Saturday 26 May 2012

Cheyne Walk Chelsea. A Very Very Special London Street.

Cheyne Walk seen from The Thames in the 1890's

In the late 1950’s , probably about 1958 when I was six years old, an aged great aunt called Kate,came to visit my grandmother and my great grandmother in Southampton. My great grandmother, Susy, was Kate’s sister .  Great Aunt Kate was a very unusual character. I remember her wearing a long black dress down to her ankles, very Edwardian, and an elaborate wide brimmed straw hat. She seemed stern and didn’t smile much. Susy and Kate had been born in Ireland in County Limerick. Both had come to England for different reasons. Susy married William McGinn and came with him to England in his search for work in the shipyards of Newcastle upon Tyne. Kate came to England, a spinster, which she remained all her life, to work for one of the illustrious political families of this country, the Chamberlains. They were very wealthy and owned estates all over the country but politics ran through their blood. Neville Chamberlain was the Prime Minister at the outbreak of the Second World War. He negotiated with Hitler and obtained the Munich Agreement but this came to nothing. Churchill took over from him soon after.
The different branches of the Chamberlain family had many children and Kate was employed as a nanny for some of the children. One of their London Houses was a house in Cheyne Walk. When I met Great Aunt Kate, she was retired as the nanny to the Chamberlains, but over the years, working for them she had developed a very good relationship with the family. They gave her a flat at the top of their Cheyne Walk house for her to live in for the rest of her life. They looked after her, giving her presents and treating her as one of their own. My grandmother used to a stay with Aunt Kate. At that young age of six I remember my grandmother telling me how she used to go shopping with Kate in the Kings Road just north of Cheyne Walk,which sounded very grand. She also spoke of a neighbour of Aunt Kate’s being an artist. My grandmother never remembered the artists name but she told me how he would paint his wife in the nude. This was very exciting news to a six year old. My grandmother told me that it was fine. She believed there was nothing wrong with the human body and it could be quite beautiful.

So Cheyne Walk always had this sense of a world that was different, strange and exotic, inhabited by my Great Aunt Kate and artists painting nude portraits. It was not until years later I discovered the true and even more exotic story of Cheyne Walk.

Cheyne Walk is named after the Cheyne family who owned an estate on the site  and were lords of the manor of Chelsea from 1660 to 1712. The first Georgian houses to be built in the walk were a row of beautiful Queen Anne houses  some of which remain today. However even before the Cheynes the site of Cheyne Walk had it’s place in history. The home of the great Tudor chancellor under Henry VIII, Thomas More,was here. He lived in Chelsea with his extensive family. It was from the river side opposite Cheyne Walk that More was taken by boat to the Tower of London and his execution on Tower Hill. On the site of More’s great house, in Beaufort Street, there is now the Catholic seminary for the diocese of Westminster  called Allen Hall. It has a modern 1960’s designed chapel next door to it. Just round the corner, in Cheyne Walk is a magnificent, coloured statue of Thomas More positioned in front of Old Church.
Allen Hall. The seminary on the site of Thomas More's house.
As you walk along Cheyne Walk it soon becomes apparent how special  this street really is. If you start at the beginning, in the Royal Hospital Road near the Albert Bridge with those fine early Queen Anne Houses; at number 3 Sir John Goss (1800-1880), composer and organist at St Pauls Cathedral lived there. Also Admiral Henry Smythe, who co-founded the Royal Geographical Society lived in the same house at a different period. At number 4 George Elliot spent the last years of her life and  died there on 22nd December 1880.In the same house lived at different times, William Dyce a Scottish artist who set up public art education in Britain and he headed the Royal College of Art. Daniel Maclise, friend of Charles Dickens , and a great Victorian artist lived at number 4 too. The most famous occupant of number 5 was John Camden Neild a very wealthy recluse and miser. When he died he left his considerable fortune to Queen Victoria.
At number 6, in 1767 lived Dr Domicetti. He spent £37,000 on building brick and wooden structures in the garden. They were what were termed, medicated baths. He treated thousands of people in his garden. At number 10 Cheyne Walk lived the great Welsh liberal politician Lloyd George, prime Minister during the First World War. Number 16 was designed by John Witt. In 1862 Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Algernon Swinburne and George Meredith shared the lease. Rosetti kept a small zoo in the garden, the main feature of which were some peacocks. These were very noisy birds and disturbed the neighbours. Eventually a clause was added to the lease of the house whereby noisy exotic birds were not permitted. It was here at number 16 between 1871 ans 1881 that the Pre Raphaelite brotherhood often met. They all had houses in the area. Cheyne Walk and especially Cremorne Gardens at the far end of Cheyne Walk were a source for obtaining Pre Raphaelite women to be used as artists models. Holman Hunt met Annie Miller and Fanny Waugh, who he both married, at different times of course, in the area of Cheyne Walk. Dante Gabriel Rosetti wooed Jane Morris who was married to William Morris.

