Enjoy the Chelsea Literary and artistic walk and discover why this fashionable and avant-garde area has attracted so many authors and artists. Begin the tour in Knightsbridge, where the mega-rich shop. From here continue to the backstreets of Chelsea and walk in the footsteps of world famous writers and artists. This 3.5 mile (5.6 km) route begins in Sloane Street, passes through Kings Road and on to the Thames.
In this tour you’ll learn more about these famous writers and artists:
Knightsbridge and Sloane Street
One of London’s joys is the public transport system, so it’s very easy to arrive at the north end of Sloane Street where the tour starts. From Harvey Nichols southwards the road is lined with luxury brands in brash store fronts declaring to every passer-by everything in here is expensive.
Sloane St is named after Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) is the start of the Chelsea literary and artistic walk. During his long life Sir Hans built up a a vast collection of objects which became the basis for the British Museum. He derived his wealth from slave sugar plantations in the West Indies as well as his fashionable medical practice. He was a significant landowner in Chelsea and his heirs, the Cadogan family retain much of his legacy.
On the right hand side sits 64 Sloane Street where Jane Austen stayed in 1811 and 1813 stayed at the home of her brother.
Just a few doors along at 75 Sloane Street is the Cadogan Hotel. Here Oscar Wilde was arrested on Friday 5th April 1895. At 6.20 pm the police took him into custody following what was described as the ‘Trial of the Century’. Wilde, a homosexual, was put on trial for gross indecency in 1895 after the details of his affair with a British aristocrat were made public. After his imprisonment Wilde left England for Paris where homosexuality was legal and died in 1900.
Behind Sloane Street is Cadogan Square built between 1877 and 1888. At number 75 you’ll find a plaque to Arnold Bennett (1867-1931). Bennett moved to London from the Potteries at the age of 21. His early novels reflected his origins in Stoke and the surrounding districts. He published over 30 novels, numerous plays, and short stories as well as his journalistic output.
A little further on, at 72 Cadogan Square is another plaque. Dedicated to Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998) a pioneering journalist and writer who had an extraordinary life.
Martha first came to prominence in the 1930’s when she covered the great depression in the US. She moved to Paris to become a foreign correspondent and reported on the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, including the liberation of Dachau. In the 1950’s and 60’s she continued to report on war and conflict zones around the world including the Vietnam War. Finally in 1970 she settled in Cadogan Square and remained there until the end of her life.
At the bottom end of Sloane St just before you arrive in Sloane Square lies an extraordinary building, The Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity with St Jude, Upper Chelsea. The church is more commonly known as the Church of the Holy Trinity.
Commissioned by the 5th Earl Cadogan and built between 1888 and 1890 the church is wider than St Paul’s by 9 inches. William Morris and Burne-Jones designed some of the stained glass and the whole edifice is a glory to the Arts and Crafts Movement.
The Royal Court Theatre stands proud at the eastern end of Sloane Square. Like so much of this part of Chelsea, construction began in the 1880s. However, the Royal Court’s had it’s heyday in the 1950’s, beginning with John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger. Osborn was the first of a group of playwrights who became known as ‘The Angry Young Men’. This band of writers also included Alan Silitoe (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning), John Braine (Room at the Top), John Arden (Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance) and Arnold Wesker (Roots). The Royal Court still labels itself The Writers Theatre
St Leonard’s Terrace
Follow the map to St Leonard’s Terrace which looks across Burton Court to the Royal Hospital, Chelsea.
The Royal Hospital is the home of the Chelsea Pensioners. It was established by Charles II and designed by Sir Christopher Wren who completed the construction in 1692.
Looking over the Burton Court gardens at the Hospital is Bram Stoker’s house.
Abraham Stoker (1847-1912) moved to London from Dublin in 1878 as manager to the famous actor Henry Irving. He had already started writing in Ireland and shortly after settling in London published his first book, The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland . 1881 saw Stoker’s first novel, Under the Sunset, released. But it was not until 1890 when his most famous work, Dracula, appeared. In total he wrote 18 novels, but it’s only Dracula that commands an audience today.
Samuel Langhorn Clemens (1835-1910) better know by his pen name Mark Twain lived for a year at this house at 23, Tedworth Square.
Twain is best known for Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Price and the Pauper and Life on the Mississippi . But he was a constant traveller throughout his life and much of his writing describes these trips. From 1891 until 1900 he toured Europe extensively to help ease financial problems. In 1896 his daughter Susy died and he became a recluse in Tedworth Square for 9 months.
At 34 Tite Street Oscar Wilde wrote The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Grey.
During his 10 years at this address Wilde celebrated his great success with a whole series of popular plays and books. After his incarceration his creditors insisted that the entire contents of his Tite Street home be sold.
