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Title: Rambling Recollections of Chelsea - by an old inhabitant
Author: Ellenor, J. B.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Rambling Recollections of Chelsea - by an old inhabitant" ***

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Transcribed from the 1901 The Press Printers edition by David Price,
email ccx074@pglaf.org.  Many thanks to Kensington Local Studies Library
for allowing the use of their copy in making this transcription.

                    [Picture: The “Old Swan,” Chelsea]

                          Rambling Recollections
                            of Chelsea and the
                           surrounding District
                        as a Village in the early
                         part of the past century

                                                      BY AN OLD INHABITANT

                       [Picture: Decorative design]

                       LONDON: The Press Printers,
                                142 Strand

                     [Picture: Picture of the author]


                      [Picture: Decorative divider]

_In offering my early recollections of Chelsea and surrounding
neighbourhood_, _I thought they might be interesting to many of my old
friends and neighbours_, _and while away pleasantly some of their leisure
moments_.  _The idea of compiling them from a diary_, _spasmodically
kept_, _only occurred to me when confined to my room_, _to pass away some
of the weary hours_, _and I certainly found the task extremely
advantageous_.  _Accordingly_, _I have had them printed_, _for
presentation to my friends_, _as a souvenir of our old friendship_.

_Highfield Lodge_,
   _Wandsworth Common_.
      _June_, 1901.

CHAPTER 1.—Early Recollections.

In my early recollection Chelsea had many industries characteristic of
the village, which have entirely passed away.  The only conveyance—a
two-horse stage coach, called the “Village Clock”—used to run from the
Cross Keys, in Lawrence Street, twice a day, for one shilling to Charing
Cross, and one-and-six pence to the City.  It would stop to change horses
at the “Black Horse,” in Coventry Street.  Time, from Chelsea, ten in the
morning and two in the afternoon; supposed to do the journey in an
hour—which it never did.  This coach appeared to be as much as was
required, as it was seldom full, although it would go round in the
morning to pick up its regular passengers.

The roads and streets had a very different appearance at that time, when
the King’s Road was like a country road, with a toll gate on the
north-east side of Sloane Square.  By the Asylum Wall, as far as
Whitelands, there was no path at all.  Where Colville Terrace now stands
was Colville’s Nursery, as far as Downing’s Floorcloth Factory, with no
path, and on the opposite side from Whitelands to the White Stiles was
Siger’s Nursery.  The White Stiles—where is now Avenue Terrace—was an
open space with a grand avenue of horse chestnuts and some old-fashioned
wood fence with two stone steps and a stile at each end, and where
Bywater Street and Markham Square stand was Morr’s Nursery.

The King’s Road only took a second place in Chelsea proper.  Paradise Row
and Cheyne Walk were considered the busiest and most thriving parts of
the village, as nearly all its industries were located on the river bank,
and nearly all the best families lived in Cheyne Walk or Paradise Row,
and in the Royal Hospital, where the old soldiers used to pass the board,
and pensions were paid.

For a boy in those days there were but few opportunities for amusement
and recreation.  The only resources we had were rowing, running, swimming
and boxing, to learn which was the proper thing to do and nearly every
boy’s ambition.  I know it was mine, and as soon as I could save up
two-and-six pence and get a half holiday, I used to go up to Air Street,
Piccadilly, to a tavern on the right hand side kept by a retired
prize-fighter, there to have a lesson from a professional in the “noble
art of self-defence,” as it was then called.  There were always a lot of
professionals waiting about who used to take it in turns to give the
lessons, and a very shabby, disreputable lot they were.  We had to pay
one shilling for the lesson and sixpence for the use of the room, the
lesson to last twenty minutes (which was quite long enough.)  You could
have a wash and brush up if you knew your way about and were a regular
customer, and could always get information of the whereabouts of a fight
that was to come off.  After leaving I would walk down St. James’ Street
to Charing Cross, to the pastrycook’s shop at the left hand corner of
Spring Gardens, and sit down at one of the tables, and, as we then called
it, “do the Baron,” by ordering a sixpenny ice, or jelly and two
cheese-cakes, and give the pretty waitress the twopence change, and go
home proud and happy thinking of my next dissipation.  These expeditions
were always taken alone, being too choice to be shared with anyone else.

Downing’s Floorcloth Factory, that I was speaking of, was burnt down
about 1829, having been set on fire one Saturday night, and a young man
about eighteen, named Butler, was hanged for it.  His father used to be a
sort of odd man or jobbing gardener for us, and a committee for his
defence sat at our house, mostly people belonging to the chapel that
young Butler was connected with.  I used to be taken out to see an old
officer from Chelsea Hospital, who used to come in full uniform with
cocked hat and white plume of feathers, to be chairman.  I can see him
now, going up the stairs with his sword clinking on every stair.  A
memorial was sent in, but was not successful.  The evidence of a woman
who knew him and lived in one of the cottages at the back, stated that
she came home late on the Saturday and forgot to take in her black-bird,
and was woke up by its making a noise.  She got up to take it in, and saw
young Butler in the factory yard holding the dog by the chain and patting
it.  Butler had only recently been discharged for some irregularities.
The place had been robbed as well as set on fire.  It was well known that
others were in it, but they escaped and were never taken, as there were
no police at that time, only the night watchman—a tall old soldier, who
was paid by subscription by the inhabitants, and used to perambulate the
streets and call out the hour and state of the weather—such as “Half-past
two and a stormy night,” and would eke out his livelihood by calling up
the riverside labourers and lightermen at such times as the tide served.

I well recollect the first policeman coming on duty in Chelsea.  Nearly
all the school boys, nurse girls, and children turned out to see him.
His beat when I saw him was along Green’s Row by the dead wall of
Burton’s Court.  He was a tall, ungainly-looking countryman, dressed in a
blue bobtailed coat with white metal buttons, white duck trousers, heavy
blucher boots, and a top hat and white gloves.  For several days an
admiring crowd persistently followed him up and down his beat, a little
way behind like the tail of a comet, the crowd in the road and he on the
path, but the novelty wore off after a time.

At that time the Swan brewery stood at the bottom of Swan Walk on the
River, and between that and the Botanical Gardens was the Skinner’s
Company’s Dock and barge wharf, where the state barge was kept.  Old
Captain May had charge of her, a worthy old man and quite an important
character among the riverside people, as he had the engaging of the
watermen to row the barge on Lord Mayor’s Day and other state occasions,
and when they went swan-upping.  As they were well fed and well paid it
was considered a desirable appointment.  It took eighteen watermen to row
the barge, and I think they were paid one guinea each for the day.  We
used to think it a grand sight to see them in their scarlet coats and
badges, breeches, low shoes and silk stockings.  It used to be almost a
holiday when they went out, as nobody could stick to his work.  The land
between the barge house and the brewery was a rare place to catch eels,
and a favourite place for us boys to lay night lines, as it was always
well ground-baited by the refuse from the brewery.  I have taken
twenty-four eels off twenty-five hooks on a night line.  There used to be
a grand day’s sport for us boys once a year at the brewery, on Good
Friday.  The drains from the brewery at their outlet on the river were
stopped up by ramming bags of sand in them when the tide was down, and
every boy or man that had a dog (and there were but few who had not)
would arrive as the tide served inside the yard gates in readiness, and
at a given signal the hot liquor from the coppers would be let down the
drains, and in a few minutes out rushed the rats by the score.  Away went
the dogs, and as all the outlets were stopped there was a nice scrimmage,
and there being a large number of barrels in the yard that the rats could
get between and the dogs could not, it would last some time, for we had
to move the barrels, and a good many of the rats would get away.  I have
seen them run up a barrel and get in the bung hole.  They were quite safe
then, and it would drive the dogs almost mad, and we had a job to get
them away.