Jane Morris ( National Portarit Gallery, Creative Commons Licence)

They were local girls, servants, shopkeepers daughters or perhaps prostitutes met in Cremorne Gardens. The Pre-Raphaelite look was born. Jane Morris, Lizzie Sydal. Christina Rossetti, Alexa Wilding, Fanny Cornforth, Marie Zambaca, Marie Stillman, marriages, divorces, affairs, illegitimate children, wife swapping, prostitutes, it all went on and paintings of the most gorgeous women were painted.
All the great and innovative poets, artists and writers of the time met here at number 16. Charles Dickens disapproved.
Dante Gabriel Rosetti lived here.
Now, if you can pull yourself away from the allure of number 16, at number 17 lived, for a while, Thomas Attwood who was a pupil of Mozart’s and was a composer and another organist at St Pauls Cathedral in 1796. At number 18 was Don Saltero’s Coffee House established first in 1695. At number 18 lived James Salter who was the barber and servant of Sir John Sloane.
Carlysle Mansions where Henry James died.
Further along is a relatively new block of flats built in the Edwardian period. Henry James had an apartment here and died in his flat there. T.S. Eliot and later Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond books both had apartments in the block. Next door to Carlyle Mansions is Cheyne Hospital for Children built in 1880.

Chelsea Old Church built in 1157 comes next. The chapel to the south side was built in 1528 and was the private chapel of Thomas More. There is a gaudy painted statue of Thomas More outside of it.
Thomas More outside Chelsea Old Church
 On the pavement opposite is a very elaborate street light. It is green in colour and has two little boys climbing up the light column. It commemorates the building of Chelsea Embankment by the engineer Joseph Bazalgette.
Two little boys climbing a lamppost to commemorate Bazalgettes Chelsea Embankment.
One of Whistlers sketches of the Thames shows Old Battersea Bridge with Chelsea Old Church in the background.

James Whistler's Old Battersea Bridge with Chelsea old Church in the background.

Beyond Chelsea Old Church is Roper Gardens named after a son in-law of Thomas More and then Crosby Hall stands on the corner of Danvers Street. Crosby Hall was originally the hall belonging to Crosby Place situated in Bishopsgate in the city. It was built in the 15th century for The Duke of Gloucester who became Richard III. Shakespeare includes the hall in a scene in his play Richard III where Gloucester is plotting. It was later owned by Thomas More. In 1910 it was in danger of being demolished and a fund was raised to have it moved, brick by brick, stone by stone to Chelsea and is now positioned on the site of an orchard that was in the grounds of what was Thomas More’s estate. In Chelsea it first became the dining hall of the British Federation of University Women. It is now a private residence.

Moving on down from Crosby Hall is number 93 where Elizabeth Gaskell was born on the 29th September 1810. She wrote Cranford and North and South and was famous for her biography of  Charlotte Bronte.
Elizabeth Gaskell was born here.
Numbers 96 to 100 were known as Lindsey house  where James Abbott McNeil Whistler lived between 1866 and 1878. He was an American who settled in England and painted  very atmospheric paintings almost impressionist in their influence. He coined the phrase, “art for arts sake.” He is also renowned as a friend of Walter Sickert, the artist, who was a possible suspect for Jack the Ripper. James Whistler was  an influence on many artists of his generation. Number 98 was once the home of father and son Sir Marc Brunel and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunell. Two of the greatest and most famous engineers of the Victorian period. Isambard Kingdom Brunell constructed The Great Western Railway from Paddington to Bristol, and the steam ship, The Great Eastern.

