1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Chelsea (England)

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Chelsea, a western metropolitan borough of London, England, bounded E. by the city of Westminster, N.W. by Kensington, S.W. by Fulham, and S. by the river Thames. Pop. (1901) 73,842. Its chief thoroughfare is Sloane Street, containing handsome houses and good shops, running south from Knightsbridge to Sloane Square. Hence King’s Road leads west, a wholly commercial highway, named in honour of Charles II., and recalling the king’s private road from St James’s Palace to Fulham, which was maintained until the reign of George IV. The main roads south communicate with the Victoria or Chelsea, Albert and Battersea bridges over the Thames. The beautiful Chelsea embankment, planted with trees and lined with fine houses and, in part, with public gardens, stretches between Victoria and Battersea bridges. The better residential portion of Chelsea is the eastern, near Sloane Street and along the river; the western, extending north to Fulham Road, is mainly a poor quarter.

Chelsea, especially the riverside district, abounds in historical associations. At Cealchythe a synod was held in 785. A similar name occurs in a Saxon charter of the 11th century and in Domesday; in the 16th century it is Chelcith. The later termination ey or ea was associated with the insular character of the land, and the prefix with a gravel bank (ceosol; cf. Chesil Bank, Dorsetshire) thrown up by the river; but the early suffix hythe is common in the meaning of a haven. The manor was originally in the possession of Westminster Abbey, but its history is fragmentary until Tudor times. It then came into the hands of Henry VIII, passed from him to his wife Catherine Parr, and thereafter had a succession of owners, among whom were the Howards, to whom it was granted by Queen Elizabeth, and the Cheynes, from whom it was purchased in 1712 by Sir Hans Sloane, after which it passed to the Cadogans. The memorials which crowd the picturesque church and churchyard of St Like near the river, commonly known as the Old Church, to a great extent epitomize the history of Chelsea. Such are those of Sir Thomas More (d. 1535); Lord Bray, lord of the manor (1539), his father and son; Lady Jane Guyldeford, duchess of Northumberland, who died “at her maner of Chelse” in 1555; Lord and Lady Dacre (1594–1595); Sir John Lawrence (1638); Lady Jane Cheyne (1698); Francis Thomas, “director of the china porcelain manufactory, Lawrence Street, Chelsea” (1770); Sir Hans Sloane (1753); Thomas Shadwell, poet laureate (1692); Woodfall the printer of Junius (1844), and many others. More's tomb is dated 1532, as he set it up himself, though it is doubtful whether he lies beneath it. His house was near the present Beaufort Street. In the 18th and 19th centuries Chelsea, especially the parts about the embankment and Cheyne Walk, was the home of many eminent men, particularly of writers and artists, with whom this pleasant quarter has long been in favour. Thus in the earlier part of the period named, Atterbury and Swift lived in Church Lane, Steele and Smollett in Monmouth House. Later, the names of Turner, Rossetti, Whistler, Leigh Hunt, Carlyle (whose house in Cheyne Row is preserved as a public memorial), Count D’Orsay, and Isambard Brunel, are intimately connected with Chelsea. At Lindsey House Count Zinzendorf established a Moravian Society (c. 1750). Sir Robert Walpole’s residence was extant till 1810; and till 1824 the bishops of Winchester had a palace in Cheyne Walk. Queen’s House, the home of D. G. Rossetti (when it was called Tudor House), is believed to take name from Catharine of Braganza.

Chelsea was noted at different periods for two famous places of entertainment, Ranelagh (q.v.) in the second half of the 18th century, and Cremorne Gardens (q.v.) in the middle of the 19th. Don Saltero’s museum, which formed the attraction of a popular coffee-house, was formed of curiosities from Sir Hans Sloane’s famous collections. It was Sloane who gave to the Apothecaries’ Company the ground which they had leased in 1673 for the Physick Garden, which is still extant, but ceased in 1902 to be maintained by the Company. At Chelsea Sir John Danvers (d. 1655) introduced the Italian style of gardening which was so greatly admired by Bacon and soon after became prevalent in England. Chelsea was formerly famous for a manufacture of buns; the original Chelsea bun-house, claiming royal patronage, stood until 1839, and one of its successors until 1888. The porcelain works existed for some 25 years before 1769, when they were sold and removed to Derby. Examples of the original Chelsea ware (see Ceramics) are of great value.

Of buildings and institutions the most notable is Chelsea Royal Hospital for invalid soldiers, initiated by Charles II. (according to tradition on the suggestion of Nell Gwynne), and opened in 1964. The hospital itself accommodates upwards of 500 men, but a system of out-pensioning was found necessary from the outset, and now relieves large numbers throughout the empire. The picturesque building by Wren stands in extensive grounds, which include the former Ranelagh Gardens. A theological college (King James’s) formerly occupied the site; it was founded in 1610 and was intended to bea of great size, but the scheme was unsuccessful, and only a small part of the building was erected. In the vicinity are the Chelsea Barracks (not actually in the borough). The Royal Military Asylum for boys, commonly called the Duke of York’s school, founded in 1801 by Frederick, duke of York, for the education of children connected with the army, was removed in 1909 to new quarters at Dover. Other institutions are the Whitelands training college for school-mistresses, in which Ruskin took deep interest; the St Mark’s college for school-masters; the Victoria and the Cheyne hospitals for children, a cancer hospital, the Southwestern polytechnic, and a public library containing an excellent collection relative to local history.

The parliamentary borough of Chelsea returns one member, and includes, as a detached portion, Kensal Town, north of Kensington. The borough council consists of a mayor, 6 aldermen and 36 councillors. Area, 659.6 acres.