There were several notable characters along the waterside.  One
hard-featured, powerful old man, named Jamie Cator, had the reputation of
being a remnant of the old press gang—and he looked it every bit.  He was
morose, dark-featured, heavily marked with the small-pox, and had a deep
scar from the comer of his mouth to the back of his jaw, which did not
add to his beauty.  He was dressed in oiled canvas trousers, a shiny
black sailor’s hat, and an old pensioner’s undress blue short coat, and
was not looked upon with respect.  He had a small pension of some sort
from the navy, and used to eke out his living by bringing down the floats
of timber from the docks to the different timber yards, and at other
times to work on the sand-barges dredging in the river.

There was another well-known character, a half-witted fellow, who got his
living by collecting corks and drift wood that was washed in by the
eddies at high tide.  He had an old boat that had been mended by tacking
bits of old floor cloth over the holes in her, and when afloat had always
to have someone baling out the water to keep her so.  The Thames in those
days was considerably more of a highway than at present.  There were two
watermen who went regularly up to Thames Street every day as a sort of
carriers, and would fetch or take anything from a message to a house of
furniture.  They would frequently bring a barrel of herrings, or two or
three sacks of potatoes, or anything they could buy cheap, and would go
round themselves with a bell and announce that they would sell in the
boat at the drawdock, at six in the evening, and in the winter they would
have one or two flaring lights and sell by Dutch auction.  Of course, we
boys always attended these sales.

In Paradise Row, were Harrison’s, the tallow melters and candle makers,
who used to do the work under the shop in a cellar, reached by a flap
from the outside.  Charlie, the candle maker, was quite a favourite with
us boys, for he would occasionally invite two or three of us to supper in
the cellar.  It was an understood thing that we should bring some
potatoes and enough money for a pot of four half and half.  We assembled
as soon as the shop was closed and the master gone, about half-past six;
and then such glorious suppers!  I do not think I ever had such before or
since.  Our first operation was to wash the potatoes, place them in the
furnace hole and cover them up with the ashes, and rake out some more
ashes and pat them well down.  Next, Charlie would go to a special
fat-bin and bring forth five or six lumps of fat, each containing a
kidney, which by some mistake had been left in.  These were dexterously
taken out, tied up separately in a piece of thin lining kept for the
purpose, leaving a long loop.  He would then string them on a dipping
rod, used for dipping the candles, place the rod across the coppers and
plunge them in the boiling fat.  In about twenty minutes they were done,
and taken out, and the potatoes, beautifully baked, divided between us.
At times we were short of plates, but that did not trouble us, for an
inverted saucepan lid answered every purpose.  We would then sit and tell
stories till we were obliged to go home.  Charlie used to work all night
Tuesday and Friday, as on those days they got the fresh fat in from the

In the summer there was the grass-boat, owned by an old man and his wife
and a grown-up daughter.  It had been an old ship’s jolly-boat, and had a
roughly-built half deck cabin about the size of a four-wheeled cab.  The
three of them lived in it, and came twice a week to the draw-dock with
bundles of coarse rush grass cut in the marshes on the river’s bank, to
sell to the local tradesmen to feed their horses, at three half-pence a
bundle; and all they had left was taken by the cowkeepers at a penny a
bundle.  When there was no grass they would go sand-dredging, getting the
sand by a pole with a leather bag on an iron frame at the end, with a
rope to a block rigged up and attached to a windlass.  The old man would
let down gradually the pole, and the wife and daughter would wind it up.
They were a terribly drunken lot; but the temptation to drink in those
days in Chelsea was very much greater than at present, for since I can
recollect, in that one road not much over a mile, from Battersea Bridge
to Ebury Bridge on the canal, there have been eighteen public houses
closed, and only one new license granted, and that is to the “Chelsea
Pensioner.”  The names of the thirteen houses that I alluded to were the
“Green Man” at the bottom of Beaufort Street, at the back of Luke Flood’s
house, the “Adam and Eve,” the “Cricketers,” the “Magpie and Stump,” the
“Don Saltero,” the “Yorkshire Grey,” the “King’s Head,” the “Old Swan,”
the “Fox and Hounds,” the “Snow Shoes,” the “General Elliott,” the “Duke
of York” (that was the house in Wilkie’s picture of the reading of the
news of the Battle of Waterloo), the “Rose and Crown,” the “Cheshire
Cheese,” the “Nell Gwynn,” the “Marquess of Granby,” and the
“Waterworks,” and several beerhouses.  All of these houses have been
closed or pulled down.

At the corner of Smith Street was the house where Tommy Faulkner, who
wrote the history of Chelsea, carried on his business of bookseller,
library keeper, stationer and printer.  There were some rich people at
that end of Paradise Row, several of them Quaker families, keeping two or
three servants.  Near the corner of the alley leading into Durham Mews,
lived a doctor, a celebrated anatomist, and at the bottom of his garden
in the Mews stood a building with no window that could be seen.  That had
the reputation of being the dissecting room.  None of us boys would pass
it after dark, as it was reported that the body snatchers who robbed the
grave yards, would bring the bodies in a sack to sell to the doctor.

The present Children’s Hospital was Miss Pemberton’s ladies’ school,
Gough House, with a lozenge-shaped grass plot and a carriage drive; an
avenue of elm trees led on each side to the house from the iron entrance
gates, by the side of which stood the coachhouse and stables.

A trip to Clapham was quite an undertaking, as there were no means of
getting there but by walking.  Once a year I used to go with the mother
to pay the ground rent.  We had to start after an early dinner and walk
over Battersea Bridge along the road, with fields on each side to the top
of Surrey Lane, pass Weller’s Farm, and strike off to the left by a
pathway through cornfields to Long Hedge Farm—where the Chatham and Dover
works now stand—and pass through some water meadows with bridges of
planks across the dikes and penstocks, and up the hill by the side of
some old cottages that brought you out in the Wandsworth Road; across a
narrow footpath, a steep hill with steps cut in the gravel, called
Matrimony Hill, and through the old churchyard.  A few doors to the left
was a ladies’ school,—our destination.  The lady we were to see was a
Miss Hart, a parlour boarder there.  We were regaled with biscuits and a
glass of currant wine, which we quite appreciated, to help us on our way

CHAPTER 2.—Schoolboy Escapades.

In Smith Street, at the corner of Durham Mews, stood Durham House School,
a large, square, rambling old building, without any pretence to
architectural design, apparently built at different times.  It contained
over forty rooms and dormitories, with a large playground at the back
extending the whole length of the mews.  It was strictly a boarding
school, and must have had nearly one hundred boys training for Eton and
Harrow and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, mostly the sons of
the aristocracy and the leading families.  Some of our most eminent men
were trained there.  Some of the younger boys on the fourth form were
allowed out with the usher on the Wednesday afternoons in the summer
time, from two till six, to wander in the fields and lanes to gather wild
flowers and to receive instruction in botany.  I became acquainted with
them at the tuck shop in Queen Street, kept by an old crippled shoemaker,
where we used to gamble for sweets by an apparatus called a “doley.”  You
dropped a marble down a spiral column on to a tray at the bottom with a
lot of indents for the marble to lodge in, all numbered, and the highest
number took the prize.

