens were preserved, protected under the London Squares Act of 1931. (fn. 14)

Figure 38:

Cheyne Walk west from Beaufort Street, threatened by the West Chelsea housing scheme in 1949, with Lindsey House (right)

The first of three phases of the council's estate of 45 flats in Lucan Place was completed in 1953 with artists' studios at the top of the building, the first of c. 30 studios the council planned to incorporate into its new buildings throughout Chelsea. Those included 250 flats and 6 studios in brick-faced slab blocks on the Cremorne estate, a block of more than 40 flats and 10 studios in Dovehouse Street, and smaller building schemes in Hortensia Road, and in Limerston Street, (fn. 15) where the scheme of 1954-8 was designed to fit in with the existing villas, some of which were reconstructed as flats with eight studios. (fn. 16)

After its union with Kensington in 1965, Chelsea was drawn into the controversy about the contrast between the southern part of Kensington and Chelsea with the very run-down and immigrant-filled North Kensington, (fn. 17) and pressure groups continually agitated for the introduction of measures to halt the polarization in the royal borough between very rich transients and subsidized council tenants, with the middle class and single driven out. In 1978 the Empty Homes Group demanded a public inquiry into the housing policies of RBKC, claiming that the council had sufficient empty houses to house 10,000 families, but was spending £5,000 a week on bed and breakfast accommodation for homeless families, and had a housing waiting list of more than 7,500 families. (fn. 18) Another solution put forward was a co-ownership housing scheme, a partnership between a housing association and the council whereby the association acquired and converted suitable property and the council put up the money. The members of the association would get cheaper than normal flats and 100 per cent mortgages; council would get new young, middle-income residents. (fn. 19)

West Chelsea (Cremorne Estate)

Various schemes temporary and permanent were carried out for the area west of Beaufort Street and south of King's Road. Some late 19th-century houses at the south-east junction of Dartrey and Cremorne roads were sold to the council in 1949 under a compulsory purchase order as the site for the erection of 'Model Residences', (fn. 20) and also the freehold of land at the north-west corner of Ashburnham and Stadium roads in 1950 for a temporary housing estate. (fn. 21)

The council drew up the West Chelsea housing scheme in 1949 to redevelop the area west of Beaufort Street. In 1946 surveyors commenting on decayed buildings at no. 105 Cheyne Walk, near the corner with Milman's Street, described the area as socially the 'wrong' end of Chelsea, (fn. 22) and were presumably advising against investing there. The council's scheme involved sweeping away nos 105-19 Cheyne Walk, two rows of 18th-and 19th-century houses containing 239 occupants on the edge of the site stretching westwards from Milman's Street, which would be replaced by two blocks of flats. Both the Chelsea Society and the Georgian Group pressed to retain the houses, which had 18th-and early 19th-century interiors: no. 119 was the house where Turner had lived and died, and others were mid Victorian stuccoed houses, where artists like Dame Ethel Walker still lived, which were by no means slums. The LCC decided to rebuild Turner's house, badly damaged in the war though some interior panelling survived, and rebuilt it to look as before, while an alternative scheme was adopted for the site of nos 105-6, a house of 1878 and bombed open space used as a garage and petrol station. (fn. 23) The council's Cremorne Estate, completed in 1956, covered 9.5 acres which stretched westward from the rear of houses in Beaufort Street across Milman's Street to Riley Street. (fn. 24) It left untouched all the houses fronting Cheyne Walk except nos 105-6, which were replaced by a four-storeyed block of flats called Brunel House, designed by Frederick MacManus of Armstrong and MacManus on a scale and appearance to harmonize with the adjoining 18thcentury houses; (fn. 25) it opened in 1955 and was let by the council at unsubsidized rents to tenants in slightly higher income groups. However, the extended scheme, which would have included World's End, lapsed owing to high land costs and re-housing problems. (fn. 26)

Figure 39:

Brunel Flats, Cheyne Walk, built 1955 as part of the Cremorne Estate

The council also planned to rebuild the river wall at the west end of Cheyne Walk between Battersea Bridge and the Old Ferry Wharf, reclaiming land from the foreshore and routing the road a little further from the houses, but met with opposition from the Chelsea Society and the London Society, who wanted the wall rebuilt in the same position, because the new scheme would sweep away 'the picturesque scene, the marine character of the little harbour and the friendly river folk'. (fn. 27) The road and river wall remained unchanged, but decades later the increasingly heavy road traffic probably made that decision a source of regret to the inhabitants of Lindsey House and its neighbours as well as to pedestrians along the river bank.

World's End Estate (fn. 28)

Figure 40:

World's End Passage 1969.

