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Chelsea is an area of south-west London, England, bounded to the south by the River Thames, where its frontage runs from Chelsea Bridgemarker along the Chelsea Embankmentmarker, Cheyne Walkmarker, Lots Roadmarker and Chelsea Harbourmarker. Its eastern boundary was once defined by the River Westbournemarker, which is now in a pipe above Sloane Square tube stationmarker. The modern eastern boundary is Chelsea Bridge Roadmarker and the lower half of Sloane Streetmarker, including Sloane Squaremarker. To the north and northwest, the area fades into Knightsbridgemarker and South Kensingtonmarker, but it is safe to say that the area north of King's Roadmarker as far northwest as Fulham Roadmarker is part of Chelsea.

The district is now part of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelseamarker. From 1900, and until the creation of the Greater Londonmarker in 1965, it formed the Metropolitan Borough of Chelseamarker in the County of London.

Chelsea Football Club has its grounds at Stamford Bridgemarker, and so is in neighbouring Fulhammarker, not in Chelsea.


The word Chelsea means "landing place [on the river] for chalk or limestone" (Old English). Anglo-Saxon Cealc-hyð = "chalk wharf". The first record of the Manor of Chelsea precedes the Domesday Book and records the fact that Thurstan, governor of the King's Palace during the reign of Edward the Confessor, gave the land to the Abbot and Convent of Westminster. Abbot Gervace subsequently assigned the manor to his mother, and it passed into private ownership. Modern-day Chelsea was the site of the Synod of Chelsea in 787 AD. In the ancient records, it is written as Chelchith, which Norden, a writer of considerable note, derives from the Saxon words ceale or cele, meaning "coldness", and hyd, meaning "port" or "haven".

King Henry VIII acquired the manor of Chelsea from Lord Sandys in 1536; Chelsea Manor Street is still extant. Two of his wives, Catherine Parr and Anne of Cleves, lived in the Manor House; Princess Elizabeth – the future Queen Elizabeth I – was a resident; and Thomas More lived more or less next door at Beaufort House. James I established a theological college on the site of Chelsea Royal Hospitalmarker, which was later founded by Charles II.

Figure Court of Royal Hospital Chelsea

By 1694, Chelsea – always a popular location for the wealthy, and once described as "a village of palaces" – had a population of 3,000. Even so, Chelsea remained rural and served London to the east as a market garden, a trade that continued until the 19th-century development boom which caused the district to finally absorb into the metropolis. The street crossing what was known as "Little Chelsea", Park Walk, linked Fulham Road to King's Road and continued to the Thames and Local Ferry down Lover's Lane, renamed "Milmans Street" in the 18th century.

King's Road was named for Charles II, recalling the King's private road from St James's Palacemarker to Fulhammarker, which was maintained until the reign of George IV. One of the more important buildings in King's Road is Chelsea Town Hall, a fine neo-classical building containing important frescos. Part of the building contains the Chelsea Public Library. Almost opposite is the former Odeon Cinema, now Habitat, with its iconic façade which carries high upon it a large sculptured medallion of the now almost-forgotten William Friese-Greene, who claimed to have invented celluloid film and cameras before any subsequent patents.

According to Encyclopædia Britannica, "the better residential portion of Chelsea is the eastern, near Sloane Street and along the river; the western, extending north to Fulham Roadmarker, is mainly a poor quarter". This is no longer the case, although Housing trusts and Council property do remain. The areas to the west also attract very high prices.

The memorials in the churchyard of Chelsea Old Church marker, near the river, illustrate much of the history of Chelsea. These include Lord and Lady Dacre (1594–1595); Sir John Lawrence (1638); Lady Jane Cheyne (1698); Francis Thomas, "director of the china porcelain manufactory"; Sir Hans Sloane (1753); Thomas Shadwell, Poet Laureate (1692). Sir Thomas More's tomb can also be found there.

