WHERE A JUDGE ONCE WALKED IN CHELSEA

WALKING HAS ALWAYS been my favourite and almost only form of exercise. I do not enjoy games, gyms, or swimming, or any other sport, but I love to stroll through towns, villages, and rustic landscapes, exercising my body and especially my eyes. I always carry a camera to record anything I consider of interest or picturesque or curious. With the current (January 2021) restrictions on moving far afield from home to take exercise, I must confine myself to wandering around within a short distance of home. Luckily, the borough, within which I live, and its neighbours are full of fascinating places to see, photograph, and investigate. One of these is Justice Walk, a short (77 yards) passageway leading from Chelsea’s Old Church Street to Lawrence Street.

But first, let me tell you about number 46 Old Church Street close to the beginning of Justice Walk. This building has a sculpture of a cow’s head attached to its façade as well as two pictures made with coloured tiling. One of them, with the words ‘An early mower’, depicts a man holding a scythe and taking a drink from a small barrel. The other shows a milkmaid carrying a wooden pail on her head. An alleyway on the north side of the building leads to a modern gateway. On the north wall of the house there is a name plate that reads ‘The Old Dairy Chelsea’ and near this there is another tiled painting showing a milkmaid watching cattle standing in a stream with ducks and ducklings. Behind the gates, there is a larger brick building with a pediment bearing a cow’s head as well as the date ‘1908’ and ‘estd. 1796’.

The house and the building behind it were part of Wrights Dairies, which is well described in a blog article by ‘Metrogirl’ (https://memoirsofametrogirl.com/2018/11/14/wrights-dairy-cow-heads-chelsea-history-kings-road-old-church-street/) :

“The dairy was one of the first in Chelsea and was erected on Cook’s Grounds (the site of Glebe’s Place today) in 1796. Around 50 cows and two goats grazed nearby, providing milk for the dairy … A frequent visitor to the dairy was Scottish philosopher and writer Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), who lived a few minutes walk away on Cheyne Row … The Old Dairy was forced to move slightly west due to rapid redevelopment in the late 1800s, with Cook’s Ground and the nearby kitchen gardens of the Chelsea Rectory being swallowed up by housing. Wright’s Dairy set up their headquarters and a shop at 38-48 Church Street (now Old Church Street). The fields behind the dairy were used for the grazing cows.”

The cow’s head on the former dairy looks out at pictures of pigs across the road. These adorn a pub with the name ‘The Chelsea Pig’. Originally called ‘The Black Lion’, the establishment is said to date back to the 17th century.

Justice Walk is extremely picturesque. It is dominated by a large brick building, whose appearance is suggestive of authority, topped with a triangular pediment. This was formerly a Wesleyan chapel, which was built in 1841. It was used as a chapel and a Sunday school between 1843 and 1903 (https://chelseasociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/1997-Annual-Report-1.pdf). Many estate agents have misrepresented this building as a former courthouse, glamourising with words such as these (www.russellsimpson.co.uk/stylist-the-court-house/):

“A historic courthouse and jail that once held highway robbers and thieves before they were transported to the British penal colonies in the 18th Century has been transformed into a luxury £14.5 million home.

The Court House, on the aptly-named Justice Walk in Chelsea, is one of London’s last surviving courthouses and gaols and has been dubbed “Britain’s most expensive prison cell” after undergoing a designer restoration and makeover. Built in the early 18th Century, the majestic house of justice tried hundreds of criminals with highway robbery, drunken behaviour and petty theft – of a kind similar to legendary highwayman Dick Turpin (who was executed in 1739 for horse theft).”

So much for Dick Turpin and other exciting misinformation. Opposite the former chapel, there is a house whose front door is surmounted by a scallop shell and other ornate decoration. The door bears the name ‘Judge’s House’. Given what I have learnt about the so-called courtroom, which was really a chapel, I wonder whether a judge ever lived in the house. My doubt is increased when I read (in “The London Encyclopaedia, edited by B Weinreb and C Hibbert) that Justice Walk is most probably named after John Gregory, a Justice of the Peace, who owned property in nearby Gregory Place and in Kensington Church Street.

Several houses at the corner of Justice Walk and Lawrence Street stand where there was a factory and showrooms for the renowned Chelsea china. The china establishment was demolished at the end of the 18th century (www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol5/pp84-100). Although the china works are long gone, the Cross Keys pub still exists, though closed during the ‘lockdown’. Established in 1708, it is Chelsea’s oldest pub. Its customers have included JMW Turner, John Singer Sargent, and James McNeill Whistler, painters; Dylan Thomas, poet; Bob Marley, musician; and Agatha Christie, novelist.

