Chelsea Area Guide

Chelsea has been favoured by intellectuals and artists since 1520, when Sir Thomas More, politician and author of 'Utopia', built his country house here to take advantage of the motorway of the day, the River Thames to London. Anyone who has seen the movie Man for All Seasons will remember the scenes with the magnificent shallops that were used to transport King Henry VIII and his Lord Chancellor to Chelsea.

More was executed (some say martyred) in 1535 but Chelsea was already firmly established as a place for the rich and powerful to live. It became known as the 'Village of Palaces', with the Duke of Norfolk, the Earl of Shrewsbury and King Henry himself all building magnificent country retreats there.

Charles II does not seem to have been as keen on river transport as Henry, and had a private road created so he could ride from St James's Palace to Kew. This became known as the King's Road. Nowadays, happily, it is open to everyone. In the 1960s it was the epicentre of 'Swinging London' and is still the best place for trend-setting fashion boutiques as well as home to Peter Jones department store.
In the Georgian period, Chelsea began to be swallowed up in the westward expansion of London and elegant terraces and squares were laid out.

The establishment of the Chelsea Porcelain Works in 1745 and botanical art commissioned by the Chelsea Physic Garden drew artists to the area. Some of the most famous names in British art including Turner, Whistler, Rosetti, Sargent and Augustus John all lived in the area, eventually founding the famous Chelsea Arts Club and the College of Art and Design (now relocated to Millbank).

Thinkers also gravitated to Chelsea, including Jonathan Swift and the Victorian philosopher, critic and essayist Thomas Carlyle whose house is now a museum. More recently, Chelsea has become a centre for drama with the Royal Court Theatre establishing an international reputation for cutting edge and sometimes controversial new work.

But Chelsea is not only a place for culture. It also has strong links with the army through the world-famous Chelsea pensioners, veterans from the 'hospital' (actually a retirement home) built by Sir Christopher Wren in 1692. The pensioners can be seen walking round the area in their picturesque uniform and cap with 'RH' in red.

Next to the hospital is the National Army Museum which tells the story of the British soldier from Tudor times to the present.

Chelsea was also the home of the Territorial Army, Britain's reserve forces, who were based at the magnificent Duke of York's Headquarters in the King's Road. It closed in 2003 and was converted into a lovely shopping precinct and the prestigious Saatchi Art Gallery.

Chelsea Barracks was home to the Foot Guards until it was closed in 2008. The huge site of over 12 acres is planned to become a major new city quarter with shops, houses and restaurants that will, no doubt, be just as appealing to artists and intellectuals in the future.

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