Stroll along Chelsea Embankment

“The earliest mention we have of this place occurs in a Charter of King Edward the Confessor: it is there called Cealchylle.”[1] Origins of the name Chelsea come from the Saxon word ceald thought to refer to chalk or limestone and hyd meaning a port of a haven in this case riverside.[2]

I began my walk at 114 Lots Road SW10. As I made my way down Lots Road I found a large building to my right (one which I have walked passed many times yet never taken any notice of), a derelict power station, which I now know to be called Lots Road Power Station, one would think this to be rather obvious. Lots Road Power Station had previously been coal and later oil-fired and gas-fired. It served between 1905-2002.

Opposite the power-station to my right, a derelict warehouse, now turned into a quirky jazz club named 606, its entrance, an arched, red-brick, metal-gated doorway. As I continue my journey down Lots Road past the little jazz club and large power-station I come to what appears to be a rather un-kept park on my right. As mentioned before I have walked down Lots Road many times and never once looked up to notice my surroundings, this park had gone completely unnoticed by myself and no doubt many others. I take a right into it to find a large grand gate with a plaque adjacent to it. The gates, known as The Cremorne Gates, restored in 1981, formed one of the entrances to the original Cremorne Gardens which closed in 1877. The gates are thought to have been built in cast iron, weighing 8 tonnes. The castings are extremely elaborate with fine detail and were made using the “fine wax” process which dates back to 300 BC used by early Chinese founders. The overmantle contained a shield portraying the ‘Royal Arms’ which dates back to Queen Victoria’s succession to the throne in 1837.


Now off Lots Road I found myself wandering along Chelsea Embankment with the River Thames on my right and to my left, Cheyne Walk. Cheyne Walk, an infamous street in Chelsea, takes its name from William Lord Cheyne, the owner of the Manor of Chelsea until 1712.[3] Less than 8 minutes into my walk, on a house to my left I spotted my first blue plaque. London’s famous blue plaques link people of the past with buildings of the present, with over 900 plaques across the capital.[4] The first plaque I came across was that of Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960 – Campaigner for women’s rights). I would spot a further 6 blue plaques on my walk through Chelsea. The house next door to Sylvia Pankhurst’s displayed not a blue plaque but what I assume to be an iron plaque that had a carved easel and the name Joseph Mailord William Turner, a landscape painter whom lived and worked in the house between 1775-1851.

joseph_mallord_william_turner_-_dutch_boats_in_a_gale_-_wga23163 A painting by Joseph Mailord William Turner

Further along Cheyne Walk another two blue plaques were spotted on neighbouring houses. The first was that of Philip Wilson Steer (1860-1942), whom like Joseph Mailord William Turner was also a landscape painter, along with portraits and figure studies. The second was that of John Tweed (1863-1933 – Sculptor), whom completed the equestrian figure of Wellington for St Paul’s Cathedral in 1912.[5]

Feeling somewhat ignorant that a road I have walked down uncountable times was once home to so many historical figures without my knowledge astounded me. I noted to myself that a blue plaque will never go unnoticed again! I then spotted a babies shoe on the side of the road – something I would notice on a day-to-day wander.

Further along my walk I came across a beautiful and unnoticeable building which I now know to be Crosby Hall. The Great Hall “originally stood in Bishopsgate in the City of London. Built by Sir John Crosby, a wealthy wool merchant, between 1466 and 1475.”[6]

crosby-hall-03-john-simpson-architectsCrosby Hall

The next historical building that stood out to me was Chelsea Old Church, dating from 1157,[7] holding the tomb of Sir Hans Sloane Bart, a British physician, naturalist and collector whom gave his collection to the nation, providing much of the foundation of the British Museum. In front of the church is a statue of Sir Thomas More with the dates 1478 & 1535. Sir Thomas More’s connection to Chelsea Old Church came in 1528 when the chapel to the south was rebuilt as his private chapel.


A further two statues were close by, one noting the opening of Chelsea Embankment in May 1874 and another in remembrance of George Sparks, a former judge at madras in the East India company’s civil service, died at 68 in 1878.

Further down Cheyne Walk, on the left was Lawrence Street where I noticed a beautiful red bricked mansion block building with sculptures of what looked to be kingfishers and reeds carved into the wall. The building was built in 1886 with a statue opposite of Thomas Carlyle 1795 – 1881, the historian who was to become one of this fascinating part of London’s most famous residents.[8]


Blue Plaques abound and every street seems to have been home to a noted artist or writer at some time or other. Chelsea is rich in historic parks, gardens and open spaces. Some parts still have the feel of a village about them, while in Wren’s Royal Hospital the area boasts one of London’s finest secular buildings.[0]

Embarking on this walk taught me how truly useful walking can be as a historical method of research. Using a walk I have been on countless times yet never understood nor known the history behind the buildings or statues of my surroundings proved this. I now have a far greater understanding of the historical background of my surroundings from why such roads are given their names to what that interesting buildings function used to be.



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[1] Thomas Faulkner, An historical and topographical description of Chelsea, and its environs, (1810 Oxford University), pg. 1.

[2] Thomas Faulkner, An historical and topographical description of Chelsea, and its environs, (1810 Oxford University), pg. 2-3.

[3] John Nichols, The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 108, (E. Cave, 1810), pg. 207.

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[6] Tom Quinn, Ricky Leaver, Eccentric London, (New Holland Publishers, 2009), pg. 86.

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