Chelsea epitomises London living: trendy, elegant, lively and yes, relentlessly busy and ludicrously expensive. On this walk you will get a distant glimpse of Wren’s Royal Hospital, occupied by the Chelsea Pensioners. (See left, viewed down Royal Avenue from the King's Road). That’s walking in London for you. One walk can only cover so much, and if you have to bypass a Wren masterpiece on the way, so be it.
Before seeing Chelsea, you will pass through Pimlico and Belgravia, both developed in the first half of the nineteenth century with a consistent use of the white stuccoed Regency style inspired by Nash’s Regent’s Park terraces. The pillared front porches and white frontages of the streets and squares create a distinctive environment. Imagine yourself living in the area, as I once did.
Eccleston Square is one of several attractive garden squares in Pimlico (see right). There's no blue plaque on number 53 where the author of these notes once lived, but look out on the Western side for a plaque to Sir Winston Churchill, whose house here was later occupied by his son Randolph.
While Pimlico has recently gone up in the world, Belgravia has always been grand. Even the mews (originally stables) have arched entrances, while Chester Square’s plethora of blue plaques makes clear it has always been the place to live.
Eaton Square is more impressive still, in a restrained English way. (See below).
Belgravia blends into Chelsea at Sloane Square. Its name comes from Sir Hans Sloane, lord of the local manor in the eighteenth century, whose collection formed the basis of the British Museum. Sloane Square gave its name in turn to Sloane Rangers, the fashionably rich.
The Royal Court Theatre (for art house drama) overlooks one end of the square, while the rounded modernist (1936) Peter Jones store is at the other.
The King’s Road was the height of trendiness in the swinging sixties, home to pop culture, and is still fashionable today. Several fine residential squares edge directly onto the busy shopping street.
The former Duke of York army barracks have been replaced by shops, while the regimental headquarters is now the Saatchi Gallery, containing a free exhibition of art.
Here on the right is Wellington Square, said to have been the home address of James Bond, though many people who really did exist have lived here too.
Bywater Street, pictured below, is a cul de sac featuring small houses of great charm, ideal for your second home in London if you have three million to spare. But each house is shorter than your Bentley, so parking might be a problem.
You will pass countless cafés and coffee shops in the Kings Road, ideal places to stop and people-watch.
Sixties landmarks include the McDonalds which used to be a pub cheekily named the Chelsea Drugstore.
The Pheasantry (see below) was built in 1769. It was later a club visited by Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall; then a ballet school attended by Margot Fonteyn; then flats where resident Eric Clapton was visited by George Harrison. They allegedly climbed out of a back window when the police called to inspect their cigarettes. Now it’s a Pizza Express.
The small BRGR.CO burger bar was once the Picasso Restaurant, where the two guitarists would meet messrs Jagger and Richards of the Rolling Stones.
Round the corner in Flood Street, photographer Michael Cooper had a room in Chelsea Manor Studios where he photographed the Beatles with a series of cardboard cutouts for the Sergeant Pepper album cover.
Cheyne Walk was once the site for not one but two grand houses, where Sir Thomas More lived next door to one of Henry VIII’s many palaces. Not too far from London, access was easy by boat. In the early eighteenth century, terraces of tall houses were built for the wealthy, and it’s still a select address, notwithstanding the traffic. Former residents are listed in the walk directions.
The nineteenth century historian and literary figure Thomas Carlyle lived in Cheyne Row nearby, and you'll pass his house.
Back on Cheyne Walk, look out for the spectacular tomb of Sir Hans Sloane next to the pavement. He lived in Chelsea Manor in the eighteenth century, and left a collection to the nation which effectively makes him the founder of the British Museum.
Nearby is a modern statue or Sir Thomas More.
Chelsea Old Church was bombed in the second World War. It's thought a "mine" was dropped by parachute, exploding above ground level to cause maximum damage. The church was rebuilt in drab post war style, so it doesn’t look old at all.
There’s a former dairy in Old Church Street; if you can’t spot it the projecting cow’s head should give you a clue. In 1964 the rear part became Sound Techniques recording studios. Pink Floyd, The Who, and Elton John are amongst the many who recorded there before it closed in 1974.