Chelsea Phsyic Garden
En route you’ll pass by the Chelsea Physic Garden. Unfortunately the garden is closed due to the pandemic, but it is a delight to visit if you get the chance.
Founded in 1673 the garden is the oldest botanic garden in London. There are over 5,000 medicinal, herbal, edible and useful plants grown here.
George Eliot (1818-1880) died here only 3 weeks after moving to her new home. Her husband, John Cross, lamented “I am left alone in this new House we meant to be so happy in.” Born Mary Anne Evans, Eliot wrote a number of classic 19th Century masterpieces including Middlemarch, Adam Bede and Silas Marner.
The house was built in 1718 and when Eliot moved in looked out over green fields. It is now owned by New York’s ex-mayor Michael Bloomberg, who reportedly paid £16 million for the property. It contains 7 bedrooms and a huge garden.
Daniel Gabriel Rosetti & Algernon Swinburne
A few doors along Cheyne Walk stands number 16, also known as the Tudor House, and home to Algernon Swinburne and Dante Gabriel Rosetti. Built in 1717 the house is noted for its ornate ironwork. Rosetti’s garden contained a crazy menagerie of animals including a bull, a peacock and a wombat. Rosetti founded the pre-Raphaelite painting movement along with John Everett Millais, and Holman Hunt. His most famous work is probably The Blue Bower.
Swinburne shared this home with Rosetti’s ex-lover and now house-keeper Fanny Carnforth. Born to a wealthy Northumbrian family and educated at Eton and Balliol, Oxford. Swinburne was an accomplished poet and literary critic. He shocked much of Victorian society with the sensual themes of much of his poetry.
Another poet Leigh Hunt (1784-1859) lived around the corner in Upper Cheyne Row.
In addition to his work as a poet, writer, essayist and critic he edited a number of journals including the Indicator. He translated works from Greek, French, Italian and Latin, a true man of letters.
Sir Thomas More
In 1520 the Catholic Martyr and Chancellor to Henry Viii Sir Thomas More built Beaufort House on, what is now, Cheyne Walk. Beaufort House no longer exists but
there now sits a most impressive building called Crosby Hall. This unique structure originally stood in the City of London, but was moved to the current site in 1910. Constructed between 1466 and 1475 for the very wealthy merchant John Crosby. During the 16th Century it was occupied by Sir Thomas More. It has now been turned over to a private residence.
Further along Cheyne Walk lies the birthplace of Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865).
However, her relationship with the property was short lived. Her mother died a year after her birth and her father sent her off to Knutsford, Cheshire, to be cared for by her mother’s sister. Elizabeth Gaskell has many classic novels to her name, most notably Cranford (1853) Ruth (1853) North and South (1855) and Sylvia’s Lovers (1863).
Our final stop along Cheyne Walk is at 104, the home of Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953).
A prolific writer, he wrote 153 books of essays, fiction, history, biography, poetry and light verse as well as a vast amount of periodical literature. Pope Pius XI recognised his contribution to the Catholic faith by awarding him the Grand Cross of the Order of St. Gregory the Great in 1934.
A Welsh painter, August John (1878-1961), celebrated mostly for his portraiture. Some of the famous people he depicted included Lawrence of Arabia, Dylan Thomas, W.B. Yeats and Lloyd George. Click on the link to see some of these paintings.
A A Milne
On the same street A A Milne (1882-1956) wrote his world famous Winnie the Pooh books. He lived in the house below from 1919 to 1940.
Milne described his home in Mallord Street as …”the prettiest little house in London”. He continued, “any of you may find himself some day in our quiet street, and stop a moment to look at our house; at the blue door with its jolly knocker, at the little trees in their blue tubs… at the bright-coloured curtains. We have the pleasure of feeling that we are contributing something to London.”
The success of Winnie the Pooh resulted from a story he told his son, Christopher Robin. The story was published in 1925 in the London Evening News. The characters in the story were modelled on Christopher’s toys.
In addition to his success with the Pooh books, Milne wrote other children’s books, adult fiction and a number of box office hits for the London theatre.
Sir Osbert Sitwell
Born into the aristocracy in 1892 Sir Osbert Sitwell published his first work of poetry in 1916 in response to his time in France in the First World War. His sister Dame Edith and younger brother Sir Sacheverell also contributed to the family’s reputation as poets and writers.
Amongst his writings and poetry one work stood out for contemporaries called Rat Week. In the poem he attacked Edward VIII for his abdication in 1936, but was even more critical of the large number of friends who deserted Edward. The poem which named these Rats, was widely circulated amongst the aristocracy, but was never published in his lifetime. He died in 1969 in Italy.
Return to Kings Road and possibly indulge in some less expensive shopping than at the start of this tour. Charles II built the road to link St James’s Palace to Fulham and beyond. Until 1830 the road remained for the exclusive use of the monarch.
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