The righthand side had been rebuilt in the 1930s: its earlier buildings are shown in fig. 31

In 1961 the council began to look again at the scheme for World's End, partly because of new pressures on housing caused by the surrender of wartime requisitioned property, and the fact that this was the last major housing site which would be available for some time. (fn. 29) There followed an eight-year battle to get the LCC to accept a higher density of people per acre (ppa) than the county plan allowed. Cremorne had been built at the prescribed density of 136 ppa, but using this density at World's End would not allow all the displaced people to be rehoused. By 1962 central government was accepting the need for densities over 200 ppa; the LCC opposed this fearing they would end up with the social problems of Victorian tenements, (fn. 30) but were willing to consider a density of 170 taking the new World's End and the Cremorne estates together and including suitable open space. Misunderstandings about density in the course of meetings between the borough and the LCC led eventually to a scheme which the LCC turned down at the end of 1962, not only on the grounds of population density, but also the lack of architectural merit and the appearance that the height and mass of buildings would have along the river. A new scheme was then drawn up by Eric Lyons, architect, and E.G. Goldring of the Chelsea borough engineers, which included 8 tower blocks grouped around podiums, all interconnected around gardens; the area, stretching to Edith Grove, would be traffic-free with cars put underground. (fn. 31) The LCC town planning committee recommended rejection, because it would result in a density of 232 ppa (excluding a one-acre school site), while the LCC wanted no more than 150. (fn. 32) After an inquiry held in 1965 the Minister of Housing turned down the borough's plan while accepting the need for higher densities in specific cases, and was prepared to treat Chelsea's application as exceptional because of the high standard of layout and design, which might permit the high density of the revised scheme. (fn. 33) The borough was able to adapt their plan to meet the recommendations of the planning inspector, and the revised scheme, for 765 flats in blocks of 5 to 14 storeys forming three irregular squares, with two level walk-ways, and including underground parking, shopping centre, church, public house, and community centre, with a school on an adjoining site, received ministerial approval in 1967. Building finally started in 1969, and the first families moved in by early 1975. (fn. 34) The estate was completed in 1977 and its six towers of stacked polygons, a Brutalist aesthetic softened by brownish red brick facing, immediately became a new riverside landmark.

Figure 41:

King's Road at World's End and the junction with Blantyre and Seaton streets, with public house (left), the Salvation Army hall (adjoining), and St John's mission church (far right)

A building next to the World's End estate, Moravian Tower, no. 355 King's Road, designed in 1969 and completed in 1971 to house 50 families, was a less successful council venture. In 1983 the council-owned block, once hailed as an 'architectural achievement', faced demolition: the core of the building was rotting, brickwork was falling apart, and sulphates were eating away the mortar. From the beginning there had been a problem with damp and leaks, and in 1975 a High Court action had been brought by the council against the architects, Chamberlin Powell & Bon, and the builders. (fn. 35) It was not demolished, however, but sold by the council and revamped in 1988 by Fitch & Company as private flats, with custard-coloured cladding to hide the problematic brickwork, and a new top floor. (fn. 36)

Housing Society

With working-class housing being provided on a large scale by the borough council, the Chelsea Housing Improvement Society turned to different provision after the Second World War. Between 1949 and 1952 they converted seven unmodernized houses in Danvers Street into flats for the elderly: the first five houses were acquired from the council and converted with a bed-sitting room and a sitting room-kitchen for each of 18 elderly people and a matron by 1950, when they appealed for funds for further conversions. By 1960 the society had bought the leases of two more houses there to convert into eight flats for the elderly and were again appealing for funds. In 1950 they also converted 49 Elm Park Gardens into flats. (fn. 37)

Providers of social housing in Chelsea earlier in the century still maintained their estates in 2003. The Guinness Trust managed 384 homes in 3 estates in the London borough, including Draycott Avenue and Edith Grove. The William Sutton Trust's largest estate was at Cale Street in Chelsea, where they had 637 homes, mainly one- and two-bedroom flats. The Peabody Trust managed 103 flats in Chelsea Manor Street, and 37 in Lawrence Street. (fn. 38)


In the 1950s private development got off to a slow start, but even piecemeal development could threaten the character of Chelsea, and some architecturally important buildings had been neglected. Norman Shaw's Swan House, Chelsea Embankment, empty since 1931 and decaying, aroused the concern of the Chelsea Society who were pressing for its preservation; (fn. 39) in 1954 permission was given to convert it into offices, which at least preserved it from destruction. (fn. 40) The demolition of Markham Square congregational church and sale of the site for six houses in 1953 removed an attractive landmark, and in 1955 the entrance and west window of Markham House, at the corner of King's Road and Markham Square, was demolished and replaced by a shop front. Built in the early 19th century as a dwelling, the house had a central entrance looking down Smith Street and the change spoiled the vista; it was felt that a house facing onto King's Road could have been used unchanged as offices. A licence had been granted for a coffee bar in the basement, though refused for a night club. (fn. 41) The adaptation of this particular old building for modern uses was seminal, however, as Mary Quant opened Chelsea's first boutique here in 1955 and her husband Alexander Plunket Greene a restaurant in the basement. (fn. 42)

Housing Problems for Private Tenants

The main threats to the character of Chelsea after the Second World War came from two sources, local government and the property market. While the borough council's plans were acceptable once older buildings, such as those in Cheyne Walk, were preserved, the LCC's plans for public buildings in place of houses aroused great opposition. In 1959 the borough council, local householders, the Chelsea Society, and the local MP opposed the LCC's scheme to extend the London Oratory voluntary-aided secondary school, which would involve demolition of 77 houses in Sydney Street, Fulham Road, Stewart's Grove, Cale Street, and Guthrie Street, and the eviction of 300 people; the opposition was successful in getting the scheme removed from the 5-year plan. (fn. 43) The threat was always there, however. Chelsea was over-endowed with institutions in relation to its size, and their needs were continually pushing out residents. Several hospitals, the college, the fire brigade, and the old people's home all needed more space, which threatened the older buildings, especially homes. The accompanying reduction in affordable accommodation also meant that the artists who had given Chelsea much of its character were leaving the borough because of the high cost of living and the scarcity of cheap studio accommodation, and the Chelsea Society feared that soaring property values would destroy the 'left-bank' quality of Chelsea. (fn. 44)