Chelsea was once famous for the manufacture of Chelsea buns (made from a long strip of sweet dough tightly coiled, with currant trapped between the layers, and topped with sugar). The area is still famous for its "Chelsea China" ware, though the works, the Chelsea porcelain factory – thought to be the first workshop to make porcelain in England – were sold in 1769, and moved to Derbymarker. Examples of the original Chelsea ware fetch high values.

The best-known building is Chelsea Royal Hospitalmarker for invalid soldiers, set up by Charles II (supposedly on the suggestion of Nell Gwynne), opened in 1694. The beautifully proportioned building by Christopher Wren stands in extensive grounds, where the Chelsea Flower show is held annually. The former Duke of York's Barracksmarker (built 1801-3) off King's Road is now part of Duke of York Square, a redevelopment including shops and cafes and the site of the weekly farmers' market. The Saatchi Gallery opened in the main building in 2008. Chelsea Barracksmarker, at the end of Lower Sloane Street, was also in use until recently, primarily by ceremonial troops of the Household Division. Situated on the Westminster side of Chelsea Bridge Road, it was bought by a property group for re-development.

Chelsea's modern reputation as a centre of innovation and influence originated in a period during the 19th century, when the area became a veritable Victorian artists' colony (see Borough of artists below). It became prominent once again as one of the centres of 1960s "Swinging London".

The borough of artists

Chelsea once had a reputation as London's bohemian quarter, the haunt of artists, radicals, painters and poets. Little of this seems to survive now – the comfortable squares off King's Road are homes to the English military establishment, investment bankers and film stars, and more recently the pop singer Kylie Minogue. The Chelsea Arts Club continues in situ; however, the Chelsea College of Art and Designmarker, originally founded in 1895 as the Chelsea School of Art, moved from Manresa Road to Pimlico in 2005.

Its reputation stems from a period in the 19th century when it became a sort of Victorian artists' colony: painters such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, J. M. W. Turner, James McNeill Whistler, William Holman Hunt, and John Singer Sargent all lived and worked here. There was a particularly large concentration of artists in the area around Cheyne Walkmarker and Cheyne Row, where the Pre-Raphaelite movement had its heart.

Chelsea was also home to writers such as George Meredith, Algernon Swinburne, Leigh Hunt, and Thomas Carlyle. Jonathan Swift lived in Church Lane, Richard Steele and Tobias Smollett in Monmouth House. Carlyle lived for 47 years at No. 5 (now 24) Cheyne Row. After his death, the house was bought and turned into a shrine and literary museum by the Carlyle Memorial Trust, a group formed by Leslie Stephen, father of Virginia Woolf. Virginia Woolf set her 1919 novel Night and Day in Chelsea, where Mrs. Hilbery has a Cheyne Walk home.

In a curious book, Bohemia in London by Arthur Ransome which is a partly fictional account of his early years in London, published in 1907 when he was 23, there are some fascinating, rather over-romanticised accounts of bohemian goings-on in the quarter. The American artist Pamela Colman Smith, the designer of A. E. Waite's Tarot card pack and a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, features as "Gypsy" in the chapter "A Chelsea Evening".

A central part of Chelsea's artistic and cultural life was Chelsea Public Library, originally situated in Manresa Road. Its longest serving member of staff was Armitage Denton, who joined in 1896 at the age of 22, and he remained there until his retirement in 1939; he was appointed Chief Librarian in 1929. The library now occupies part of the Chelsea Old Town Hall on the Kings Road.

The Chelsea Collection is a priceless anthology of prints and pictures of old Chelsea. Begun in 1887, it contains works by artists as notable and diverse as Rossetti and Whistler. During his time at the Library, Armitage Denton built the Collection assiduously, so that by the time of his death in July 1949 it numbered more than 1,000 items. At the end of the 20th century, the Collection totalled more than 5,000 works, and it continues to grow.

The Chelsea Society, formed in 1927, remains an active amenity society concerned with preserving and advising on changes in Chelsea's built environment. Chelsea Village and Chelsea Harbourmarker are new developments outside of Chelsea itself.

