Chelsea is an affluent area, bounded to the south by the River Thames.
Lots Road, older than the surrounding streets, was once Pooles Lane which was a track leading to Chelsea Farm
From Anglo-Saxon times, the land on the northern banks of the Thames was divided into individually owned ‘lots’, and open to common pasturage after the annual harvest. In 1825 the ‘Lammas’ rights of common grazing were abolished on the ‘Lots’.
When the Cremorne Gardens
closed in the 1860s, the landowner Mrs Simpson, let the land as building plots for the construction of workers’ housing. The variety and range of materials and architectural detailing amongst the workers cottages suggests that a number of different builders constructed the housing.
Historic maps indicate that much of the land was developed within a short period of time between 1868 and 1896. Tadema Road
(Tadema Street), which has Dutch and classical elements, was almost certainly named after Lawrence Alma-Tadema, a Dutch artist who moved to London in 1870 and enjoyed great frame during the mid to late 1870s, when those houses were constructed.
Running in parallel with the construction of workers cottages was the development along the river banks of the Thames. Flour Mills and a Horticultural Works already occupied
land adjacent to Chelsea Creek to the west of Pooles Lane (later to become Lots Road). From the late 1870s a large number of wharfs were constructed for commercial uses.
The rest of Chelsea is overwhelmingly residential and so the Lots Road community - a working area of industry, commercial riverside uses, small factories, breweries and workshops within a working class community housed in artisan terraced housing - was unusual.
The road contained the landmark Lots Road Power Station
, which had an influential historic role in powering the London Underground and is architecturally significant as a symbol of innovative design, structure and engineering.
The terraces which housed local workers are well preserved despite numerous threats from bombs during World War II. The York stone streets are lined with traditional lamp posts and
small trees; and the proximity to the River Thames in particular, makes this an unusual and characterful part of the Royal Borough.
In the post war years, the Lots Road area was earmarked for a potential route for a new motorway crossing the river known as the West Cross Route.
The prohibitive cost and the unpopularity of proposed major road works eventually led to much of the West Cross route being abandoned in 1973. However, the consequences for the
Lots Road area was one of general neglect and degeneration until twentieth century developments made the area extremely desirable.
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Its eastern boundary was once defined by the River Westbourne, which is now in a pipe above Sloane Square tube station. The modern eastern boundary is Chelsea Bridge Road and the lower half of Sloane Street, including Sloane Square, along with parts of Belgravia. To the north and northwest, the area fades into Knightsbridge and South Kensington, but it is safe to say that the area north of King’s Road as far northwest as Fulham Road is part of Chelsea.
The word Chelsea originates from the Old English term for chalk
and landing place on the river
. 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 (1042–1066), 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. The modern-day Chelsea hosted the Synod of Chelsea in 787 AD.
Chelsea once had a reputation for the manufacture of Chelsea buns (made from a long strip of sweet dough tightly coiled, with currants trapped between the layers, and topped with sugar).
King Henry VIII acquired the manor of Chelsea from Lord Sandys in 1536; Chelsea Manor Street is still extant. Two of King Henry’s wives, Catherine Parr and Anne of Cleves, lived in the Manor House; Princess Elizabeth – the future Queen Elizabeth I – resided there; and Thomas More lived more or less next door at Beaufort House. In 1609 James I established a theological college on the site of the future Chelsea Royal Hospital, which Charles II founded in 1682.
By 1694, Chelsea – always a popular location for the wealthy, and once described as ’a village of palaces’ – had a population of 3000. 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 final absorption of the district into the metropolis.
Chelsea shone, 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. The Western end of Chelsea featured boutiques Granny Takes a Trip and The Sweet Shop, the latter of which sold medieval silk velvet caftans, tabards and floor cushions, with many of the cultural cognoscenti of the time being customers, including Keith Richards, Twiggy and many others.
The exclusivity of Chelsea as a result of its high property prices has historically resulted in the term Sloane Ranger to be used to describe its residents. From 2011, Channel 4 broadcast a reality television show called Made in Chelsea
, documenting the ’glitzy’ lives of several young people living in Chelsea. Moreover, Chelsea is home to one of the largest communities of Americans living outside of the United States, with 6.53% of Chelsea-residents being born in the United States.