Resurgence in the property market after the Second World War led to many problems in Chelsea, a desirable area with a lot of privately rented flats and houses. One was the threat to existing private tenants, faced with either enormous rent rises or eviction as property owners sought to take advantage of new markets. In 1946 it was reported that the 75 tenants of flats and one-room flatlets at Pelham Court, Fulham Road (rents £100-180 a year) had been given notice to quit by the management company on behalf of the owners, Joseph Constantine Steamship Line. (fn. 45) The borough council then considered requisitioning Pelham Court, as it would not tolerate actions which would make 80 families homeless at a time of very complicated housing need, and required the owners to withdraw the notices. (fn. 46) In 1960 the tenants of King's Court North and South, 2 blocks of flats in Chelsea Manor Gardens, asked the council to make a compulsory purchase, as the landlords, Town and Commercial Properties, were demanding rent increases of 58-117 per cent and had refused to negotiate after the tenants had offered 25 per cent. (fn. 47) Also in 1960 the Chelsea housing committee reported that the terms offered to tenants of Alexandra Mansions, 26 flats in King's Road (rent £150), were exorbitant: the tenants had been asked to buy 14-year leases at £3,500 each. On the committee's recommendation the council decided to purchase the flats from the owners, Thorney Court Ltd, but withdrew in 1961 after the owners offered to let at new rents of £255-325, rather than the £500 a year which they had sought. (fn. 48) In 1962 the tenants of Dorchester Court, Sloane Street, requested the council to buy their flats compulsorily following their dispute with the landlords, Peachey Property Corporation Ltd, who wanted to charge market rents, claiming rents there had never been subject to any form of control. (fn. 49) The council decided to purchase Beaufort House flats, a Victorian block of 12 flats in Beaufort Street with 28-year leases, in 1964 to protect the tenants. The owners, S.P. Mercantile, had bought the block 14 months previously but denied making a great profit from the sale to the council, having spent a lot on improvements. (fn. 50)

Tenants in less desirable property were also at risk. In 1964 private landlords served notices to quit on the tenants of 17 decontrolled flats at nos 16-46 Lots Road, almost against the wall of the power station, which housed families who had lived in Chelsea for generations. The landlords, a property firm, said that the property had to be modernized, but a tenants' association had been formed and asked Chelsea council to buy compulsorily. The council's housing committee decided to rescue the tenants threatened with eviction and negotiated to buy 28 houses: those in Lots Road and 11 in Stadium Street, where residents of four of them were told to pay double the rent or leave. (fn. 51) The fear of redevelopment and eviction was present when any sale came up, as in 1964 when the tenants of 27 properties in St Luke's and Britten streets protested against the decision to sell by the freeholders, United Westminster Schools foundation, an educational trust. The trust had property at nos 2-24 St Luke's Street and 14-20 (even) Britten Street, mostly small early 19th century terraced houses with 2 small shops. (fn. 52)

A contrast was emerging between the older Chelsea and a new more highly priced Chelsea as it moved into the property boom of the 1980s. Houseboats moored in Chelsea Reach at Chelsea Yacht & Boat Club provided an alternative to high-priced houses and flats: in the 1940s they had been owned by artists and theatre people, but in the 1970s the c. 50 boats had a varied population including journalists, architects, editors, and students. There were still c. 100 artists living in Chelsea but the number was falling. (fn. 53)

One of the most highly publicized controversies, perhaps because its size affected so many tenants, concerned the massive 10-storeyed Chelsea Cloisters, which consisted of over 800 small flats, many let to elderly residents on fixed incomes, with c. 50 porters and other staff. Most of it was let unfurnished, and it also contained a restaurant, snack and cocktail bars, squash court, library, and hairdresser. It was acquired with other property in 1968 by Freshwater Corporation, who sold a 99-year lease of the block in 1970 to a company which turned the 4th and 5th floors into a hotel, providing under contract 260 rooms for Pan American air crews. Tenants complained that part had also been used as a tourist hotel. The borough council opposed change of use because of the loss of residential accommodation and the increase in traffic and noise a hotel would bring, and in 1971 a planning inquiry was held; the residents' association of 375 members held a meeting at the House of Commons to present a petition against the proposed changes. The company's request to use a third of the block as a hotel was turned down by the secretary of state for the environment. (fn. 54) The lease was sold on, but the block was not returned to its former use, and in 1973 the council were considering compulsorily purchasing the block, then consisting of 796 furnished and unfurnished flats with a mixture of long and short-term leases, called one of London's largest and most luxurious blocks of flats. It was claimed that Freshwater had transformed it into luxurious pied-a-terre for business executives, doctors, actors, and successful journalists, offering luxury services; the number of unfurnished flats had declined to 300, and short-term tenants in furnished flats increased to 212. The rest were being converted and notice given. Older residents had regulated rents but were still afraid they would be greatly increased. (fn. 55) In the event neither the council nor the GLC, which had been hoping to buy the block in 1974 to house public service workers, bought the block, (fn. 56) and in 1984 Chelsea Cloisters, one of the largest blocks of flats in London, was put up for sale, with 747 flats, garage, petrol-filling station, restaurant, and coffee shop. (fn. 57) In 1986 it was reported that £7.5 million was being spent on refurbishing it, and prices ranged from £55,000 for a studio to £125,000 for a 2-bedroom flat on a 125-year lease; it was aimed to attract businessmen, particularly international executives, wanting a base in London, providing switchboard, laundry, secretaries, boardrooms, and word processors. (fn. 58) In 2003 luxury furnished apartments were available to rent there, (fn. 59) alongside privately-owned leasehold flats.

