Site Unseen: Cheyne Walk

Every month CabbieBlog hopes to show you a little gem of a building that you might have passed without noticing, in the past they have ranged from a modernist car park; a penguin pool; to a Hanoverian gatehouse.

For a change this month we look at a road, for it is the 150th anniversary of the London Blue Plaque Scheme and it is Cheyne Walk, I believe, which holds the record for the most plaques on any street in London.

[T]aking its name from William Lord Cheyne the owner of much of Chelsea at the time, most of its elegant houses were built in the early 18th century. Once fronting the Thames the busy road outside of these elegant houses was built by Bazalgette in the 19th century as part of the Thames Embankment. It is due to this congested road that these quirky properties with the plethora of blue plaques are often overlooked.

Many artists have lived and worked on this road measuring less than half- a-mile and quite a number of them are not commemorated. The substantial red brick Carlyle Mansions was once known as ‘The Writers’ Block’ with good reason: Ian Fleming wrote his first Bond book Casino Royale here; Henry James completed his Portrait of a Lady; retired spy W. Somerset Maugham worked on Ashenden a classic spy story collection; Nobel prize winning poet T. S. Eliot, he who gave Andrew Lloyd Webber the idea for his Cats musical; along the road the Rolling Stones had an unwelcome arrival of the Chelsea Drug Squad whilst living there; the Rossetti’s stayed at No. 16 where Gabriel Rossetti was banned from keeping peacocks due to the noise; Mary Ann Evans, aka George Eliot died in No. 4 and many others.

J. M. W. Turner, arguably England’s greatest painter spent his final days at No. 119, getting an old waterman called Charles Greaves to ferry him across the Thames to Battersea to paint, a task Greaves’s son would perform later for James Abbott Whistler when he resided at No 21.

Others commemorated include Hilaire Belloc (at 104); Marc Isambard Brunel; Isambard Kingdom Brunel (both 98); Elizabeth Gaskell (93); Sylvia Pankhurst (120); Algernon Charles Swinburne (16); Philip Wilson Steer (109);sculptor John Tweed (108).

First-blue-plaque

Cheyne Walk may not have the oldest surviving blue plaque in London [pictured] that is on the wall of 3 King Street in Westminster [above], marking the spot where Napoleon III lived in 1848, but this small street has by far the most numerous.

Main picture: Cheyne Walk seen from The Thames in the 1890’s from London Calling by Tony Grant.

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