The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868



CHELSEA, a petty sessions town, and extensive suburban district of London, comprising the parishes of Upper Chelsea, Lower Chelsea and part of Knightsbridge, being locally in the Kensington division of the hundred of Ossulstone, in the county of Middlesex, 3 miles S.W. of St. Paul's.

It is situated at Chelsea Reach, on the N. bank of the Thames, where the ground rises about 15 feet above the level of the river. It is mentioned in Domesday Survey as Chelched, but emended into Cercehede, and in the Saxon times was written Ceolshythe, where a synod was held in 785. It was in the 16th century the residence of Queen Catherine Parr and the Princess Elizabeth, who occupied the old manor-house, which afterwards successively became the residence of the Duke of Northumberland, Lord Cheyne, and Sir Hans Sloane, who here formed his collection. The market gardens which surrounded this once quiet village are now almost entirely built over. It has many handsome streets and squares, though the greater part of the houses are small, and some of the streets almost exclusively occupied by mechanics engaged in the manufactures of combs, pipes, oil-cloth, soap, or in the breweries. The population of Chelsea in 1851 was 56,538, which, in 1861, had increased to 63,439, with 8,314 inhabited houses. In former times many of the nobility and gentry had residences here, and in the 17th and 18th centuries there were many public houses with gardens, which were much frequented. The most remarkable object in Chelsea, and that from which it derives its chief interest, is the Royal Hospital for invalid soldiers, which, with its grounds, occupies more than 50 acres. The site was originally that of Dean Sutcliffe's Polemical Divinity College, the first stone of which was laid in 1609, and was called in the charter of incorporation, "King James's College at Chelsey." This college was appropriated by the parliament during the civil war of the 17th century, and was subsequently given to the Royal Society by Charles II., but it was afterwards restored to the king for £1,300, in order that the present hospital might be erected. The foundation stone was laid by the king on the 16th February, 1682, at the instance of Sir S. Fox, though tradition says of Nell Gwynne. The architect was Sir Christopher Wren, and the building was completed in 1690 at a cost of about £150,000. The front is 790 feet long, with a Doric centre. There are three courts, two of which are spacious quadrangles. In the centre are the chapel and great dining-hall. Mother Ross, who served as a dragoon under Marlborough; Young, immortalised as Fielding's "Parson Adams," Dr. Burney, and others, lie in the burial-ground. The eccentric Monsey was physician, and P. Francis chaplain to the hospital. The establishment consists of a governor, lieutenant-governor, and other officers. There are generally about 500 in-pensioners, who are provided with clothes, lodging, and diet, besides an allowance of money varying from 8d. to 3s. 6d. a week, according to rank, and who are regulated by military discipline; there are also between 70,000 and 80,000 out-pensioners. The total charge to the country, which is defrayed chiefly by an annual grant from parliament, is about £1,000,000. At the lying-in-state of the body of the Duke of Wellington, in November, 1852, so great was the pressure of the crowd that thronged to the hospital that several persons lost their lives. There is also another excellent institution, called the Royal Military Asylum, in connection with the hospital; it is an extensive building forming three sides of a quadrangle, with a portico and pediment of the Doric order. The foundation stone was laid by the Duke of York in 1801, and it was completed in 1805. It has a chapel and regimental training school, where from 800 to 900 boys, and about 300 girls, the children of soldiers and non-commissioned officers, receive instruction-the boys on leaving enter the army, the girls are apprenticed. This institution is supported by parliamentary grants, and by an annual contribution of one day's pay from the whole army. There is also a normal school for regimental schoolmasters. Barracks for the Guards are in course of erection at Chelsea, under the direction of G. Morgan, the architect; when completed they will be very extensive, and consist of several commodious buildings, the largest of which are intended as quarters for the officers, non-commissioned officers, privates, and married soldiers, accommodation being provided for 1,000 men; there will also be a large church, hospitals, prisons, &c. The exterior was finished in March, 1863. The frontage is about 1,250 feet. There are eight churches and as many chapels in Chelsea. The church of St. Luke (Lower Chelsea) is a spacious edifice, built in 1824, at a cost of £40,000. It is in the pointed style, and contains a monument by Chantrey of Colonel Cadogan. The living is a rectory* in the diocese of London, value £1,003, in the patronage of the Earl of Cadogan. The old church, a brick structure near the river, has two ancient chapels attached, called the Lawrence and More chapels; the former was built in the 14th century, and the latter by Sir Thomas More, in 1522. It contains many highly interesting monuments and brasses to illustrious personages, the tombs of the mothers of G. Herbert and Fletcher the poet; of