Development Problems

More difficult to deal with were the larger redevelopments proposed by ground landlords: they sought to replace the mainly 19th-century streets and houses, which seemed to them outmoded and incapable of modernization, and were often in an indifferent condition, with modern and often high-rise replacements, trying to maximize return in a popular residential area. The rediscovery of urban living among middle-class professionals, which was gentrifying some parts of inner London for the first time, also had some effect on Chelsea despite the higher socio-economic level at which it began. As the 1960s and 70s introduced a new fashionable dimension to Chelsea's appeal, the consequent rise in prices put further pressure on the balance in Chelsea between the older communities, still mainly middleclass, and the drive to bring in newer, often transient, residents as well as the very well off. The Chelsea Society had to continue its vigilant campaigning against the destruction of the small scale which contributed to the charm of Chelsea and what they saw as inappropriate new developments.

Though the LCC aroused opposition with its plans for institutions in the borough, on the whole it opposed the destruction of older, attractive buildings. In 1961 a public inquiry was held by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government on an appeal by the Sloane Stanley estate against the LCC's preservation order on Paultons Square and houses in Stanley Terrace, which formed a corner of the square and along King's Road. The estate wanted to demolish Stanley Terrace, built in 1840, and build shops with flats over them, but it was felt that if the terrace disappeared it would affect the appearance of the square, described as one of the best surviving squares in West London, with elegant brick houses and wroughtiron balconies. (fn. 60) The minister confirmed the preservation order on both the houses in the square and the terrace on the grounds that the buildings were an integral part of an unspoilt architectural composition. (fn. 61)

In 1973 Chelsea was described as the centre of the tourist industry, deeply affected by the great rise in property prices and by speculation. Under pressure from amenity societies the council had fought back, and about half the borough had become a conservation area. Kensington & Chelsea Corporation Act was passed to stop any more conversion of houses to hotels. Other trends were the conversion of top-class property into embassies and headquarters for big international companies. While Chelsea's remaining working class had an increasing pool of council and housing trust accommodation, the middle class were being pushed out of the area with very high rises in rents used by ruthless landlords who wanted to let for short stays. (fn. 62)

Figure 42:

Carlton Tower Hotel, Cadogan Place

In 1973 Chelsea still had many 18th-century houses in streets behind the south side of King's Road; St Leonard's Terrace, Cheltenham Terrace, Royal Avenue, and Wellington Square were renovated, as were smaller houses to the west between King's Road, Royal Hospital Road, and Cheyne Walk. Many Regency houses still stood to the north between King's and Fulham roads, and as houses became vacant or leases expired their value soared. There were still islands of dilapidated housing, however, especially in mid and west Chelsea, with houses divided into flats or occupied in single rooms. In the 1940s and 1950s artists had returned to Chelsea because of the studios there, but left because of rising prices in 1960s and 1970s. (fn. 63)

Cadogan Estate Redevelopment

Proposals for redeveloping part of the Cadogan Estate were included in the London Development Plan, published in 1955, incorporating 8-storeyed terraced flats, and buildings of 35 and 26 storeys in Sloane Gardens and Pont Street, with rezoning of Sloane Street on the west side of Cadogan Place for expensive shops. Georgian houses on the north side of Cadogan Place, still largely residential, were in the course of being replaced by the 18-storeyed Carlton Tower Hotel, but the rest of that area was still largely residential. The Chelsea Society opposed the plans, fearing that 'thinking people' would be replaced by a continuous stream of American tourists and provincial tycoons, and that the new proposals would lead to demolition of all remaining buildings around Cadogan Place and their replacement by 8-storeyed flats. (fn. 64)

Though the tower blocks in Sloane Gardens and Pont Street did not go ahead, the development of Sloane Street as an important commercial area began to take shape. The Carlton Tower Hotel of 1961 was a large building complex, including an 18-storeyed stone-faced tower, on a one-acre site at the north end of Cadogan Place, and the west side of the site provided a 2-storeyed block combining shops fronting Sloane Street with Coutts Bank on its original site. It was designed by Michael Rosenauer, and the interior included glass murals by Feliks Topolski. (fn. 65) Also in 1961 Liscartan House was built at nos 127-131 Sloane Street, a 7-storeyed building by J. Douglass Mathews and Partners, with shops on the ground floor and offices above; behind it, in Pavilion Road, the site included two mews flats over four garages. (fn. 66)

