Utopia and Worlds End

THE AUTHOR OF “Utopia”, which was published in Latin in 1516, Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), had a house in London’s Chelsea. It was not far from Henry VIII’s manor house on what is now Cheyne Walk. The land in which More’s house was built was bounded to the north by what was, and still is, the Kings Road, to the south by the River Thames and between the still extant Milman Street and Old Church Street.

The house that was ‘L’ shaped in plan (www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol4/pt2/pp18-27) when More used it as his out-of-town dwelling between 1520 and 1535, when he was arrested there and taken to the Tower of London. His arrest was in connection with trying to upset the marriage plans of his neighbour in Chelsea, King Henry VIII. More lived at Beaufort, to which he loved to escape from London and from the Court, and to spend time with his family and to write. It was here that he entertained many friends, among whom were the scholar Erasmus and the artist Holbein.

After Thomas More’s execution and the death of Henry VIII, King Edward VI granted Beaufort House to William Pawlet, 1st Marquis of Winchester (c1484-1572). Then, it passed through the hands of the Dacre family to William Cecil, Lord Burghley (1520-1598), and next to his son, Sir Robert Cecil (1563-1612). Cecil sold it to Henry (Clinton) Fiennes, Earl of Lincoln (1539-1616). The house and its grounds continued to move through different owners until it came into the possession of the physician and founder of the British Museum, Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) in 1738.

Sloane demolished Beaufort House in 1740 to “…strip it for parts…”, so wrote James Delbourgo in “Collecting the World”, his recent biography of Sloane. The demolition work was executed by a Quaker, Edmund Howard (1710-1798; detailed biography: https://ahsoc.contentfiles.net/media/assets/file/Edmund_Howard_by_J_Nye_SF.pdf). He was Sloane’s gardener in Chelsea. During the demolition, he was often in dispute with Sloane over money.. Howard observed that:

“… the receiving of money was to Sir Hans Sloane more pleasing than parting with it.”

Little remains of what Sloane demolished apart from a few brick walls. However, one fine relic, an elegant neo-classical gateway designed by Inigo Jones, was sold to Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington (1694-1753) and placed near his Chiswick House.

The northwest corner of Thomas More’s Chelsea estate is a peaceful walled garden, which can be entered from Kings Road. Some of these walls are the Tudor brickwork from More’s time at Beaufort House. The north side of the almost square plot is occupied by a line of small buildings belonging to the Moravian Church Fetter Lane Congregation (Chelsea). These buildings, which include the curate’s house, a tiny chapel, and a meeting hall, once a church, face a large square patch of lawn with four fig trees in its centre. Closer examination of the lawn reveals that it contains numerous square gravestones that lie flush with the mowed grass. This is the Moravian Burial Ground.

Protestant missionaries from Moravia (now in the Czech Republic) founded a church in Fetter Lane in the City of London in 1742. The missionaries were hoping to travel to the British colonies to carry the Gospel to people out there, notably slaves. However, they realised that there was plenty for them to do in England and worked alongside British missionaries like the Wesleyans. The church in Fetter Lane survived until WW2 when it was destroyed by bombing. In the 1960s, the congregation moved to its present site.

The burial ground was established in the former stable yard of Beaufort House and the first burial was done in 1751. About 400 people have been buried in this cemetery. Amongst them was Henry, the 73rd Count of Reuss, brother-in-law of Nicolaus Ludwig Zinzendorf (1700-1760). It was the latter who leased Lindsey House in Chelsea, built on the estate of Sir Thomas More, and used it between 1749 and 1755 as his base for missionary work in England. Zinzendorf was extremely critical of slavery (www.zinzendorf.com/).

At the south edge of the burial lawn, there is a stone pergola and an elaborately carved wooden bench backrest. Both were created by the sculptors Ernest (1874-1951) and Mary Gillick (1881-1965), who leased the site of the Moravian cemetery between 1914 and 1964 (https://londongardenstrust.org/conservation/inventory/site-record/?ID=KAC100). Mary designed the effigy of Elizabeth II used on coinage in the United Kingdom from 1953 to 1970. The long wooden bench is decorated with painted shields, showing the coats-of-arms of all the owners of Beaufort House and its estate from More to Sloane. It also has a brief history of Beaufort House carved into it.

From the oasis that is the Moravian Church’s ground, it is but a short walk west along Kings Road to the large Worlds End Distillery pub, which was already present in the 17th century.  The present pub was built in 1897. It is: “… a public house in the gin-palace genre …” (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1391649).

As for the name ‘Worlds End’, this might not be as apocalyptic as it first appears because ‘end’ often used to mean ‘field’ in archaic English. Regarding the ‘World’ part of the name, Edward Walford wrote in about 1880:

“In the King’s Road, near Milman Street, is an inn styled “The World’s End.” The old tavern… was a noted house of entertainment in the reign of Charles II …The house was probably called ‘The World’s End’ on account of its then considerable distance from London, and the bad and dangerous state of the roads and pathways leading to it.”

The posh ‘Sloanes’* of Chelsea might regard Worlds End as truly the end of their part of the world because west of it the shops and dwellings on Kings Road seem far less opulent than those on the stretch between the pub and Sloane Square. At Worlds End, the ‘Sloanes’’ utopian world transforms into unglamorous routine inner-city life. Should ‘Sloanes’ carelessly stray as far west as Worlds End, they would have crossed over to the ‘wrong side of the tracks’.

[* a ‘Sloane’ is a fashionable  upper middle- or upper-class, often young, person, especially one living in London and particularly in Chelsea; most definitely not Bohemian, but extremely bourgeois.]