Boyer, the author of the French Dictionary; of Woodfall, the printer of "Junius"; of Dr. Kenrick, the reviewer; of Dr. Chamberlayne, and of Sir John Fielding, a relative of the novelist, besides many other names of literary note. The living is a perpetual curacy, value £250, in the gift of the Rector of St. Luke's. The parish church of Upper Chelsea, or Hans Town, is in the pointed style of architecture, and was built in 1830. The living is a rectory, value £840, in the patronage of the Earl of Cadogan. Besides these there are three churches, viz. Christ Church, Park Chapel, and St. John's, Kensal Green, in the parish of Lower Chelsea; and three, viz. St. Saviour, St. Simon, and St. Jude, in the parish of Upper Chelsea. There are also many chapels for Wesleyans, Independents, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Roman Catholics, with numerous schools and charities; some of these are wealthy and important institutions, as York Hospital, for wounded soldiers; the Western grammar school; St. Mark's training college and chapel for schoolmasters; and Whitelands House for schoolmistresses. Here are likewise the 'V' police station, the Union workhouse, two lunatic asylums, savings-bank, gasworks, and waterworks; these last were established in 1733. In the burial-ground in King's road lie the remains of Martyn the botanist, Cipriani, and other worthies. The Chelsea, Brompton, and Belgrave dispensary was established in 1812; it is situated in Sloane-square, and in 1860 the sick poor who were relieved there numbered upwards of 6,000; the total investments are £1,114 14s. 3d. Three per Cent. Consols. The Chelsea Home was founded by a few ladies to shelter patients on leaving the Brompton Consumption Hospital,-the number of in-patients in 1861 was 111. The wooden bridge across Chelsea Reach to Battersea was built in 1771, at a cost of £20,000. Close to it was Beaufort House, the seat of Sir Thomas More, and afterwards of the Paulets, Dacres, Cecils, Villiers, Beauforts, and Sir Hans Sloane, who pulled it down in 1740. The gate, commemorated in an inscription by Pope, is now at Chiswick. The new bridge, in connection with Battersea Park, was commenced in 1851; it is called, "Chelsea Suspension Bridge," and is 922 feet in length by 45 feet in breadth; it cost £88,000, or £2 2s. 5d., per square foot of surface, being less than two-thirds the cost of Black-friars bridge, and less than one-fifth the cost of London, Southwark, or Waterloo bridges. The architect was Mr. Thomas Page. The towers are of iron, and the casting of an ornamental character, painted light green, and relieved by gilding. There is also a railway bridge across the Thames, close to the Chelsea Suspension Bridge, designed by Mr. T. Fowler, 900 feet in length, which connects the Victoria station with the Sydenham and Brighton lines. A very large steam-boat traffic has occasioned the erection of three piers, one of which, erected by the Earl of Cadogan, is a handsome structure. Chelsea Botanic Gardens were founded and bequeathed by Sir Hans Sloane to the Apothecaries' Company for the cultivation of medicinal plants for the benefit of medical students. It consists of 4 acres, and is one of the oldest of existing gardens. The cedars of Lebanon are supposed to be the first known in this county, and are said to have been planted in 1683. The statue, by Rysbrack, of Sir Hans Sloane, who gave the freehold of the ground on consideration of an annual presentation of plants to the Royal Society, stands in the centre of the Botanic Gardens, to which the public are not admitted. Cremorne House, which was built by the Earl of Huntingdon, whose daughter is Steele's "Aspasia," and the gardens, have passed into the hands of proprietors, who have converted the two mansions and grounds of Lords Cremorne and Ashburnham into a public place of amusement, in imitation of Paris gardens. The entertainments comprise concerts, ballets, &c., and dancing. The "old original "bun-house, in Jew's-row, was pulled down in 1839. The "World's End," near Cremorne House, was of celebrity; and Queen's Elm, marks the spot where Queen Elizabeth once took shelter. There are many old seats where men of family or eminence have resided, as the Beachamps, the Berkeleys, and the Talbots. At Monmouth House Gay lived as secretary to the duke's widow, and here it was that Smollett wrote his "Sir Launcelot Greaves " and "Humphrey Clinker," and Steele many numbers of his "Tatler." Dr. Hoadley, author of the "Suspicious Husband," lived at Ashburnham House. Bishop Fletcher, father of the poet, Bishop Atterbury, Swift, and Arbuthnot resided near each other in Churchlane. Winchester House was the seat of the bishops down to 1814. In Paradise-row lived Dr. Mead, the commentator, Stackhouse, the learned Mrs. Astell, and the Duchess of Mazarene, whom Charles II. would have married. Sir C. Wager died at Stanley House. The seat of the Carberys was at Gough House. Sir Robert Walpole lived close to the hospital. At Don Saltero's house and museum Pennant used to see Richard Cromwell, "a little neat old man with a most placid countenance." The Earl of Cadogan is lord of the manor of Chelsea, and takes from it his title of Viscount Chelsea.


[Description(s) from "The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland" (1868)
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]
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