In 1962 the Cadogan Estate put forward a bold development plan for the Sloane Street area, to be carried out over 40 years. It involved bridging Sloane Street south of Cadogan Gardens and just north of Carlton Tower hotel, building flats on the bridges, and enclosing the gardens in Cadogan Place as a residential precinct. A 26-storeyed block of flats was proposed for Pont Street; the Willet building in Sloane Square was to be brought into the traffic circulation; a two-storeyed shopping block and a 26-storeyed residential block were to be built, and the sides of the square linked by pedestrian bridges. Lower Sloane Street was to be widened to provide another residential square with a 30-storeyed tower block. The Estate aimed to keep the area south of Sloane Square predominantly residential and were asking the LCC to prevent more offices being built, confining them to northern part of Sloane Street and Sloane Square. However, the scheme was similar to the earlier one, and like it received an unfavourable response from the planning authorities and was dropped. (fn. 1)

The Estate took majority shareholdings in 1962 in companies formed to build specific properties on the estate: Fordie House and Oakley House in Sloane Street, Clunie House in Hans Place, and a commercial building at nos 190-2 Sloane Street. (fn. 2) Also in 1962 the Estate proposed redevelopment for residential purposes of c. 4½ acres around Walton Street, including First, Hasker, and Ovington streets. The plan included two blocks of flats c. 110 ft high, but was mostly for several terraces of family houses with 4-6 bedrooms each and garages and gardens, with a new little square. (fn. 3) The scheme did not go ahead, however, although town houses were built at nos 64-112 Walton Street. The Estate built other small-scale residential and commercial buildings in keeping with the existing building stock: 13 houses, 7 studio flats, and 15 garages in Manresa Road and Dovehouse Street; town houses in Astell and Cale streets; a block of shops, offices, and flats at nos 155-67 Fulham Road. (fn. 4)

Also in 1962 the Cadogan Estate sold the freehold of land at the corner of Oakley Street and Cheyne Walk to Wates Ltd for £265,000 at auction, including 12 houses in Oakley Street, the Pier Hotel, shops, residential and workshop premises at nos 32-3 Cheyne Walk, and 3 shops and living accommodation at nos 34-6 Cheyne Walk, all let on leases expiring in 1963 or 1965. (fn. 67) Wates put forward a scheme in 1965 to redevelop the site with 6-storeyed blocks, (fn. 68) and despite protests the Pier Hotel of 1844, the Blue Cockatoo restaurant, favoured by artists from the 1930s to 1950s, and Thurston's billiard factory were all demolished in 1968 to make way for Pier House Flats. (fn. 69)

Although large-scale commercial and residential schemes in Sloane Street got approval, attempts to redevelop elsewhere with tower blocks brought out opposition in force. In 1965 the Estate unveiled proposals for 9½ acres near the river stretching from Flood Street to Smith Street and including Shawfield Street, Redesdale Street, Radnor Walk, Tedworth Gardens and Square, Redburn Street, Tite Street, and Christchurch Street and Terrace; it included 634 flats and houses, mostly built c. 1820 onwards, and 1,229 residents. The existing property was held on leases expiring in 1965 or 1972-3, and the scheme, by Chapman, Taylor and Partners, was to be carried out to coincide with those dates. It would include two tower blocks of 33 storeys, 159 houses, and a 3-storeyed garage for 294 cars, giving 385 flats in all; the tower blocks would be built first to take up displaced people and facilitate the remainder of the scheme. Low-rental housing would be provided for poorer tenants, subsidized by higher-value properties, to retain the existing mixed economy of the area; the existing density of 112 an acre would be increased to 150. Strong opposition came both from local conservationists and residents, and from the town planners of GLC, who objected to the tower blocks, which they wanted reduced to 125 feet. The Estate saw the towers as essential to the scheme and planning permission was refused, a decision upheld by a public inquiry in 1967. (fn. 70) In the meantime the introduction of the Leasehold Reform Act, 1967, which allowed certain lessees to buy the freehold of their premises, also helped to undermine the Estate's plans. The freehold of the north side of Tedworth Square and the southern end of St Leonard's Terrace was eventually sold and redeveloped by an outside company. (fn. 71) However, the Estate did receive planning permission in 1971-2 to redevelop the Christchurch Street and Tedworth Square area, and in 1974 began demolishing houses there, but were stopped by preservation orders on listed buildings at nos 26-52 and 60-76 Christchurch Street. The Estate and local residents were deeply divided over the need for redevelopment: the Estate thought the houses incapable of being brought up to modern standards at economic cost, and wanted to replace them with luxury modern town houses; in the House of Lords Lord Cadogan described the terrace as 'nasty cheap little houses that were built a long time ago'. Conservationists, however, claimed that the Georgian terrace in Christchurch Street was the only example of that particular type left in London. (fn. 72)

Two public inquiries were needed over a plan to build a car park under the north garden of Cadogan Place, which was eventually built in 1968 for 349 cars. In the early 1970s two major buildings went up on the Estate in Sloane Street: the Danish Embassy at no. 55, by Arne Jacobsen, 1972-7, and the Chelsea Hotel, in 1974, but the property market crash halted any further major development for a number of years, efforts being confined to converting and updating old buildings, particularly in Culford Gardens, Lower Sloane Street, and Sloane Gardens where the late Victorian leases were expiring. (fn. 73)