There were two ushers to the fourth form who took duty in turns.  One a
stout, sombre-looking man, whose sole enjoyment appeared to be to sit out
on the riverside of the Thames and smoke, drink beer, and read.  I think
I became rather useful to the boys as I could always find them bait, and
knew where the best fishing was to be had, and would get them white mice.
The other usher was a very much younger man, and better liked, as he
would bring the boys to certain places and leave us to ourselves, with
strict instructions to meet him at six.  Usually the place of meeting was
the Monster Tavern, at the end of the Willow Walk.  We very soon found
out that he was courting a young lady at a tavern in the Vauxhall Bridge
Road.  I recollect one Wednesday before Palm Sunday we had been left at
the ferry to go over to Battersea fields for the afternoon.  We wandered
about amusing ourselves till we got to Latchmere, at the bottom of Pig
Hill.  They were then building the South Western Railway, and the land
was all open so we wandered along by the side of the stream, about six
feet wide, that bounded the long gardens of the large houses in the
Wandsworth Road.  It had willow trees on the banks on each side, and we
began to gather palm, when we came to one tree on the opposite bank that
had some exceptionally fine bits, but out of our reach.  So we tied our
handkerchiefs together, placed a large stone in the end and threw them as
a lasso over the end of the branch and drew it to us.  Four or five of us
pulled it over and held it while the others were to gather.  I was at the
end pulling with all my strength, when all at once I found myself lying
on my face on the other side of the stream in the garden, with the old
gardener standing over me.  I was tolerably scared.  He collared me and
took me up the garden into a sort of paved yard, and placed me between a
dog kennel, occupied by a tremendous mastiff, and a pump, just outside
the reach of the dog’s chain.  The dog seemed to treat me with the most
utter contempt.  I do not think he would have hurt me, as he simply
walked up and down and sniffed a bit, and then laid down and went to
sleep.  As I stood on one side I had a view of the kitchen or scullery
with the servants, and on the other side through an open doorway in the
wall, I had a view of the lawn and flower garden, and the glass casements
of the dining room.

I was kept standing there for more than two hours, when my captor, the
old gardener, came and had a look at me, and went into the house and
returned with a stout red-faced man, with no hat and a white handkerchief
round his neck, who went into the house.  It had got dark by this time,
and the lights were lit; he presently returned, and the cowardly old
brute, took me by the collar and almost choked me, and pressed his great
coarse knuckles into my neck, and tried to hurt me as much as he could.
I should have liked to have had him to myself for a little time.  I know
his poor old shins would have known it.  He fairly dragged me into the
house and through a glass door into the dining room, where there were at
least ten or twelve ladies and gentlemen at dessert.  I was taken to the
end of the table, where a tall, white-haired old gentleman sat who was
very deaf, and I was questioned by two or three of them, and one
gentleman who looked like a clergyman, began to lecture me and said how
wicked it was to come into a gentleman’s garden to steal the fruit.  One
young lady said, “Oh, Pa, that cannot be, there is no fruit now.”  From
questions by one and the other I had to tell them everything; the usher’s
going courting seemed to rather amuse the young people.  After being
seriously talked to I was allowed to go, and was taken out into the front
hall, when one of the young ladies came out with a bunch of grapes and
some figs and thrust into my hand, and at the side door by the stables I
was met by one of the maid servants with a lump of pudding.  I very soon
made my way down Falcon Lane to the High Street and turned into Church
Street, and as I passed old Battersea Church I knew it was nine o’clock,
as the bells began to ring—as they did every evening at that time.  I
think that was about the last of our Wednesday afternoon outings alone,
as it came to the knowledge of the usher, and he was afraid it might get
to the school authorities.

CHAPTER 3.—Entertainments and Sports.

Entertainment or amusement in Chelsea was very poor, as there was no room
or place for the purpose.  The only one I can recollect was when a
professor of mesmerism and clairvoyance came down and took the skittle
ground at the back of the “George and Dragon.”  He was a thin, shabby old
man, dressed in black with very dirty linen.  With him were his wife, and
two girls—his daughters, he informed us—one about twelve and the other
about fourteen, with ringlets, shabbily dressed and closely covered up in
old cloaks.  They did all the advertising and canvassing themselves, by
taking round the bills and trying to sell tickets at sixpence each.  The
sides of the skittle ground were decorated by the hanging of table
covers, curtains, pieces of carpet, sheets, or anything else that would
cover over the walls.  The platform at the end was composed of the
taproom tables with some boards across, an old square piano belonging to
the house stood on the floor; the lighting was effected by double tin
sconces hung on the wall with two tallow dips in each.  The seating
accommodation for the ticket holders consisted of chairs; those who paid
threepence at the doors had forms or planks to sit on with a gangway down
the middle.  The performance commenced about seven by one of the young
ladies playing the piano, and the other a triangle, the old lady being
engaged in taking the money at the entrance.  The professor mounted the
platform and addressed his audience, commenting upon the wonderful and
mysterious scene he was about to enact.  He commenced with the usual
conjuring tricks of borrowing a hat and making a pudding in it and
bringing a live pigeon and a large cabbage out of it, and then returning
the hat undamaged to its owner, which to us children was a great wonder.
Then came the card tricks, and the ventriloquial dialogue with the
puppets, with a handkerchief over each hand to form the figures, and then
the grand event of the evening.  The table was removed from the platform
and replaced by two chairs, and the two girls, dressed in white frocks
and yellow sashes, came on.  After addressing the audience, he proceeded
to throw the elder one into a trance, which he appeared to succeed in
doing, for she stood perfectly upright and still.  He then placed the two
chairs a certain distance apart, back to back, and taking the girl up in
his arms, laid her on her back with her head resting on the back of one
chair and her feet on the other, and she remained so for some minutes.
Next he lifted up the other girl and placed her standing with one foot on
her sister’s chest, and the other at her knees, and she remained so for
some minutes, when she was taken down and placed with her back to the
company for the usual thought-reading performance.  At the end, as an
extra, a pale, sickly youth was introduced, and sang “Wapping Old
Stairs,” and “Sally in our Alley,” the young lady playing the
accompaniment, much to the satisfaction of the company.  At the
conclusion a plate was sent round to collect for the benefit of the

