One neighborhood I’ve always wanted to explore in London is Chelsea. Chelsea is located west of Westminster along the Thames. I spent a good part of the day here. Lorenzo has loaned me a book entitled Eccentric London and it is full of little known facts of all kinds. I used it and a guidebook to structure my explorations.
I took the tube to Sloane Square. Right out of the Tube station you get a sense of affluence. Immediately to the left of the station is Sloane Gardens. Like most of the Chelsea areas, it is build around a square. This area reminds me a great deal of Savannah – although Savannah’s grid system was for defense, but the subsequent squares provide such beauty to the residential areas.
Further along is the Old Burial Ground. This is a cemetery for soldiers – the first buried here in 1692. Great Britain has a history of taking care of their military veterans. Robert Cummings (died at age 116) and Joshua Cueman (died at age 123) were buried here in the 1700’s. William Hiseland’s headstone (died in 1732) states that he served in the army for 80 years and “when a hundred years old he took unto him a wife.” No need to rush into things. It is believed that more than 10,000 soldiers are buried here. It is full and has been closed to burial since 1854.
Next to the Cemetery is the Chelsea Royal Hospital. Founded in 1682 and designed by Christopher Wren (architect for St. Paul’s Cathedral), the hospital was for men “broken by war and old age”. Today over 400 male veterans live here where they receive food, shelter, clothing, and a small weekly allowance. The “pensioners” can be identified by scarlet or blue uniforms (I saw one in the pub where I had lunch).
On a little side street is the home of Bram Stoker who live here when Dracula was published in 1897.
The former home of Oscar Wilde – that witty writer who wrote The Importance of Being Ernest and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Wilde was openly gay, which was illegal at the time. He was arrested and convicted of homosexuality and sentenced to two years of hard labor. Upon his release from prison, he went into exile in Paris where he died in poverty. What a tragedy and miscarriage of justice.
The Chelsea Physic Garden (established in 1673) is the second oldest garden for medicinal plants in England. The oldest is in Oxford. Here’s a funny twist- cottonseed from this garden were sent to James Oglethorpe (connection to Savannah again) in 1732 and became the first cotton crops in Georgia (and the increase demand for slavery in the southern colonies.
Here’s what Dick Cheyne, Mick Jagger, and Sir Thomas More have in common; Dick Cheyne never lived here (thank God), but the street is pronounced the same way. Mick Jagger and a WHOLE bunch of other celebrities have lived on this quiet tree lined street.
Sir Thomas More was a long time, close friend of Henry VIII. This incredible old church, called simply “Chelsea Old Church”. It is believed that in this chapel, Henry secretly married Jane Seymour in 1536, several days before their official ceremony. I have no idea why. (Just in case you can’t keep up – she was wife #3 who died shortly after giving birth to Henry’s only male heir – a sickly boy named Edward.
When Henry broke from the Catholic Church and established himself as the head of the new church, More refused to accept it. Henry refused to accept that and ordered his old friend to be beheaded. With friends like that…
This statue is called, aptly, Boy with a Dolphin by David Wynne. I love it! Oddly, it sits in front of a Mercedes dealership.
Once I finished walking Chelsea, I walked all the way back to Pimlico Tube station (over 2 miles). Most of it was along the Thames and the weather was beautiful.
Notice the price of gas here – 1.36£ – that’s per liter! So if you do the math, 3.8 liters per gallon and convert pounds to dollars at the current rate, etc., etc. – gas is $8.43 per gallon! More than half again what our current prices are. And we wonder why Europeans think Americans are spoiled.
By the time I got back to La Gaffe, I was tired, hungry and my feet hurt. Instead of eating in the dining room (a little more formal) I ate in the little wine bar area. I’m so glad I did because Bernardo Stella joined me. Bernardo is Lorenzo’s father and he and his wife, Androulla, opened La Gaffe 50 years ago. In his retirement, he writes – poetry, screenplays, books – whatever stirs him. He shared with me some of his work and it’s really very good. We sat and visited for quite a while – very interesting man. After he left, Giuseppe decided I needed another glass of wine. How could I refuse? I expect to sleep well tonight.