With the slump in the property market in the mid 1970s, another problem arose as rebuilding stalled and landmark buildings became neglected. In 1976 the 6-year campaign to save from dereliction the Pheasantry in King's Road, once patronized as an arts club by Augustus John and Annigoni, reached a peak. The leaseholder (Devereaux Land (King's Road) Ltd) promised they would restore the listed building the following year after finishing the redevelopment programme around it. A campaign was mounted by the Friends of the Pheasantry, under the patronage of Sir John Betjeman, who wanted the building restored with residential studios, an art gallery, and exhibition space; the surrounding site had been demolished c. 2 years before, and the Friends wanted the whole area as a garden. (fn. 74) They were not successful in preventing the adjoining development, but the front and gateway of the Pheasantry survived, heavily restored, as part of the rebuilding of 1971-81, forming a restaurant hemmed in by shops and offices. (fn. 75)

The issue of large public buildings in Chelsea was also one which surfaced again in the 1970s. Opposition had prevented the destruction of much of Sydney Street for a school in the 1950s, but was unable to prevent the expansion of what became the Royal Brompton hospital. In 1979 the GLC's historic buildings committee expressed regret at the proposed demolition of six houses in Sydney Street for a scheme for the National Heart and Chest hospital, which it felt was out of scale with the early Victorian houses. (fn. 76) At St Stephen's hospital in Fulham Road, the buildings of the former St George's Union workhouse were replaced by a three-storeyed out-patient department in 1965, but St Stephen's subsequently closed and was demolished to make way for a new building uniting four other hospitals as the Chelsea and Westminster hospital in 1993. (fn. 77) By 2000 the hospital buildings had expanded to include the east side of Netherton Grove.

Development from the 1980s

In the early 1980s the redevelopment increased again, with completion of the Pheasantry site in King's Road, Anchor House in Britten Street providing offices, and the Waitrose supermarket in King's Road. (fn. 89) Redevelopment of residential flats for the first of the Holland houses in the southern terrace of Cadogan Place was pending in 1986, retaining the original façades. (fn. 90) The pressure to rebuild was constantly being felt as leases fell in. In 1989 great opposition was aroused to plans to redevelop a block of assorted Victorian buildings at nos 242-77 King's Road, facing the open south side of Carlyle Square, and viewed as typical old Chelsea. The landlords, the Church Commissioners, originally owned most of area, formerly part of the glebe, and over the years had sold off houses in the side streets, but had granted leases in this block to end in 1990, which would allow redevelopment of whole site extending up to Old Church Street. It was intended to replace the buildings with shops onto King's Road, a covered market at the back, a pedestrianized area, and a terrace of town houses at the rear overlooking the old rectory garden, in a style described as 'objector-proof banal'. The successful opposition was led by Old Chelsea Residents Committee, which expressed deep anger because of the threat to old shops which were part of Chelsea life, including the artists' materials shop of Green & Stone at no. 259, founded in 1927. (fn. 91)

In the late 1980s the property market in Chelsea saw a demand for high-quality modernized properties; whereas five years previously Chelsea still had some scruffy streets, prices were now booming to reflect the depth of the facelift, and exceeded a million pounds for exceptional examples: Chelsea Park Gardens (£1 M), Upper Cheyne Row (£1.75 M), and Cheyne Walk, a house of 1711 (c. £1.8 M). Infilling took place in former commercial yards and other spaces: in Charles II Place off King's Road between Radnor Walk and Smith Street, a developer built 52 new town houses around a courtyard in 1989. (fn. 92) In 1985 the plans were announced for a residential, commercial, and leisure development on derelict land on the west side of Chelsea Creek. (fn. 93) Though in Fulham, the choice of Chelsea Harbour as its name was obviously intended to link it with the more fashionable and expensive area to the east.

Another sharp increase in house prices from the late 1990s again encouraged developers to squeeze more properties into Chelsea: in 2001 Ranelagh House in Elystan Place was extended to add 11 modern flats on a slim triangle of land, the cheapest one-bedroom flat selling for £450,000. (fn. 94) Those who wanted modern minimalism in the historic listed buildings of Chelsea had to seek a more radical approach. The owner of the listed no. 11 Cheyne Walk, rebuilt in the 1880s but in a badly neglected state in 1999, after buying the leasehold also bought the freehold from the Cadogan Estate. The exterior was repaired and the interior was designed by Ivana Porfiri, who managed to retain the period fittings - cornices, arches and staircase - by building inside the original building: suspended false ceilings and new walls could be removed in days if necessary. The bathrooms in opaque ultra-white glass and stainless steel were allowed by English Heritage as a mark of their time; the work took 3 years to complete. As the owner was then moving abroad the house was on the market in 2002 at £9.5 M. (fn. 95) The rise in property value had its benefits for old Chelsea too, however. The Old Church's vicarage and Petyt Hall were rebuilt c.2002 to designs by John Simpson to include space for a fine neo 18th-century town house, the sale of which paid for the rebuilding.