Chelsea Regatta was a grand day, usually about Whitsuntide, when rowing
took place for various prizes, subscribed for by the inhabitants, the
publicans being the most active promoters, and the leading gentry patrons
and liberal subscribers; first among them the Bayfords and the Owens,
great rowing men and very liberal to the watermen.  I think one of the
Bayfords was the first winner of the silver sculls.  The amount collected
at a time would be as much as fifty or sixty pounds.  There was a grand
prize, a boat to cost twenty pounds, and various money prizes.  The limit
of entries was twelve, to be drawn by lot by Chelsea watermen, with
certain restrictions.  The race was in two heats, six in a heat, the
first and second in the two heats to row in the final; the course from a
point opposite the “Yorkshire Grey” stairs, round a boat moored opposite
the “Adam and Eve,” back and round a boat moored opposite the Brunswick
Tea Gardens at Nine Elms, and back to the starting point.  The waterside
on a regatta day was like a fair, as there were always two or three
mountebanks, a circus and a dancing booth on the various pieces of vacant
ground in the neighbourhood of the river.  Some of the performers,
dressed as clowns, played a kind of river tournament, sitting
straddle-legged on beer barrels afloat, tilting at each other with long
poles; the fun was to see them tumble each other into the water.  Then
there was the old woman drawn in a washing tub by four geese.  After each
display the performers would march with a band to their different places
of entertainment.  From out of the fund provided, there were prizes given
for running in sacks, and climbing the greasy pole for a leg of mutton
fixed at the top, and a prize for running along a greased pole placed
horizontally from the stem of a coal barge, and extending over the water
some twenty feet.  On a barge moored opposite the end of the pole were
four spars radiating with a basket at the end of each from a capstan that
revolved, containing a prize, and just within reach of the end of the
greased pole.  One was usually a small live pig, others a fat goose or a
live duck with its wings cut.  The “running the pole” was most difficult,
for as soon as you got near the prize at the end of the pole it would be
dipped by the weight and slip you off into the water; while if you got to
the end of the pole and touched the basket as it revolved it would fly
away from you.  The live prize was the most difficult to contend with,
for you had to fight with it to get it on shore.  The proceedings all
finished up with a grand display of fireworks.  On the following day the
boat decked with flags, in a van, would be drawn round the principal
streets with the watermen who had been engaged in the contest, singing
some doggerel verses composed for the occasion, and thanking the people
for their liberal subscriptions.

CHAPTER 4.—Chelsea Notabilities.

There were some notable people living in Cheyne Walk in those days.  At
number three lived Mr. Goss, organist at St. Luke’s, afterwards at St.
Paul’s Cathedral, who was subsequently knighted.  At number five lived
Justice Neild, an eccentric old bachelor, who left half a million of
money to the Queen, and next door lived Doctor Butler, curator of the
British Museum, and at Gothic House lived Mr. Moore, a man seven feet
high, and stout in proportion, dressed in a long drab coat, breeches and
Hessian boots with large tassels.  He had been a contractor for the
stores and accoutrements for Wellington’s army in the Peninsular
campaign.  A constant visitor was the Countess of Harrington, in a
splendid carriage with two tall footmen behind in a quaint brown livery
trimmed with gold lace, breeches and silk stockings.  Then there were the
Owens and the Bayfords, very charitable people.  Then there was “Don
Saltero’s” tavern, kept by a tall Scotchman and his factotum, a little
short fat man, a sort of “Joe Willett of the Maypole,” who was barman,
cellarman, and waiter in one.  There used to be a goodly company of an
evening in the coffee room of retired officers and well-to-do people in
the neighbourhood, to play whist and chess, and sometimes all-fours.
There was an ordinary on Sunday at two o’clock, when they gave you a rare
good dinner for two-and-sixpence, including beer.

I well recollect the Kingsleys coming to Chelsea, I think it was about
the year 1832.  I know it was near about the “cholera year.”  The first
time I saw Charles and Henry they were boys about twelve and fourteen.  I
met them in the rectory garden at the giving of prizes to the St. Luke’s
National School boys, when they were regaled with buns and milk.  The
rector and the boys were great favourites with the parishioners as they
were courteous and very free with everybody.  I can recognize many of the
characters in “The Hillyars and the Burtons” as old Chelsea inhabitants,
and the description of the mounds and tablets in old Chelsea Church and
the Churchyard, and the outlook over the river is as correct as it well
can be.

Opposite the Church in the corner by the Church draw-dock stood the cage,
and by the side of it the stocks, then came Lombard Street, and the
archway with shops and wharfs all along the riverside up to Battersea
Bridge.  At that time there were fishing boats, and fishermen got a
living by catching roach, dace, dabs and flounders, and setting pots for
eels all along Chelsea Reach, and between Battersea Bridge and Putney,
and they would hawk them through the streets of a morning.  The eels were
carried in little tubs, as many as eight or ten, one on top of the other,
on the man’s head, and sold by the lot in each tub at about sixpence or
eightpence each.

The favourite promenade, especially on a Sunday, was the River Terrace at
the back of Chelsea Hospital.  It was thrown open to the public, and you
gained access to it from the gate of the private gardens opposite King
Charles’ statue.  It consisted of a gravelled terrace and a dwarf wall on
the river side, with two rows of immense elms commencing at the outlet of
Ranelagh Ditch to the river, and ending at the Round House.  On the
corner by Ranelagh Ditch stood the College Water Works, with the old
machinery going to decay, that had been used to pump water for the use of
the hospital.  This was a grand place, and considered extremely
fashionable, where most of the courting and flirting by the young people
was carried on.  The Ranelagh Ditch was the boundary of the hospital
grounds at that tune, and was an open stream about nine feet wide; while
its banks were supported by planks and struts across it.  It was open
right up to the end of Eaton Place.  It was crossed by two bridges, one
called Ranelagh, in the Pimlico Road, by the side of the “Nell Gwynn”
tavern, the other called Bloody Bridge, in the King’s Road, between
Sloane Square and Westbourne Street.  On the banks of this foul and
offensive stream there was no better than a common sewer.  Between the
two bridges at the back of George Street and overlooking it, were crowded
together a lot of old two and three-roomed cottages that periodically at
high tide were flooded by the offensive matter.  The district was known
as Frog’s Island, and suffered terribly in the outbreak of cholera in
1832.  It was inhabited by a class that was always in a chronic state of
poverty, and as there had been a very severe winter, that had a great
deal to do with it.  I think this stream is now covered over.  It had its
rise from the overflow in the Serpentine, in Hyde Park, and crossed under
the road at Knightsbridge, about where Albert Gate now stands, into the
Park. {32}

CHAPTER 5.—Old-time Chelsea.

It was a grand sight on the first of May to see the four-horse mail
coaches pass along Knightsbridge at eight in the evening.  As many as
fourteen would pass all in their new livery of scarlet coats and
broad-brimmed top hats, trimmed with gold lace, the guards blowing their
horns.  I have seen them take up passengers at the top of Sloane Street,
who arrived there in one of the old two-horse hackney coaches, and it
appeared quite an undertaking to get the passengers on board.  They would
branch off there, some going along the upper road through Kensington, and
the others along the Fulham Road and across the river at Putney.  The
road from Chelsea to Buckingham Palace was mostly through fields, some of
them called the Five Fields (now Eaton Square and neighbourhood),
extending as far as Grosvenor Place and St. George’s Hospital, which you
could see from the toll-gate in Sloane Squire, the only building on that
part being Eaton Chapel.  The road to the Palace was very lonely, as
there were but few houses.  The Chelsea Bun Houses—there were two of
them—stood on the left side of the Pimlico Road, about one hundred yards
beyond the toll-gate by the “Nell Gwynn” tavern.  The first one kept at
that time by London, had a frontage of at least fifty feet.  It was built
out fifteen or twenty feet from the house, and had a colonnade in front
over the pathway; the other, kept by Chapman, was two doors further on,
of the same style but much smaller.  On a Good Friday morning I have seen
a large crowd waiting to get served, which they did through the window.
I have seen carriages and traps waiting as far as the tollhouse.  A
little farther on, where St. Barnabas’ Church now stands, was the
“Orange” tavern and tea gardens, with a theatre where regular plays were
acted, and beyond, just before you came to the wooden bridge over the
canal there was a road leading down to the Chelsea Water Works reservoir
and filtering beds, and at the bottom stood the “White House,” with its
ferry over to the “Red House” at Battersea, a great sporting riverside
house, where nearly all the pigeon shooting took place.  There was always
a great crowd of amateur sportsmen outside waiting for a shot at any
birds that escaped, and frequently a dispute would arise as to who shot
the bird, often ending in a fight.