Paultons Square closes the walk, another example of a rectangular “square” abutting the King’s Road, and very much the sort of place where Chelsea people live. The terraces are more homely than the grand buildings of Belgravia, and it's easy to imagine living here, so long as you don't imagine how much it costs.
Distance 6.2km / 3.8 miles.
1. From the concourse at Victoria mainline station, a passageway runs alongside Platform 1, then leads outside through a doorway. Turn right into Bridge Place.
2. Continue to the end of the road, with the Passport Office on your left.
3. Go straight across Belgrave Road, and turn left. This soon becomes Eccleston Square.
4. Turn right after the gardens, to walk along the long side of the square. You are in Pimlico.
5. Turn right onto St George’s Drive. Cross the road and continue (See plaque on no 35 to Winston Churchill).
6. Straight on over Elizabeth Bridge. (It crosses the railway).
7. Straight on at the lights into Elizabeth Street. You are now in Belgravia.
8. Turn right into Chester Square beside a church. Continue straight ahead to the end of the square, crossing a road on the way. You pass no 73 Margaret Thatcher, 76 Colombian Embassy, 77 Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands.
9. Turn left at the end of the square, walk up the short side, and cross and turn left to walk back on the long side. Pass 2 Matthew Arnold and 24 Mary Shelley.
10. Reach Elizabeth Street and turn right.
11. Turn left into Eaton Square (No 53 Vivien Leigh).
12. At the end of the square, go right then left into Eaton Gate.
13. Continue straight on to Sloane Square.
14. Turn left into square, past the Royal Court Theatre. You’re now in Chelsea.
15. Turn right along the next side of the square to reach King’s Road. The Peter Jones store is on the opposite side of King’s Road, overlooking Sloane Square.
16. Walk along the left hand side of the King’s Road, looking at (or popping into) the following, all on the left:
Duke of York Square with the Saatchi Gallery, Royal Avenue (the Royal Hospital Chelsea is visible in the distance), the King’s Road McDonalds which used to be The Chelsea Drugstore, and Wellington Square (no 30 being the supposed home of James Bond).
17. Cross the King’s Road by Wellington Square and go up Bywater Street and back.
18. Continue along the right hand pavement of the King’s Road, passing Markham Square and The Pheasantry (now a Pizza Express).
19. Cross the road at the first zebra crossing after The Pheasantry and continue. The BRGR.CO café used to be the Picasso Restaurant.
20.Turn left into Flood Street. The Sergeant Pepper cover was photographed in Chelsea Manor Studios on the right. The studios are now flats.
21. At the end of Flood Street, turn right into Cheyne Walk. Past residents: No 3 Keith Richards, 4 George Eliot, 10 Lloyd George, 13 Vaughan Williams, 14 Bertrand Russell, 16 Dante Gabriel Rosetti, 17 Mick Jagger.
22. The site of Henry VIII’s palace is at 19-26; look in the alleyway at the wall plaques.
23. The walk goes straight ahead across Oakley Street, but you could divert across the main road to look at the Thames and Albert Bridge, and return to this point.
24. After crossing Oakley Street, the footpath splits: take the one next to the houses.
25. Turn right up Cheyne Row, passing Thomas Carlyle’s house.
26. Turn left at the end along Upper Cheyne Row, and left again down Lawrence Street.
27. Right onto Cheyne Walk again, pass the tomb of Sir Hans Sloane (founder of the British Museum).
28. Turn right into Old Church Street. No 46 is a former dairy. In the red brick part tucked behind was Sound Techniques recording studio, used by Pink Floyd and many others.
29. Turn round and return to the junction with Paultons Street.
30. Turn right into Paultons Street, continue into Paultons Square. (‘Waiting for Godot’ author Samuel Beckett lived at 48).
31. Turn right at the corner of the square to go up its long side.
32. Turn right onto King’s Road, then left into Carlyle Square to take a look.
33. Either take a bus or walk along the King’s Road back to Sloane Square, where there is a tube station.
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