Swinging Chelsea

Chelsea shone again, brightly but briefly, in the 1960s Swinging London period and the early 1970s. The Swinging Sixties was defined on King's Road, which runs the length of the area, and both the Beatles and Rolling Stones members Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards lived here at one time. In the 1970s, the World's Endmarker of King's Road was home to Vivienne Westwood's boutique "SEX", and saw the birth of the British punk movement. Elvis Costello even sang "I don't want to go to Chelsea". Then Youth culture decamped: the Goths moved to the newly fashionable quarter of Camden Townmarker, while the hippies left for Notting Hillmarker.

In 2008, commentators have noted a resurgence taking place in the area with the interest taken by Princes William and Harry and numerous "new Sloane" youth in Chelsea night-life.

King's Road remains the major artery through Chelsea and a very busy road, and despite its continuing reputation as a shopping mecca, it is now home to many of the same shops found on any other UK high streets, such as Gap, Virgin Megastore, and McDonald's. Sloane Streetmarker and Knightsbridgemarker are overtaking Bond Streetmarker as London's premier shopping destinations, housing a variety of high-end fashion or jewellery like Cartier, Gucci and Graff.


Notable residents


Chelsea consists of two main postcodes (SW3 and SW10) but also includes small sections of SW1. All of Chelsea is, by definition, in the London borough of "The Royal Borough Kensington and Chelsea" (RBKC). On the eastern side RBKC meets the equally fashionable and expensive borough of the City of Westminster (COW), this meets at Lower Sloane Street where the postcode is SW1W, with one side of the road being in COW and the other in RBKC. However it does give the strange result that some of RBKC is in SW1W. The Moore Park Estate in SW6 is also considered to be part of the Fulham/Chelsea border.

The vast majority of Chelsea is SW3. The far west of Chelsea is SW10 and SW5 but due to the absence of tube coverage in large parts of the Borough, most people in SW10 use Earls Court or Fulham Broadway tube stations.

The most desirable part of Chelsea is around Sloane Squaremarker and Knightsbridgemarker tube. Around here, Chelsea meets Knightsbridgemarker. This property market attracts considerable (international) attention, and is a very complex market as it consists mainly of short leases under Earl Cadogan as freeholder. Much of Chelsea is now viewed as a "Global Ultra Prime Residential Area".

Much of Chelsea (SW3) and Knightsbridgemarker (SW1X) is still owned by Earl Cadogan, through the Cadogan Estates. Most of the property owned is in and around Cadogan Square. This has a major influence on the markets as the Earl is the freeholder and generally has no desire to sell; although changes in legislation now mean the freeholder is obliged to sell lease extensions to a leaseholder at prices which are determined by the Leasehold valuation tribunal. Lord Cadogan is generally regarded as an effective and successful property developer/landlord being responsible, together with his management team, for bringing all of the fashion labels to Sloane Streetmarker, and also forward thinking developments on his own account at Duke of York Square on Kings Roadmarker, at Peter Jonesmarker and on Sloane Streetmarker. The Cadogan Estate has a considerable portfolio of retail property throughout Chelsea but notably on Fulham Roadmarker, Kings Roadmarker, and Sloane Streetmarker including Peter Jonesmarker, Harvey Nichols, and 12 hotels including the Cadogan Hotel. The Estate maintains many of the garden squares, (to which local residents can gain access by subscribing for an annual fee – and optionally the tennis courts where applicable). The area is home to several open spaces including Albert Bridge Gardens, Battersea Bridge Gardens, Chelsea Embankment Gardens, Royal Hospital Chelseamarker: the grounds of which are used by the annual Chelsea Flower Showmarker and Chelsea Physic Gardenmarker.

Nearest places


Imperial Wharf Overground station (opened 2009)
The area is served by a number of peripheral London Underground stations:

There is a proposal to construct a Chelsea tube stationmarker as part of the Chelsea-Hackney line project, but this remains unfunded.

The Chelsea area is also served on its southern side by:


External links

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