There were no buildings on the right hand side of the road, but some
marshy ground and a row of willow trees between it and the canal as far
as the basin, which was surrounded by a few shops and wharves, and where
Victoria Station now stands.  And nearly opposite stood Bramah’s Iron
Foundry, where nearly the first iron lighthouse was built and fitted
together and erected in the yard complete, and then taken and shipped to
one of the West India Islands, I think Jamaica, and re-erected.  It was
afterward’s Bramah’s Great Unpickable Lock Factory.

At the other side of the canal was the Willow Walk, a raised road leading
from the Monster Gardens to Rochester Row, with market gardens and low
swampy ground running right down to the river on one side, and the canal
on the other.  In winter I have seen snipe, teal and wild duck shot on
the ground at the west end of Chelsea.  Just over Stamford Bridge stood
Stamford House, once the residence of Nell Gwynn, now occupied by the Gas
Company’s engineer, and just beyond, through a farm yard, was a public
footpath right through the orchards and market gardens alongside of the
river right away to a riverside tavern, with a lane bringing you out by
Parson’s Green.  In the orchards was grown some of the choicest fruit to
be found in the country.  There were some old walls with fruit trees that
appeared to have stood there for centuries.  This district was known as
Broom-house, and was owned and occupied by the Bagleys, Steels, Matters,
and Dancers, market gardeners and fruit growers.  Higher up the river at
Hammersmith, Chiswick and Isleworth were the strawberry gardens that
supplied London with that delicious fruit.  They were carried to Covent
Garden Market twice a day by women in large round baskets on their heads.
You would meet them along the road of a morning about seven, and again
about three with a second picking, always on the trot, in gangs of as
many as twenty.  The strawberries were packed in small tapering baskets
called pottles, holding about two-thirds of a pint, and then in large
baskets called rounds, containing seventy-two pottles; these rounds
containing seventy-two pottles would sell at from twelve to sixty
shillings, according to the season and quality of the fruit.  This was
considered a very profitable industry as both pickers and the carriers
were much better paid than the ordinary employees.  It was quite a
harvest, and lasted from three weeks to a month.

The lying in state of the Duke of Wellington was held in the dining hall
of Chelsea Hospital.  There was a raised platform at the west end
beautifully draped in black velvet and white silk, with silver cords and
tassels.  The coffin was attended by four officers, generals, as chief
mourners, and the gangway that the public passed along was lined with
guardsmen.  During the ten days for which the body was on view the crowd
was immense, and on about the third day there were two women trampled to
death, and a great number injured, owing, it was supposed, to a number of
artillerymen marching up in a body and trying to force their way through
the crowd.  Steps were immediately taken to erect barricades, and police
officers were stationed to regulate the crowd.  As it extended three
parts of the way up Ebury Street, some had to wait from five to six
hours, only a certain number being allowed to pass round at a time, and
there were many taken out of the crowd that could not stand the crush and
had fainted.

The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race was best seen from Cheyne Walk as the
course at that time was from Westminster to Putney, for that and all
other leading races, and the race was considered a dead certainty for
whichever boat got through Battersea Bridge first and had the Middlesex

They used to have some tolerably good sailing matches for small boats off
Chelsea Reach.  The course was from a boat moored opposite the “Adam and
Eve,” turning round a boat moored off Lambeth Palace, and back to the
starting point.  Races were arranged to start at about three-quarter’s
flood so that they would finish on the ebb of the tide.  They were small
tubby-looking, half-decked boats, not above three tons, and would carry
an immense amount of canvas, and when there was a breeze and the river
was a little bit lumpy they would dance about merrily and were a very
pretty sight.  They were generally sailed by the owners.

CHAPTER 6.—Public Gardens.

The first public garden that I recollect, long before Cremorne, was the
Manor House in the King’s Road, between Little’s Nursery and Shawfield
Street, where Radnor Street and the Commercial Tavern now stand.  It was
a detached house with carriage drive in front, and grounds reaching to
where the bottom of Radnor Street is.  It used to be occupied by one,
Colonel Middleton, and in about 1836 it was taken by a man of the name of
Smith, and turned into a tea and recreation garden, a sort of little
Vauxhall with coloured lamps, statuary, shrubbery, winding path and
fountain, with music and dancing.  Flexmar the clown, when a youth, was
one of the regular visitors and would amuse the company with a break-down
dance, and the great Mackney, the negro delineator and stump orator (I
believe still on the music hall stage), as a youth was a very clever
violinist, and would entertain the company by playing in almost any
position and imitating almost any sound.  It was carried on only a few
years, after which the owners built the Commercial Tavern, with a large
room behind, now Radnor Chapel.  The grounds were laid out for builders,
and Radnor Street was built, leaving the old Manor House standing at the
corner in the King’s Road.  It was then turned into the Chelsea Literary
and Scientific Institution, and so continued until removed to the Chelsea
Town Hall.  It struggled on for a few years and then came to grief.

CREMORNE.—The first I recollect of Cremorne was a man known as Baron de
Barranger, who used to ride about in grey military uniform with his two
sons, tall, military-looking men.  They carried on a sort of livery
stable and tavern at Cremorne House, by the river, and called it the
Stadium Canteen.  It was on a road by the river, leading from the bottom
of Cremorne Lane past Cremorne and Ashburton House and the cottage to the
Lammas Lands, known as the Lots meadows, some eight or ten acres in
extent, which was sold by the parish for about three or four hundred
pounds.  There was, even in De Barranger’s time, some entertainment at
Cremorne, for in the meadow known as Cremorne Meadow on the opposite side
of the King’s Road, a fair was held, and at Cremorne ground some pony
races and a horse and sporting-dog show, but the commencement of Cremorne
as a place of public entertainment was in about 1839, under Baron
Nicholson, of the Garrick Head, in Bow Street.  This was where the “Judge
and Jury” was held, with Baron Nicholson as the presiding judge, when
counsel used to appear in wig and gown, and very remarkable mock trials
were held, the evidence being of a broad and indecent character.  The
partner of the Baron in organising the fete at Cremorne was a man of the
name of Littlejohn.  It was extensively advertised by bands of music
drawn about in stage coaches, and was called a “Thousand Guinea Fete.”
The entertainment lasted three days, and dancing, singing, music and
drinking went on till the small hours of the morning.  This, I believe,
was not a commercial success.

