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The History of Chelsea

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The word Chelsea means ‘chalk wharf’, and is of Anglo-Saxon in origin. There was a thriving Anglo-Saxon community there, outside of the main London settlement. The name suggests it was used as a landing stage for boats. The first written record of the Manor of Chelsea predates the Domesday Book of 1086. It notes that Thurstan, governor of the King's Palace during the reign of Edward the Confessor , gifted the manor to the Abbot and Convent of Westminster . Modern-day Chelsea was the site of the Synod of Chelsea in 787 AD. The Abbot Gervace subsequently gave the manor to his mother and so it became private land.

King Henry VIII then acquired the manor of Chelsea from Lord Sandys in 1536, the street where the King’s manor house stood is still called Chelsea Manor Street. Two of his eight wives lived in the Manor House, Catherine Parr and Anne of Cleves. His daughter, Princess Elizabeth – the future Queen Elizabeth I – was also resident there and Thomas More lived at the nearby Beaufort House. King James I established a theological college in Chelsea. Later the site was to become Chelsea Royal Hospital , founded by King Charles II . The building is one of Chelsea’s best-known landmarks and was first opened in 1694. The stunning building is the work of Christopher Wren , architect of St Paul’s cathedral. The buildings stand in extensive grounds and are the location of the world famous annual Chelsea Flower Show . The former Duke of York's Barracks (built 1801-3), just off King's Road, is now part of the Duke of York Square re-development. The Saatchi Gallery opened in the main building in 2008. Chelsea Barracks, at the end of Lower Sloane Street, were in use until recently, primarily in ceremonial role for troops of the Household Division. It has now been sold to a property group for re-development.

Even as early as 1694, Chelsea was a popular location for the wealthy. It’s royal connections did it no harm at all during its development, it was even once described as "a village of palaces", although with a population of 3,000 it was quite some village! Despite all this, Chelsea remained rural and even served London as a market garden. The trade in market garden produce continued right up until the 19th-century development boom. This rush to build signalled the end of rural Chelsea, which soon became part of the London metropolis.

King's Road was named after King Charles II because it was once King's private road from St James's Palace to Fulham . It was maintained as such until the reign of George IV . Chelsea was once famous for the baking of Chelsea buns and is still famous for its Chelsea Chinaware. Sadly the original works, the Chelsea porcelain factory, was sold in 1769 and the business moved to Derby . Unsurprisingly, examples of the rare original Chelsea-made ware coming to auction will now command very high prices.

Chelsea's reputation as a centre of creativity and innovation originated in a period during the 19th century, when the area became something of a Victorian artists' colony. Chelsea was once again a hub of everything creative and fashionable again in the 1960s when it became identified with ‘Swinging London’. During the Punk years of the late 70s, Kings Road was lined with shops selling outrageous fashion to wealthy punks. Chelsea has never lost that air of exclusivity and is recognised as a wealthy area with very high property values. It is also home to one of England’s most successful football clubs, Chelsea FC . The club, obviously keen to fit into its well-heeled surroundings, is one of the richest football clubs in the world.

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The Seven Years' War Starts - 1756, W.G. Grace Scores his Hundredth Hundred - 1895, Relief of Mafeking - 1900
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