Seeing all that I have described took about fifteen minutes, but you could easily miss it all if you walked past in a hurry. Although I did not perform much exercise looking at this tiny part of London, seeing it provided plenty of food for thought. After exploring this area, my wife and I walked out of Lawrence Street and began a vigorous stroll along the Thames embankment which provided lovely vistas in the hazy winter sunshine.

Bob Marley and the waxworks

A BUILDING ON THE CORNER of Lancaster Road and Basing Street, a few yards east of Portobello Road, looks as if it was once a church. Attached to its brickwork is a plaque commemorating the fact that the building was once used by the reggae artist Bob Marley (Robert Nester Marley:1945-1981). While we were looking at the building, a friendly passer-by stopped and chatted to us, confirming that the building had once been used as a church, but also as a waxworks studio and, maybe, a synagogue for a time.

Whereas many Jewish people used to live near the building before WW2 (www.rbkc.gov.uk/pdf/Colville%20March%20Newsletter3.pdf), notably in nearby Powis Square, I can find no evidence that there was ever a synagogue where the church-like building stands. A detailed map, surveyed in the 1890s, reveals that this building was a ‘Congregational Chapel’. It was ‘The Lancaster Road Congregational Church Notting Hill’ and is described in “A Book of Metropolitan Churches and Church Enterprise” by William Pepperell, which was published in 1872. The Reverend Pepperell describes the origin of the chapel as follows:

“The foundation-stone of this chapel was laid by Samuel Morley, Esq., M.P., in July, 1865, when, although so recent, the whole of that part of North Kensington in which it is situated was open field, with here and there a dotting of new buildings commenced, and new streets laid out.  At the present time the occupied suburbs extend quite a mile beyond it either North or West.  The congregation worshipping here first assembled in smaller numbers in Westbourne-hall, where they kept together for between two and three years, always with a view to a separate building as opportunity offered … The form of service is what is understood as Congregational, and the Congregational Hymn-book is used.  An organ well suited to the dimensions of the building is efficiently employed by Mr. Charles Wetton, Jun., in aid of the devotional singing, which seems to lose nothing of its congregational life and character by the presence of the instrument.”

The authoritative British-history.ac.uk website confirms the date when the chapel was established and makes no mention of it ever having been used as a synagogue. It does state that the building was designed by James Rankin of St Marylebone and is now used for commercial purposes, its interior having been completely remodelled.

I could not find the chapel marked on a detailed map surveyed in 1914. This is not surprising because in the early part of the 20th century, the chapel became home to the workshop of Gems Waxworks (“Colville Conservation Area Appraisal”, published by RBKC in 2014). It was at this workshop that the model of the serial killer John Christie (1899-1953), who had a flat at 10 Rillington Place in Notting Hill (located at where is now Bartle Close and Andrews Square), was prepared (www.golbornelife.co.uk/colvillenewsletter1.pdf) in the 1950s for Madame Tussaud’s exhibition in Baker Street.

By 1970, the former chapel had reincarnated as the ‘Basing Street Studios”, established by Christopher Blackwell, founder of Island Records (began in 1959). In 1970, Led Zeppelin recorded his album “Led Zeppelin IV” at the studios. The same year, Jethro Tull recorded his “Aqualung” album at the same place. At one point in 1973, Bob Marley and the Wailers were using the studios at the same time as the Rolling Stones. Bob Marley lived for a year at the studios in 1977 (www.timeout.com/london/blog/15-places-in-london-with-a-bob-marley-connection-051116). Early in that year he recorded his album “Exodus” there. Before that, in 1973, he recorded his album “Catch a Fire”, also at Basing Street. In addition to the works already mentioned, many other well-known songs and albums, including Queen’s “We are the Champions” and Band Aid’s “Do they know It’s Christmas”, were recorded at these studios.

In 1983, Trevor Horn (born 1949) and Jill Sinclair (1952-2014), of SARM studios, acquired the recording establishment in the former chapel. The plaque on the outside of the building was placed there by the Nubian Jak Community Trust, which is:

“… an African and Caribbean community organisation that provides products and services to the generic population of the UK and internationally” (http://nubianjak.org/).

Their plaque not only celebrates Bob Marley’s use of the former chapel and his fellow musicians Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh, but also the memory of Jill Sinclair. When the plaque was unveiled by her widowed husband, he said:

“… So much great music was made in the building while it was open for over 50 years as a recording studio. This plaque commemorates my late wife Jill Sinclair who was a long time supporter of the local Jamaican company. She would be happy to see the community being recognised for the music culture brought to the local area.” (https://tiemotalkofthetown.wordpress.com/2019/10/08/bob-marley-and-the-wailers-honoured-with-blue-plaque-at-legendary-sarm-studios/).

Currently, SARM is based on nearby Ladbroke Grove.

Having seen this building and looked into its history, I feel sure that the Congregationalists who used to sing in the chapel long ago would be pleased to know that the building remained a place of song, even if what was sung there is somewhat different to what they used to sing.