Two years after the place was opened by a Mr. Ellis, I think, a musical
man connected with Drury Lane Theatre; regular entertainments were
provided, and a band stand erected with a circular dancing platform round
it, and a lot of alcoves and nooks for refreshments under the band stand
and round the platform and in various parts of the gardens.  A pavilion
for concerts was afterwards added.  Before these arrangements were made
the dancing was in the long room of Cremorne House, which was turned into
the supper room.  The House was kept open during the summer in a
languishing sort of way till about 1848, when it came to grief and was
closed.  About 1849 it was purchased by a Mr. Simpson, I believe, a hotel
keeper from near Covent Garden Theatre, and the whole thing was greatly
improved and decorated and opened with some first-class music and popular
artistes.  Two of the leading cornet players were engaged, Coney and
Arbin, and a great amount of vigour and energy were thrown into its
management, and from that time it became the most popular place of
amusement and appeared to be vieing with Vauxhall Gardens, which were
then on the wane of their popularity.  The land on the river front was
taken in and converted into a pleasure garden, and a rustic bridge thrown
across the road, connecting it with Cremorne proper, and river fetes were
given, with fireworks and the assistance of steamboats.  An hotel was
built on the river front, and a grand panorama of the Siege of
Sebastopol, was shown with the assistance of some of the Foot Guards.  An
accident happened by the falling of a platform and several were injured.
The balloon ascents were a great feature by Lieutenant Gale, Adam, and
Coxwell taking up acrobats who performed on the trapeze in mid air.  A
Madam Potoven ascended sitting on the back of a white heifer fixed on a
platform suspended from the car, and a Frenchman came down in a
parachute, falling opposite Chelsea Church in Robert (now Sydney) Street,
and was killed.

The gardens went on successfully for many years under the able management
of Bishop, Partridge, and Adams, until the alteration in the licensing
laws, when the time of closing was fixed at twelve, the beginning of the
most profitable time.  The concern then fell into the hands of E. T.
Smith, and was carried on by him for a few years without any very marked
results—it appeared to have passed its pristine glory.  It then passed
into the hands of the proprietor of the Glove and Scents Emporium in the
Gardens, who was the last proprietor, for it was soon after closed for
good, and the land, together with the Ashburton estate and the Lots or
Lammas Lands were laid out and let for building purposes.  The only part
left uncovered by buildings is the Ashburton Nursery on the King’s Road
front.  Vauxhall Gardens had been closed some years so Cremorne was the
only public gardens near London of any account.

A great impetus to all places of amusement was caused by the ’51
Exhibition in the Park.  It was a grand year for all people in business
in London for the visitors were immense from all quarters of the world,
and you would meet in the streets the costumes of all the nationalities
of the globe.  There was an average of one hundred thousand visitors
passing the turnstiles every day, and on the last Thursday there were one
hundred and thirty seven thousand.

CHAPTER 7.—My First Census.

The first census that I can recollect, if all the enumerators had the
experience I had, must have been a very incomplete and misleading return.
I was asked to take a section of four hundred forms to deliver, get
filled up and return, for which I was to receive one guinea, and for
every fifty beyond that number two shillings and sixpence, and as I was
told it would only take a few hours on the Saturday afternoon to deliver,
and the same on the Monday to collect, I thought it was pretty good pay.
But never any more! for it took me nearly three weeks to complete, and at
least two-thirds of the papers I had to worry out the particulars and
fill them up myself as best I could, for the people were very suspicious
and had a notion that the government had a sinister motive in getting
these returns.  One was supposed to be that there was a conscription for
the army, and every able-bodied man was to serve, and another was that
they were going to introduce passports as they did on the continent, and
anything continental at that time was not at all popular.

I recollect the passing of the Reform Bill in ’32, when there was a great
illumination, and gangs of men and boys went about breaking the windows
of all the houses that were not lit up.  Nearly all the windows on one
side of Smith Street were broken.  The illumination consisted of tallow
candles stuck in square lumps of clay, about six in each window.  Chelsea
has always had a strong radical element, for during the agitation over
the Reform Bill, the Unionists had one or two meeting houses.  There was
one in Leader Street, and another in Doyley Street, and in ’48, the time
of the Chartists, one of the sections met on the Chelsea Common and
marched with their portion of the partisans to the great meeting on
Kennington Common, and returned in procession along the Kennington Road
to the Westminster Bridge.  Here they were broken up by the police and
not allowed to proceed in procession, and the petition was sent on in two
four-wheeled cabs.  There was great excitement, and it was generally
expected that there would be serious rioting.  Great precautions were
taken, the military were all confined to barracks, and a large number of
artillery with their guns from Woolwich were drafted into London
overnight, and all the body of local reserve men—old soldiers with
pensions—were kept under arms, and 100,000 special constables were sworn

The recruiting sergeant in Chelsea on Whitsun and Easter Mondays and
during the regatta was very active.  There would be two or three smart
fellows from the cavalry with one or two young fellows, posing as
recruits, for decoys.  The artillery sergeant would be in smart blue
uniform, and then came the regiments of the line.  The decoys for the
latter were two or three smartly dressed girls of doubtful character.
Then came the East India Company sergeant, and last but not least came
the recruiting for the Spanish legion.  They all had their gangs of
harpies and hangers on, as the sergeant spent money freely, every recruit
being worth five to six pounds to him.  It was a common practice to get a
lad half drunk over night, and in the morning to bounce him that he had
enlisted, and there were always plenty to swear that he had done so.  The
recruits for the Spanish legion were a rare motley crew, and would go
singing through the streets, half drunk, in gangs, that they were going
fighting for the Queen of Spain, and collect drink and money.  A good
part of the crowd would be loafers and not recruits at all.  The great
recruiting ground was along the riverside, and at the public houses along
the roads leading to the fair at Wandsworth, which was held on a piece of
land in the York Road, just beyond where Wandsworth Station now stands.
The recruits for the Spanish legion were a poor miserable lot, as they
were the refuse from the others.  They would take them at any age, from
sixteen to fifty, and were not at all particular about size or health; in
fact, there is little doubt that lads of fourteen were sent out.  They
used to assemble by Northumberland Passage, Charing Cross, and march in
gangs to Tower Hill to pass the Board of Commissioners that sat in a room
over a sailmaker’s, and having passed, would go by steamboat to Gravesend
ready to embark; and it was generally asserted that they never shipped
above two-thirds of the recruits they enlisted.  The balance would desert
and enlist again, and were assisted in so doing by the recruiting

CHAPTER 8.—The London Docks.

People had to walk more in those days, as there was no riding to your
employment.  I know the first employment I obtained was at the London
Docks as checker to the landing of goods, and I had to get there by eight
and leave at four.  No time for meals, which I had to eat behind the desk
flap.  I had to stand all day on a wheeled platform, with a desk in
front, that was moved along the quay wherever it was wanted.  It used to
take one and a half hours to get there; it was a long drag, but as I got
twelve shillings per week I thought it an important post.  I could
sometimes if the tide served, get a ride home by taking a scull and
dropping up with the tide; they were generally glad of a hand.  I should
think the dock labourer was very much worse off in those days than at
present, as there appeared plenty of labourers, and they were only taken
on as wanted and discharged as soon as done with, many of the jobs
lasting only three hours, and the pay being fourpence per hour.  They got
their shilling and were done with till they got the next job.