By the early 1970s the new borough council had created a number of conservation areas under the Civic Amenities Act of 1967, which allowed planning departments to consider the townscapes when developments were proposed, and gave local groups a positive role in changes. Between 1969 and 1971 eight areas were designated, covering about half of Chelsea, extended and redefined during the next two decades, so much was there worthy of preservation. By the mid 1980s the areas were Cheyne; Hans Town; Chelsea, which included three of the original areas and some additional streets; Chelsea Park/Carlyle, which included Elm Park; Sloane Square; Royal Hospital; and Thames, an area designated in 1981 to cover the whole river frontage and features such as the houseboats at the western end. (fn. 96)


After the Second World War a small social group known as the Chelsea Set filled the gossip-columns with their parties and other doings: socially well-connected but willing to include talented middle- and working-class members, they included writers and artists, and apparently had a penchant for opening little restaurants with 'an ambiance of that particular cosy if slightly self-congratulatory intimacy'. In 1955 two of them, Mary Quant and her husband Alexander Plunket Greene, with their partner Archie McNair opened a boutique at the corner of Markham Square called Bazaar with a restaurant below called Alexander's, where Quant sold clothes which expressed rebellion against the adult establishment as well as membership of a social élite, and 'allowed girls to stop dressing like their mothers', a major contribution to the youth culture which emerged in the 1960s. (fn. 97) Quant's popularization of a fashion which depended solely on being different from the older generation, rather than being very expensive, allowed the increasing numbers of young working people with disposable income to participate and to generate a demand for shops to meet their needs. King's Road naturally became a focus for the new boutiques which sprang up everywhere, and also became a centre for socializing and leisure among the young and fashionconscious. By the early 1970s King's Road was a mix of old and new shops, some good, some tatty, antique shops and junk shops, and many cafés, bistros, coffee houses, steakhouses, restaurants of many nationalities, and delicatessens; crowds promenaded along King's Road, some wearing outrageous costumes, to see and be seen. It brought an increase in crime, drunkenness, and drug addiction, with vandalism by hooligans on Saturday nights. (fn. 98)

Figure 43:

Mary Quant's boutique Bazaar, no. 138A King's Road

Chelsea Drug Store, on the corner of Royal Avenue, was one of the leading venues in King's Road, with a bar, restaurant, discotheque, and boutiques, attracting young people from all over London. Residents of Royal Avenue formed an association to protest at 'rubbish, noise, and hippies' and eventually Royal Avenue was closed at the King's Road end: (fn. 99) led by the film director, Joseph Losey, they demanded that the council improve amenities for Royal Avenue or they would withhold rates. They complained that people were sleeping on benches under the trees or eating and sleeping in a mini-bus parked on the pavement 24 hours a day; and that commercial interests had turned the avenue into a 'hippies' haven'. (fn. 100)

Chelsea continued to enjoy its split personality, however. Though the King's Road brought fame and fashion, it was fashion in its popular sense. The eastern fringe of Chelsea between Knightsbridge and Sloane Square continued to be a centre for more conservative wealth. In the course of the 1970s the term 'Sloane Ranger' was coined to characterize a type of upper-class, fashionable but conservative young woman in London, and was subsequently extended elliptically as 'Sloane' to men, inanimate objects, and a life-style. (fn. 101)

Ultimately it was the old-fashioned type of fashion which survived in Chelsea. As fashion and retailing changed towards the end of the 20th century, Chelsea lost its place at the cutting edge of youthful fashion, and instead provided fashionable clothes and furnishings for the well off. (fn. 102) Chelsea still attracted many visitors, often nostalgically in search of the scenes of the Sixties or of its older artistic connections, but both its pop and its bohemian pasts had been largely smartened away.


