You know there’s a lot more to Chelsea than a football team and a reality tv show. To be honest, I’m not hugely keen on either of those.
But I’ve fallen in love with Chelsea, it is just so cool.
Sloane Square and the King’s Road are still so vibrant – although I do wish I had been old enough to appreciate it in the 1960s and 70s when the King’s Road really was the epitome of cool.
Chelsea’s history goes back a lot further than that though. There was the Anglo Saxon settlement, a few Romans, medieval lords and a few kings along the way. The fountain these two are sitting in front of features images of Charles II and his mistress Nell Gwyn.
Sloane Square fountain
The King’s Road is named for these two. It was once a private road. King Charles lived at one end, the lovely Nell at the other. The road was built so he could gallop along it in private to see his lover.
The road really became famous in the 50s, 60s and 70s. In the late 1950s, Mary Quant opened her shop here and the King’s Road became eponymous with fashion, music and coolness. Mary created the mini skirt, hotpants, and huge great spidery eyelashes.
There is still a Mary Quant shop here, only now it is in the rejuvenated Duke of York Square.
This is the recording studio where the Beatles created the album cover for Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Just around the corner is a house formerly owned by Eric Clapton and probably party central for many a year. Bowie lived nearby, as did Mick Jagger.
And the Sloane Square Hotel is reputedly where Paul McCartney met Jane Asher and began their relationship.
Chelsea is also home to the Royal Chelsea Hospital where the Chelsea Pensioners live.
That one’s a model, I’m really not sneaking up and surreptitiously snapping snoozing pensioners.
Around the hospital, Chelsea almost has a village feel. These two are contenders for my new home (if I had a fair few million pounds to spare that is).
Beautiful aren’t they, especially in the spring, but sadly they are megamillions and, therefore, a little outside my budget.
Now just along from the Royal Chelsea Hospital (next door in fact) is the National Army Museum. I actually didn’t know it was there. As you walk past you may miss an extraordinary piece of history because it’s just a little unobtrusive.
But this is an actual piece of the Berlin Wall, complete with original graffiti. I think it was presented to the museum because the British Army spent so long manning Checkpoint Charlie, but I’m not really sure.
And a little bit further along again was once the home of Oscar Wilde. Wilde was living here when he had an affair with the Marquess of Queensberry’s son. Old Queensberry wrote Wilde a letter that he deemed offensive so he tried to sue him for libel but the ensuing trial laid bare Wilde’s hidden life and resulted in his prosecution (and eventual jail sentence) for gross indecency with men. Bet he wished he’d left the old Marquess to rot.
Incidentally, the judge who jailed Wilde was his neighbour in this street too.
Just a little way further round the corner I found this. Now my guide for the afternoon, a lovely man called George from The Tour Hub London (where do you think I got all this information from?) wasn’t sure whether this had actually been Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s studio but thought probably not. It looks like both the studios (there are about seven of them) and the apartments around them were just named after him, having been built by Edward Holland. Chelsea Art School began life here in 1904. Anthony Devas had a studio here, as did noted Vogue fashion photographer Ronald Traeger who photographed, among others, Twiggy.
Finally, this is Hans Sloane.
Or rather, it’s a statue of him and it sits on the King’s Road, on one corner of Duke of York Square. He was a physician and a collector. You’ve probably guessed Sloane Square was named after him.
He was president of the Royal College of Physicians, President of the Royal Society (he succeeded Sir Isaac Newton) and Royal Physician to Queen Anne, George I and George II. He was the first Baronet of Chelsea and also founded the Chelsea Physic Garden. He was a collector of natural history and when he died, he bequeathed these to the nation (on condition parliament paid his executors £20,000) and they formed the beginning of the British Museum and the Natural History Museum.
Thanks Mr Sloane, you left us quite a legacy.