I recollect the way one tail brawny Scotchman, over six feet high, named
Macdonald, used to select his gangs; he would go to the dock gates where
the crowd was waiting, and not say a word but plunge in and take those he
wanted by the collar and swing them round behind him just like you would
select from a drove of ponies, and his attendant would give them a ticket
with a number on it.  From thence the engaged commenced the walk from
Chelsea to the docks, through the College Walk, up Ebury Street, and
through Elliot’s, the Stag Brewery, always having a look in at the
stables at several of the most beautiful black dray horses, splendidly
kept and as well cared for as in a nobleman’s stables.  Then up Castle
Lane to Palmer’s Village, where I would meet a companion who was employed
in Thames Street, and then along York Street and Tuttle Street, next out
in the open space by Westminster Hospital, close to Palace Yard, up the
steps to the high pavement, and through a passage by a public house to
Westminster Bridge, through Pedler’s acre, along Stangate and Bankside,
through the Brewery, and come over the new Bridge just opened, and out by
the water wheel, along Thames Street, over Tower Hill to the docks.  I
got my appointment through the interest of an old Quaker gentleman who
lived at No. 5 Paradise Row, with his two sisters.  I had to go of an
evening to get instructions in my duties, and he was very particular to
impress upon me that neatness was the most important point in
bookkeeping, and that the red ink lines in their proper place was the
beauty of a ledger, and never to erase a mistake, but draw the red lines
across it and enter the correction in red ink on the margin, which I hear
is still held good to the present day.  I have often walked from Chelsea
to the Robin Hood at Kingston Bottom and back after I had done my day’s
work, to do my courting and see the young lady, the daughter of the head
gardener at Park House, who lived at the lodge by the entrance gates.  I
was not a recognized suitor, and had to do the courting under
difficulties; I would go along the road past the lawn and shrubbery to
where the peacock roosted in the big trees, and imitate its screech as a
signal that I was there, and then come along the road to where the fence
and the hedge met and squeeze through into the kitchen garden, and sit
down on the trunk of an old walnut tree and wait.  It was here that most
of our courting was done.

This went on for some time, till the young lady was sent away as
companion to an old lady at Bath, but correspondence was both difficult
and expensive.  As every letter cost eightpence for postage it was too
expensive to last long.  I would sometime be able to get them franked,
which was a privilege allowed Members of Parliament and certain persons
in an official position to send them free of charge.  I could generally
get a couple sent off in this way by meeting the manservant of an old
officer in the hospital, and treating him to a four of hot rum at the
Phœnix Tavern, in Smith Street.

CHAPTER 9.—An Exciting Experience.

I was always fairly successful in getting employment, as I was always
ready and willing to earn a few shillings, our circumstances being needy.
I recollect sitting at home one Saturday evening when a friend of
mother’s came in who kept an old tavern at the bottom of Church Street,
and was in sad trouble.  She had just been to Doctor Philpot at the
corner of the street for advice, and found out the doctor had been
attending her husband for what was then known as the “Blue Devils,” after
a drinking bout.  The potman who had attended to him had gone to take his
pension and had not come back, and could not be found anywhere, and the
patient was very restless, and there was no one in the house but her, the
servant, and a young girl who served in the bar.  She was afraid to be
left, and I was asked if I would mind going home with her, and if she
could get no one else I was to stop there where the young people and I
knew each other well.  I consented and started with her.  By that time it
was nearly eleven o’clock, and we found the patient quiet, and had been
sleeping; and as soon as we could get the customers out, we closed the
house, and had a good supper.  The servant had been sitting with him.  It
was then past one o’clock when I went upstairs; it was a beautiful bright
moonlight night, with the moon shining in through the garret casements,
making it almost as light as day.  There was very little furniture in the
room; an old three-legged round bedroom table and two or three rush
bottom chairs, a bedroom candlestick, and a tallow dip.  I had brought
with me one of the sensational tales that I had been reading at home, and
sat quietly down to finish the tale.  It must have been some hours, as it
was just getting daylight, and the patient had not appeared to have
moved, but lay on his back with his eyes wide open and shining like
stars, staring at the ceiling.  All of a sudden he appeared to jump clean
on the top of me, and clutch me by the throat, upsetting the table and
candle, and we both fell on the top of it and crushed it like a match
box, and then the struggle commenced.  We fought up and down, and in the
struggle I stripped every rag off him, and he appeared to be trying to
get me to the window to throw me out; and how our heels did rattle in
that midnight struggle on the old garret floor, as we danced round in the
shadow of the old Church on that Sunday morning.

He was a little man, and I began to get the better of him, and got him on
his back on the floor and held his arms down, when he made a plunge and
snapped at my nose with his teeth.  He just grazed the skin, and looked
up and laughed.  Of all the slippery things to handle, a naked man beats
everything.  The noise we made brought his wife and the two women in, and
with their assistance we got him on to the bedstead, and with strips of
the sheet we tore up, we tied him down to the bedstead, and he appeared
to be pretty well done up.  By that hour it was time to open, as there
were always early customers on a Sunday morning, as it was a noted house
for Dog’s Nose and other early drinks at that time.  It was then about
seven, and we saw old Kirk, the beadle, going past to dust and prepare
the Church, and as he was a friend we called him in for advice, and he
suggested a straight waistcoat.  As he knew the master of the workhouse
in Arthur Street, he promised to go and borrow one, which he did, and
brought one of the old pauper nurses to show how to put it on.  It was a
large shirt made of strong bed tick sewn up at the bottoms, with two
holes to put the legs through, and open behind, with strap and buckles
and sleeves a yard long, with large pieces of webbing sewn at the ends.
When we had got the patient comfortably settled, I had some breakfast and
went home with five shillings in my pocket, but I do not think I felt
like taking on another such job.

Funerals on the river in those days were a frequent occurence.  I
recollect one in particular.  A young man invalided home from the East
India Company Service in an advanced stage of consumption came to stay
with a sister at Chelsea.  The husband worked at the malt house on the
river, and there the young man died.  He was a native of Mortlake and
they took him there by the river in a boat to bury him.  I recollect
their going by our garden, we boys standing with our caps off while the
procession passed.  There was one boat rowed by a pair of sculls,
containing the coffin and the mother and sisters as chief mourners,
followed by three or four boats full of friends, most of the women in
white dresses, and the men with white scarves and bows, which was the
usual mourning for an unmarried person.

CHAPTER 10.—A Boy’s Tramp by Road to Epsom, on Derby Day, 1837.

At that time it was a difficulty to get to Epsom any other way than
tramping it, as there was no railway, and the lowest fare was ten
shillings, coach or van, and, being anxious for the treat, I had saved up
sixteen shillings and threepence, and by a little diplomacy I had
arranged to be abroad for the day without letting anyone know where I was
going.  At about four o’clock on the Wednesday morning I started from
Cheyne for my trip, with my savings and two or three slices of bread and
butter in my pocket, and as I passed old Chelsea Church it was a quarter
to five, and a beautiful bright spring morning.  Going over Battersea
Bridge and turning to the right through the Folley, a colony of small
cottages with a private way through them into Church Street with fields
and herb gardens on one side, then passing Battersea Church and the
draw-dock, into Battersea Square, into the High Street and outside the
Castle Tavern.  This being open was the first evidence of the road to
Epsom, as there was a donkey cart with five or six gipsy men and women
and one or two children with them.  They had a stack of peas and
shooters, back scratchers, paper flowers, plumes of feathers, and small
bags of flour, also wooden dolls to sell to the visitors on the road, as
at that time the favourite amusement was blowing peas through a tin tube
at the people as they drove along, and some of the peas would give one a
very painful experience.  Throwing bags of flour was another amusement
indulged in.

