BLTC Press Titles

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Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man

Friedrich Schiller

The Souls of Black Folk

W. E. B. DuBois

Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman

Some Experiences of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross

Historical notices of Chelsea, Kensington, Fulham, and Hammersmith

by Isabella Burt


But if Chelsea is wanting in the natural beauties it was once so admired for, it has acquired other recommendations, and objects of interest which attract numerous visitors. In no place above London Bridge does the Thames spread its gently flowing waters into so noble an expanse as it does here; where it is known as the "Reach," and which extending two miles east and west, exhibits, when the tide is at the full, a truly noble sight, and also affords ample means for all kinds of aquatic amusements. The Royal Hospital for old soldiers, with its extensive and handsome gardens; the Royal Military Asylum for their children; that eminent Institution St. Mark's College and Training School; the fine old Parish Church, containing so many beautiful monuments; and the new elegant Church of St. Luke's, not forgetting Cremorne Gardens and the Botannical Gardens, are all attractions for the holiday visitors who never fail in the summer to ramble over this old parish.

Few persons are aware that some really fine views may be obtained from the upper windows of the old houses in Chelsea; more particularly from those standing in Cheyne Row, a place that still bears evidences of its former wealthy and aristocratic residents. Indeed, the antiquities of Chelsea are chiefly by the water side. A walk of about three quarters of a mile from Manor Street to Cremorne Gardens presents nearly all the existing antiquities now to be found in Chelsea.

Not wishing to trouble the reader with long antiquarian details, it may suffice to briefly explain the derivation of the name of Chelsea. The earliest records of this old parish are to be found in the Saxon Chronicle of 785, where it is mentioned that a Synod was held here during the residence of Offa King of the Mercians, who in that year met in solemn council various bishops and archbishops. But, as historians, in one respect at least, resemble doctors, and do not always agree, various etymologies have been assigned to it. The most reliable authorities, however, consider it to be derived from the Saxon word Ceale-hythe, or a landing place for chalk, this part of the river, in the then inefficient state of land carriage, being the most convenient place for landing a substance not found in the soil of Chelsea, or contiguous districts. After the Norman invasion, the Norman-French name of Chaussee was bestowed on it, from the circumstance of finding some strong and ancient embankments along the water side. They are attributed to the Romans, and are at this time apparently as good as ever, and whether made by the Romans or not, have for ages sufficed to keep the Thames from overflowing its banks at this part of its course. Chaussee signifies causeway. The amalgamation of Ceale-hythe and Chaussee has gradually produced the word Chelsea, which name it has borne for about three hundred years

Chelsea must have been a very agreeable place for a long period of its history. Situated on ground gradually rising to about fifteen feet above the water level, and laid out with the parks and grounds of the nobility and gentry, and interspersed with beautiful nursery grounds, fine meadows and noble trees, no wonder that for about three centuries it was the dwelling place of all the celebrities of those ages: of all the fashionable and aristocratic. Although so near London, it does not He in the London chalk basin. Its geological formation is first a rich dark soil which has for ages been highly dressed, owing to the successive residence of rich landed proprietors of extensive grounds and gardens, and also as having for a long period so many large nursery grounds. For years all kinds of known flowers and plants were here brought as nearly as possible to perfection; to do so, the soil has been so richly dressed as to be even now very productive. This soil lies on a bed of siliceous gravel about five feet thick, lying on a strata of stiff blue clay several hundred feet in depth; beneath this a marine deposit of shells, &c, showing that like many other places it must at some remote age have been covered by the sea. The air of Chelsea is mild, and good for consumptive and asthmatic complaints, but it is not bracing, and in the autumn it is very debilitating; while in certain situations, and at particular seasons, it is subject to very keen cold winds.

Chelsea is bounded on its south by the noble "Reach," on the north the Fulham Road divides it from Kensington, on the east lies St. George's and Hanover Square. Two small rivulets, now arched over, formerly ran through green meadows, and divided it on the east and west from St. George's and Fulham. The Parish of Chelsea is about one mile and a half long, by about a mile and a quarter broad. Its area numbers 865 statute acres. In the census of 1801 it was found to contain 11,604 inhabitants. In 1861 the population had increased to 63,439.


Helsea Parish Church is conspicuously placed near the "Reach." It is very ancient; no thoughtful person can look on its venerable exterior without emotions of reverence and interest. Time has dealt gently with it, and mellowed its surface into an agreeable tint. It is principally built of brick, the north and south chapels are of stone; it consists of a nave, two chancels and two aisles. The most ancient part of it was built in the reign of Edward II., when the district was constituted into a Rectory, Roger D. Berners being its first Rector, while the King was the Patron. It has a noble tower, built in 1668, and at that time was believed to be (as probably it was) the highest piece of brickwork in England. It is one hundred and thirty feet high and twenty-four feet wide.

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