At number 101 James Whistler lived when he first arrived in London before moving to 96. Hilaire Beloc lived at 104 between 1901 and 1905.He was a catholic and one of , “the big four,” along with  GK Chesterton, H G Wells and George Bernard Shaw.
Hillaire Beloc lived here.
 Philip Wilson Steer, the great artist lived at 109 between 1898 and 1942. J M W Turner lived at 119. Because he was so famous in his lifetime he went by the surname Booth to try and keep his anonymity.
Philip Wilson Steer lived here.
 At number 120, near the end of Cheyne Walk, lived Sylvia Pankhurst, one of the leaders of the Suffragette movement. Her mother Emmiline and her two sisters, Christabel and Adela were  intelligent and brilliant and provided a strong advocacy for women’s rights. Their influence was felt in America, Australia and even in Ethiopia.
The house Sylvia Pankhurst lived in.
At the end of Cheyne Walk is what remains of Cremorne Gardens. James McNeil Whistler painted  many nocturnal pictures depicting Cremorne Gardens. It was a regular haunt of the Pre Raphaelite brotherhood and some of their artists models were first discovered in Cremorne Gardens. The gardens were set up as a rival to Vauxhall Gardens situated on the opposite side of the Thames, on The South Bank, but never became as popular.
The entrance to what is left of Cremorne Gardens today.
More recently Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have lived in Cheyne Walk. Jane Asher, an erstwhile girlfriend of Paul McCartney lived in the street and arguably one of the most talented and flawed footballers ever, George Best, lived there too. Dylan Thomas is known to have drunk in The kings Head and Eight Bells, two pubs nearby.There are many houseboats on the Thames beside Cheney Walk. Artists and musicians live on these too.
House boats beside Cheney Walk
The Chelsea Physic Garden is also close by in Royal Hospital Road which abuts one end of Cheney Walk It was founded in 1673 by the Society of Apothecaries. It's purpose was to train apprentices in recognising flowers and their properties. It was positioned near The Thames at Chelsea because it was found that there was a microclimate there that enabled plants, not native to Britain, to prosper.

Friday 25 May 2012

If only we ALL had critics like these.

A glass of wine in hand, reading the Guardian Newspaper on a Friday evening, Bob Marley on the sound system telling me, "don't worry about a thing, because every little thing goin to be alright.." and I come across, amongst all the Leveson Inquiry stuff into the machinations of the Murdoch empire trying and now wonderfully failing to take over the world  and all the European Financial melt down and the laughably humiliating actions of the government being forced, screaming, into a plan B whereby they will  bloody well have to inject money into the economy to kick start it, I come across the most hilarious article I have read in years. The writers and novelists amongst you beware.

Poor old Joe Simpson, a hardy individual who has faced death in both the Andes and the Himalayas and lived to write about his experiences in awe inspiring and inspirational and beautifully written English has obviously survived much. His books were chosen as books to be studied by adolescents in secondary schools and deemed as appropriate literature to be studied for GCSE exams.
Joe Simpson
Joe  Simpson
Enter the world of Twitter. Joe , for him, unfortunately has a Twitter account and many of the teenagers reading and analysing his books have accessed his twitter account.Some choice erudite and incisive comments  such as calling Joe  a  "crevasse wanker," and generally rubbishing his achievements has a elicited a response from Joe, who you may gather is not one to  sulk.

Another erudite commentator told him,"bet I  know more about how you put tension in the first chapter than you do."

"I just write the shit." came the response.. Ha!!! bloody Ha!!!

And yet another perceptive commentator wrote,

"Your book is shit and you should feel bad.Three chapters of crawling didn't inspire me to write about your book in my exam.It was rather boring really."

 The teenagers up front criticism of his books provoked this all encompassing comment.

"Goodnight... and may you all seethe in bilious acid pus."

Yes, well, lovely, quite.

But shouldn't all authors be open to frank and heartfelt analysis of their works? Honesty after all is an admirable quality.

I have attached the article in question, for your perusal and delight.

(The on-line Guardian article written by Sam Jones)

To all those ego massaging sensitive writers of Jane Austen spin offs who think they are wonderful and marvellous and are living in a TV sit com or Hollywood version of their own  lives, merely filling their time, with  nothings that will only be flushed down the toilet of time. All you are doing is  merely feeding similar bored  people with blank imaginations and nil creativity. Hopeless, hopeless. 