  • 1. Borer, Two Villages, 237.
  • 2. Loobey, Chelsea, 35.
  • 3. Chelsea Soc. Rep. (1959), 11-13.
  • 4. Clunn, London Marches On, 135, 137-8.
  • 5. J.H. Forshaw & P. Abercrombie, County of London Plan (1943), 20, 28.
  • 6. LCC, London Statistics, NS, III (1947-56), 106-7, 110.
  • 7. The Times, 8 Aug. 1946.
  • 8. Ibid., 4 May 1949; Clunn, London Marches On, 137-8.
  • 9. The Times, 25 Sept. 1946.
  • 10. KL, deed 27746.
  • 11. e.g. KL, deeds 27530, 27726-36, 28091-113, 29128-223.
  • 12. KL, deed 27710.
  • 13. KL, deeds 41719-25.
  • 14. Chelsea Soc. Rep. (1962), 15-19.
  • 15. The Times, 8 Dec. 1952; below, artists and Chelsea.
  • 16. Pevsner, London NW. 586.
  • 17. e.g. The Times, 28, 30 March 1972.
  • 18. Ibid., 26 April 1978.
  • 19. Sunday Times, 9 July 1978.
  • 20. KL, deeds 34784, 34786.
  • 21. CL, deeds 18514, 18518.
  • 22. Guildhall MS 16806.
  • 23. The Times, 12, 15, 19, 25 Feb., 7 March 1949; 28 June 1958.
  • 24. S.L. Elkin, Politics and Land Use Planning: the London Experience (1974), 33.
  • 25. Chelsea Soc. Rep. (1955), 32-4.
  • 26. Elkin, Politics and Land Use Planning, 33.
  • 27. The Times, 1 Nov. 1951.
  • 28. Section based on Elkin, Politics and Land Use Planning, Chap. 3, World's End.
  • 29. Elkin, Politics and Land Use Planning, 35.
  • 30. Ibid., 32.
  • 31. The Times, 10 Oct. 1963.
  • 32. Ibid., 2 Oct. 1964.
  • 33. Ibid., 18 Aug. 1965.
  • 34. CL, Chelsea cuttings: World's End Housing scheme 1963-7 (Daily Telegraph, 22 May 1967); World's End, Misc. (Chelsea Post 25 April 1969; Chelsea News 13 Sep. 1974); see Plate 1.
  • 35. The Times, 5 April 1983.
  • 36. Pevsner, London NW. 584.
  • 37. KL, deeds 26375-6; The Times, 2 May 1952, 31 March 1960.
  • 38. Inf. via websites from Guinness Trust (; William Sutton Trust, (; Peabody trust (
  • 39. Chelsea Soc. Rep. (1952), 18.
  • 40. Ibid. (1954), 17.
  • 41. Ibid. (1953), 25-6; (1955), 21-2.
  • 42. Below (Chelsea and fashion).
  • 43. The Times, 7 Dec. 1959; Chelsea Soc. Rep. (1959), 20-1, 31, 35-40.
  • 44. Chelsea Soc. Rep. (1959), 64; (1960), 18-19.
  • 45. The Times, 26 March 1946.
  • 46. Ibid., 3 April 1946.
  • 47. The Times, 20 Sep. 1960.
  • 48. Ibid., 12, 15 Dec. 1960, 28 Sep. 1961.
  • 49. Ibid., 4 Aug. 1962.
  • 50. Ibid., 13, 14 July 1964.
  • 51. Ibid., 30 Sep., 10 Oct. 1964.
  • 52. Ibid., 1 Feb. 1964.
  • 53. Borer, Two Villages, 258.
  • 54. The Times, 2 Aug. 1968, 23 March, 26 May, 9 Nov. 1971.
  • 55. Ibid., 10 Aug. 1972, 5, 6 April 1973.
  • 56. Ibid., 1 May 1974.
  • 57. Ibid., 7 June 1984.
  • 58. Sunday Times, 13 April 1986; see Fig. 33.
  • 59. Notice at Chelsea Cloisters.
  • 60. The Times, 25, 31 May 1961.
  • 61. Ibid., 2 Oct. 1961.
  • 62. Borer, Two Villages, p. x.
  • 63. Ibid., 244-5.
  • 64. Chelsea Soc. Rep. (1959), 14-20.
  • 65. Ibid. (1960), 45-9; Pevsner, London NW. 582; see Fig. 42.
  • 66. Pearman, Cadogan Est. 117.
  • 67. The Times, 25 July 1962.
  • 68. Ibid., 18 June 1965 (photo).
  • 69. Bignell, Chelsea 1860-1980, 57; Loobey, Chelsea, 27.
  • 70. The Times, 12 March 1965; Pearman, Cadogan Est. 119-22.
  • 71. Pearman, Cadogan Est. 121-2.
  • 72. The Times, 24, 25, 31 July 1974.
  • 73. Pevsner, London NW. 581; Pearman, Cadogan Est. 122.
  • 74. The Times, 17 Jan. 1974 (photo.).
  • 75. Pevsner, London NW. 583.
  • 76. Daily Telegraph, 28 Sep. 1979; similar to hos in Fig. 22.
  • 77. Below, Loc. Govt, pub. svces (medical).
  • 78. The Times, 25 July 1962.
  • 79. Ibid., 18 June 1965 (photo).
  • 80. Bignell, Chelsea 1860-1980, 57; Loobey, Chelsea, 27.
  • 81. The Times, 12 March 1965; Pearman, Cadogan Est. 119-22.
  • 82. Pearman, Cadogan Est. 121-2.
  • 83. The Times, 24, 25, 31 July 1974.
  • 84. Pevsner, London NW. 581; Pearman, Cadogan Est. 122.
  • 85. The Times, 17 Jan. 1974 (photo.).
  • 86. Pevsner, London NW. 583.
  • 87. Daily Telegraph, 28 Sep. 1979; similar to hos in Fig. 22.
  • 88. Below, Loc. Govt, pub. svces (medical).
  • 89. Pearman, Cadogan Est. 122.
  • 90. Ibid., 123.
  • 91. Sunday Times Mag. 9 April 1989.
  • 92. The Times, 7 June 1989.
  • 93. Ibid., 16 Aug. 1985.
  • 94. Financial Times, 28 April 2001.
  • 95. Ibid., 27/28 April 2002.
  • 96. RBKC, Conservation Area Proposals Statements for Cheyne [1983]; Thames [1983]; Royal Hospital [1984]; Chelsea [1986]; Sloane Square (1991); Chelsea Park/Carlyle (1992).
  • 97. G. Melly, Revolt into Style (1989 edn), 163-5; K. McIntyre, 'The Most "In" Shops for Gear', in Twentieth Century Architecture 6: The Sixties, ed. E. Harwood and A. Powell (2002), 38; below, Econ., trade (retail); Fig. 43.
  • 98. Borer, Two Villages, 253-4.
  • 99. Ibid., 251-2.
  • 100. The Times, 7 Nov. 1969.
  • 101. OED.
  • 102. Below, Econ. Hist., trade (retail).