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.

Near the shops: a chapel in Kensington

HIGH STREET KENSINGTON is not amongst my favourite London thoroughfares, but streets leading off it take one to places of considerable interest. One of these, Allen Street, offers a view of a building that outshines many of its close neighbours. But, before we reach this short side street, here are a few words about High Street Ken.

Even before the covid19 pandemic, High Street Kensington has been declining in importance as a centre of retailing activity. The retailing boom that made the street into a rival of, for example Oxford and Regents Streets, began in the mid-1860s. Prior to that:

“…most trading and manufacturing activity around Kensington High Street was on a small and local scale. An exception must be made of the Catholic candle-making business owned successively by the Wheble, Kendall, Tucker and Smith families from about 1765 until 1908. Its founder was James Wheble (1729–1801), scion of a prominent recusant family in Winchester. By 1766 at the latest Wheble was based in Kensington, and within a few years occupied miscellaneous properties on the present Barkers site, both in the High Street and on the west side of Young Street, where a warehouse was rated in his name from 1772 onwards.” (https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol42/pp77-98).

This mention of candle making interested me because my great grandfather Franz Ginsberg (1862-1936) established a factory making candles in King Williams Town in South Africa in the 1880s.

From the late 19th century until a few years ago, High Street Ken was a healthily flourishing retail centre. In its heyday, it boasted of three large department stores, Pontings, Barkers, and Derry & Toms. The impressive buildings that housed the latter two still stand and are fine examples of art deco architecture. They are located close to the Underground station, which has been in service since the late 1860s.

In recent years, the advent of on-line shopping, high rents, and the proximity of the Westfield mall at Shepherds Bush (opened 2008), which has good parking, have all conspired to make High Street Ken less appealing to shoppers. Consequently, at any one time a large proportion of shops remain empty awaiting new tenants. Sadly, what was once (especially in the 1960s and ‘70s) a bustling high street with trendy shops like Biba and the ‘funky’ Kensington Market, has become slightly dreary.

Various short streets lead off the south side of the high street. One of them, Young Street, leads to Kensington Square, which is well worth visiting to explore its exciting range of houses dating back to the 18th century and earlier (see https://londonadam.travellerspoint.com/41/). Another road, Allan Street, west of the station, leads south from the high street. This street was a quiet cul-de-sac until 1852 when it was extended southwards. After that date, many more buildings were erected along it including the extensive Wynnstay Gardens, luxurious mansion flats, which was constructed between 1883 and 1885 on a site previously owned by Thomas Newland Allen (1811-1899), who was born at Chalfont St Giles (https://www.captaincooksociety.com/home/detail/chalfont-st-giles-buckinghamshire). A monument to Captain Cook, the explorer, stands on the estate where Allen was born.

Wynnstay Gardens is not a particularly attractive set of buildings. However, south of it and on the other side of Allen Street, there is a lovely neo-classical building just south of Adam and Eve Mews, which runs along its northern boundary. For many years, I had noticed it from a distance when wandering along High Street Ken, but it was only yesterday that I decided to take a closer look at this church.

Currently called the ‘Kensington United Reformed Church’, it was originally named ‘The Kensington Chapel’. Built in 1854-55 and designed by Andrew Trimen (1810-1868), it replaced the Hornton Street Chapel (north of the High Street), which was built 1794-95 (https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol42/pp386-394#h2-0005). Trimen was a prolific architect and also published a book in 1849, “Church and Chapel Architecture with an account of the Hebrew Church. 1,000 authenticated mouldings”, which was (https://manchestervictorianarchitects.org.uk/architects/andrew-trimen):

“… the first major publication to consider non-conformist architecture.”

The church, clad in ochre coloured Bath stone, and its impressive pillared portico,  is an elegant addition to an otherwise undistinguished street.  Its corner stone recalls that the church replaced the one in Hornton Street and that it was laid by the Reverend John Stoughton on the 26th of June 1854. If you walk along Adam and Eve Mews, you will notice a pair of doors at the east end of the north wall of the church. Above them are the words ‘Lecture Hall’. According to a plan of the original building, this led into a ‘schoolroom’ (built 1856) attached to the east of the church. This was used to accommodate ‘British’ and ‘Sunday’ schools.

John Stoughton officiated first at the Hornton Street Chapel, starting in 1843, and then in the new building in Allen Street until he retired in 1875. His congregation was far from uninteresting as this quote from John Stoughton’s book “Congregationalism in the Court Suburb” (published in 1883) reveals:

“It may be mentioned that Kensington, on many accounts, has long been a favourite place of residence for artists and literary men, and a few of these became some occasional, others regular hearers [i.e. members of the congregation]  … Curious characters at different periods, it may be added would come into the vestry to have a little chat; a gentleman during the Crimean War gravely proposed to the preacher of peace a clever scheme for blowing up Sebastopol; and at another time one of clerical appearance repeated, with extraordinary rapidity, long passages out of the Greek Testament.”

Stoughton was such a popular preacher that by 1871, none of the 1000 sitting places in the chapel would be left unoccupied.

The chapel was damaged by bombing in 1940 and only repaired in 1952-53. Today, the building stands in all its glory and hosts regular religious services for its Congregationalist congregation (it is an autonomous protestant church, which governs its own affairs), but parts of it are now used for non-ecclesiastical purposes. Next time you wander along High Street Ken, make the short detour to see what I consider one of the finer buildings in the area alongside the unusual looking Armenian Church in nearby Iverna Gardens.