God, criticism is great!

Just as an after thought. Who can influence and inspire the youth of today?
Surely we can't leave that  one up to parents too?

Friday 18 May 2012


On Monday, Marilyn my wife, and I were in Twinings on The Strand and just happened to be having a cup of tea with Mary Simonsen, her husband Paul and daughter Kate.
Kate and Paul in Twinings supping a nice cuppa!!!!!!
 Kate, that is Earl Grey isn't it? 
Sorry, perhaps I am being a little presumptious in revealing your tea tastes, Kate. Sorry!

Paul, Kate and Mary outside of Twinings.

Here is a link to TWININGS website. A good cup of tea sets you up for the day, aaaagh!!!!!!

And here is the latest TWININGS advert with Lizzie, an American singer featured.

Also have a look at a post I wrote called, A cup of tea with Jane Austen.

Saturday 12 May 2012

IN THE MOOD FOR THE 70'S!!! Oh yes!!!!!!!

Close your eyes and let this little lot do it for you!!!!!

Feel the sound!!!!!!!!

Ah that's better. I can get on with the day now.

Tuesday 8 May 2012


Grandstands at Epsom.

The Epsom Derby is the most famous horse race in the world and is run on Epsom Downs just outside the town of Epsom. It was founded in1779 by the 12th Earl of Derby who gave his name to the race. It is Britains richest horse race and is a mile and a half.

I went up onto Epsom Downs today to take my daughter, Emily for a job interview at the race course. She is doing a degree in International Events Management at Cardiff University. Working at the Derby, this Summer will give her valuable work experience and enable her to earn some money and not have to ask me for any. Ahem!

The finishing post and the oldest building still in existence at the Derby. A grandstand built in 1879.

While she was in the interview I took the opportunity to take some pictures of the race course.
A grandstand at Epsom.

The Epsom Derby has inspired horse races around the world including the Irish Derby, The Australian Derby, The New Zealand Derby, the Tokyo Yushi, The French Derby and The Kentucky Derby.

The famous Tattenham Corner where Emily Davidson died.

The Queen and the Royal Family attend Epsom Derby every year.

Epsom Grandstand has a corner in the history of cooking, Some might say rather an important corner of cooking history.

Isabella Mary Beeton, was born on the 12th march 1836 and she has become known world wide as Mrs  Beeton. Her father was Henry Dorling, clerk of Epsom Racecourse. He was a widower with four children and they lived in the grandstand at Epsom.
Isabella Beeton

Isabella married Samuel Beeton and they were married in St Marys Parish Church Epsom. Her husband was a publisher. Mrs Beeton wrote and published The Book of Household Management.It was a book  about housekeeping but also about cooking.The book comprised  1,112 pages and 900 of the pages contained recipes. The book was intended as a source of information for the aspiring middle classes.
Book of Household Management.

Mrs Beeton died early of puerperal fever at the age of 28. There is evidence that both her husband and herself contracted syphilis.

Some historic pictures of the Derby over the years.

This painting was painted by William Powell Frith in 1858.

Emily Davidson, the suffragette threw herself under the Kings horse in 1913 at Tattenham Corner.

The finish to the Derby in 1822.

Saturday 5 May 2012

Bloody Politics And The World of The Gutter

Good old Dave!!!!!!!!!!

Bloody Politics  And The World of The Gutter

Here in Britain for months and really years now; no, let me start again,  for ever, if the truth be honestly admitted to, we have been a nation full of angst for our situation and various predicaments. We are a nation that has always been in turmoil.

Our present anguished view of our politicians and our country just seems to be at a rather high level of neurosis, and navel gazing at this moment in time.

