A Brief History of Chelsea

May 8, 2018

High fashion, affluent twenty-somethings, and Frank Lampard. Chelsea conjures up a fair few cultural associations. This swanky corner of South-West London may be stacked with mega-money townhouses, quaint boutiques and folk with triple-barrelled surnames nowadays, but it wasn’t always the glitziest place in the capital.

Though it’s now located within the exclusive ranks of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, there was a time when this stylish suburb wasn’t even in London.

Starting life as a small village a few miles out of the London hub, Chelsea was a place where boats could moor close to the town that would one day become the capital. The word “Chelsea” even originates from the Anglo-Saxon term for a riverside landing place made of chalk.

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As the Middle Ages wore on, Chelsea came to be seen as a fashionable place to live. Two of King Henry VIII’s wives, Catherine Parr and Anne of Cleves, had residencies in the area; Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth I, also spent much of her childhood in the growing suburb.

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By the late 17th century, Chelsea was a collection of manor estates and upmarket mansions; a verdant home for London’s wealthy families away from the smog and grime of the capital’s inner city.

By the 19th century, the well-to-do village’s boundaries had merged with that of the ever-expanding capital. Chelsea was a place of art and culture, home to a number of celebrated authors and musicians. The likes of Oscar Wilde, Elizabeth Gaskell and Robert Scott of the Antarctic all had homes in the area.

The pre-Raphaelite movement had its beginnings on Chelsea’s streets, whilst the likes of James MacNeill Whistler and J.M.W Turner produced a number of their works whilst residing in Chelsea’s upmarket townhouses.

The famous Chelsea Flower Show, arguably the UK’s most iconic celebration of horticulture, was first held in 1913.

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As the 20th century rolled on, Chelsea’s stature as a heartland for London’s music and arts continued with members of The Beatles and Rolling Stones living in the area. The bohemian lifestyle of Chelsea’s revellers spread into the neighbouring areas in the latter part of the 20th century which saw Chelsea returning to a relatively gentrified state.

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Nowadays, the area is one of the richest in the capital; home of Russian oligarchs and American business owners.

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