Let me describe the situation to you. We have had the collapse of our banks and financial structures. Austerity measures are biting. They are biting hard enough to be killing off some of the things we have grown to accept  such as final salary pensions, affordable mortgages and a good return on invested money through the banks. We still have a health service which provides us with what we need, but for how much longer? We have an education system, which is now struggling to give us a world beating education. The BBC has even had its cuts for goodness sake and our local libraries are fighting to stay open. At least our bins are being emptied regularly and the holes in the road are being filled, even if the process takes a little longer than it used to. Billions are being cut from services of all kind in various rounds of cuts. Every month brings new cuts and austerity measures. Cutting is necessary when we are trying to pay off debts but cuts destroy and can damage many things irrecoverably. We need growth and innovation and investment in the right places. That is absolutely vital to our recovery and health as a nation. Now I am not stupid enough to realise that we are not as bad as some and in some ways we can be thankful. Compared to some countries we are pretty Hunky Dori. However we have a large proportion of a generation of youngsters who are going to know nothing but unemployment, probably for the rest of their lives because they are not getting the work experience they need to develop and become confident and talented workers. The cost of living is rising while wages are stagnant. People are cutting down on holidays, not buying that new car, and shopping for own brand foods. There is a healthy future for us but how long that will take to achieve is far from sure.

But it is another cause of angst that is really worrying me at the moment possibly even more than the above depressing set of worries. The Leveson Inquiry is unearthing a culture of moral ambiguities day by day in it’s exploration of phone hacking and Rupert Murdochs News International organisation. 

 Lord Justice Leveson, listening to evidence against News International at his inquiry.

It is gradually being revealed to us how close our politicians sail to the edge of what is legal.and it appears that many , most, maybe all of them, cross that line. Even our esteemed ( I use that word sarcastically) Prime Minister, David Cameron. He loved to invite Rebekah Brooks the Managing Director of News International in Britain to 10 Downing Street for drinks and parties. He socialised with her regularly. David Cameron's own personal advisor, Andy Coulson, had been one of Murdoch's rising stars no less. The fact that Tony Blair is the godfather to one of Rupert Murdoch's grandchildren, well, lets not go there. That sycophantic low life makes me squirm just thinking about him.

Apart from the phone hacking debacle and the destruction of peoples lives , ha! ha! I thought I would just throw that jolly comment in to add to the poisonous mix, Downing Street wants to apply for privileges in the Leveson inquiry. That means when Rebekah Brooks finally takes the stand at the Leveson inquiry next week, if Downing Street gets  core participant status it will be able to ask for a blackout of embarrassing material about The Prime Minister. Well, that points to the fact that there must be embarrassing evidence to  emerge relating to The Prime Minister. Where the f… is open  and honest government in all that? Jeeez!! The mere thought that The Prime Minister and the government are feeling embarrassed and want to protect themselves, even now, makes me so angry. If Cameron has been a fool he should go. Damn him.

There is this feeling now that politicians make up their minds as to what they want before any fair and legal process takes place. I think this government were going to give Rupert Murdoch a majority share in BSKYB before any inquiry into the fairness of that situation. They wanted Murdoch to back them in the next general election and they were prepared to give him the world to gain that. Bloody greed!!!!They manoeuvre, tell half truths, bend the truth, interpret words, phrases and statements  even though the rest of us thought what was written and said meant something different. The whole thing comes down to semantics, twisting of words and meanings to suit, the government. Free and open discussion and dialogue only happens superficially it seems. This is corruption surely? So blatantly, clearly and in full view of us all they want core participant status at the Leveson inquiry at this last moment. I would cry if I wasn’t laughing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We have a politics where people try to get away with as much as they can and then leave it up to lawyers to sort out the fine details of whether they are allowed to do it. Where is good honest morality in all this? In fact what is moral? I’m morally confused now. What is right and wrong? I don’t think I know anymore. Morality is based on a fine interpretation of the law and by applying different emphasise lawyers can make immorality moral and morality immoral. What a world we live in, well, in Britain anyway.

 How is it for you??

PS Oh by the way this week, Jay Rockefeller( Ah! I see you also have an aristocracy. and they run  your country too.) , the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, has written to Lord Justice Leveson asking him if he has found any evidence relating to questionable practices in the US.

Ha! Ha! I bet you lot can't wait for the murky depths that are going to be plumbed on your side of the Atlantc. In the inimitable words of Sergeant Phil Esterhaus in Hill Street Blues. "Hey! lets be careful out there!!"

PPS AND talking about semantics.Tony Blair got us into Iraq on a promise to George Bush that we would invade Irag with the US. He then had to get it approved legally and officially in Britain. So it went through all the supposedly fair and legal processes but at every step it was decided on an interpretation of the law. Semantics, twisting meanings!!!

Can you tell I'm beginning to feel angry. I think I'll just leave off this post now. I might think of something else to write!!!!!!!