Passing along High Street into Falcon Lane—then really a lane with fields
and market gardens on each side, and a small stream where Clapham
Junction now stands, then known as the boling brook, and past some
cottages to Battersea Rise, and then up the hill past the old smithy that
dated from 1626, on to the Common and across it to the end of Nightingale
Lane, and along a footpath across where the Station and the St. James’s
School now stand.  It was then all common, and down Wandsworth Lane to
the Wheatsheaf on the main road.

Everything here was in evidence of the Derby proper.  All the gentlemen’s
houses had stands erected inside the front gardens, and the walls
decorated with festoons of scarlet, most of them making it quite a gala
day having dinner parties to see the visitors in their grand equipages,
for the turn-outs of the aristocracy and royalty surpassed everything to
be seen anywhere in Europe.  All the shops and private houses had their
windows decorated and full of visitors.  It was reported that thirty
thousand horses at that time went to Epsom on the Derby Day along the
road at this point.  The wayfarers to the Derby were mostly
horsey-looking tramps with pails on their shoulders in twos and threes,
very shabby and down-at-heel.  Both men and women, with almost every toy
or trinket you could mention; tin trumpets, squeakers, masks to sell on
the road, came slouching along; then came barrows, trucks, donkey and
pony carts, with all sorts of eatables, such as sheep’s trotters, whelks,
oysters, bread and cheese, fried sausages, saveloys, fish, ham and beef
sandwiches, ginger beer and table beer—at that time it was allowed to be
sold without a license.  They would stroll along the road till they found
a suitable pitch, and would there establish themselves.  There were
numerous parties of musicians in gangs of three or four, harp, violin and
cornet, or cornet, trombone and French horn; armies of acrobats and
children on stilts, conjuring, Punch and Judy shows; in fact, some on
every open space all down the road to the Downs.

The road through the village of Tooting to the Broadway, where you turned
off in the Mitcham Road, was the most crowded, for some of the traffic
divided and went straight on through Merton and Ewell to Epsom, but the
greater part went by the Mitcham Road, past Daniel Defoe’s house and
Fig’s Marsh, a long strip of marsh common on one side and the herb and
lavender gardens on the other, and a number of wooden cottages with long
gardens in front, that made quite a harvest by selling nosegays and
refreshments.  This extended all the way to the village of Mitcham, the
Upper Green at which the Pleasure Fair is held to the present day, I
believe the only one remaining near the metropolis, and at a stall
outside the Ram I made my first halt for breakfast.  I indulged in
coffee, plum cake, fried sausages, and bread and butter, at the cost of
eight-pence, and started on my way at seven by the clock at the Lavender
Distillery, passed through the toll-gate down the road to Mitcham Green,
a large open piece of green sward considered at that time one of the best
cricket fields in Surrey, and producing some of the best cricketers, and
still maintaining that character.  I proceeded down the road with several
good residences on each side and almost an avenue of trees and may hedges
in full bloom, the road alive with every kind of vehicle and a large
number of tramps.  At the corner of Mitcham Green had collected a large
number of itinerant musicians, and all sorts of diverting vagabonds,
looking very shabby, dusty and down at heel, and as if it was anything
but a prosperous occupation.  There were no negro melodies in those days,
but there was the troubadour with his guitar, wearing a broad-brimmed hat
with a large feather and loose coloured slashed coat and short cape or
cloak loose on his shoulders, and singing love songs, and a man with
trestles and a sort of tray strung with wires, played with two short
pieces of cane or whale bone with a knob of leather on the end, with
which he struck the wires and knocked out a tune, and, by the same
process, with bells arranged on a straight bar fixed on high trestles,
tunes were played.

The long, straggling village of Mitcham was the end of the crowded
inhabited part of the road to Epsom; past the old Brewery and one or two
old houses you came to the old mill and bridge crossing the river Wandle,
with a ford by the side where nearly every vehicle drove through water,
and as soon as you crossed, the avenue of fine old elms commenced, and
meeting overhead formed quite a delightful shade.  Meadows and park-like
grounds on each side, were well wooded, with only two residences and one
farmhouse, an old house apparently half farmhouse and half residence,
with very pretty gardens in front with a number of shrubs cut and trained
into all manner of grotesque and fantastic shapes.  The land on each side
all the way to Sutton was purely agricultural and grazing land.

The first buildings you came to on entering the village were some old
wooden cottages and the smithy, adjoining which was the cage or lock-up,
outside of which was the village constable and his assistants, two or
three labourers sworn in for the occasion.  The village consisted of one
long, straggling street of small low cottages and a few mean shops,
hardly a good house, saving the Inns, consisting of the “Angel,” the
“Greyhound,” and the “Cock.”  The two latter were large coaching
stations, the “Cock,” with a big open space in front.  The villagers were
making their harvest by having tables outside and selling milk in small
yellow mugs about the size of a jam pot at a penny each, and small loaves
with currants and home-made cakes.  Outside the “Cock” was a Punch and
Judy performing to an admiring crowd, and by the toll-gate at the corner
of the Cheam Road was the first breakdown.  An old landau with eight
occupants, drawn by a big cart horse, had parted right in half and shot
all its contents into the road, and a general squabble commenced,
especially among the ladies who, according to their account, had
prophecied the disaster at starting.  But the matter was soon settled as
with willing hands the broken carriage was moved into a field by the
roadside and they made themselves comfortable by falling to on the
provisions, and I left them having a picnic in the broken vehicle.

Then along the road till you come to a long open common or waste land
covered with rushes, grass and coarse scrubby growth to another
toll-gate, of which I think I counted seven.

CHAPTER 11.—On the Downs.

At eleven I turned down a lane about a mile before you get to the town,
and over a stile and through corn-fields by a path that brought you to
the Downs.  At the bottom of the hill there was a large and busy crowd at
that time in the morning although but a few visitors had arrived.  The
Grand Stand was there and the Enclosure, although very much smaller than
at present.  Tents and booths covered the ground extending at least
one-third of the extent of the course, with the signs of well-known
London taverns, long booths, fitted as stables with livery stable-keepers
with familiar names attached.  Boxing booths, single-stick and
quarter-staff and wrestling booths.

One large refreshment booth had up for a sign in large letters—“Dan
Regan, the Cambridge Gyp.  Refreshments and good accommodation for man
and beast.  Palliasse prostration with matin peck, two-and-sixpence,” and
appeared to be doing a good trade.  The accommodation a shakedown on some
planks, and breakfast in the morning.

There did not appear to be any professional bookmakers, but the betting
was carried on quite happily in the tavern booths and shops everywhere by
everybody.  Towards twelve o’clock the company began to arrive and get
into place alongside the course, the four-in-hands drawn up, and
carriages of every description, mostly taking out the horses to the
stables in the tents, and formed a row two deep.  The vans and other
vehicles forming lower down in the same way, but further from the Grand
Stand, and taking out the horses and tying them to the wheels, hundreds
of loafers thus being busy selling pails of water and forcing their
services to rub down and generally to extort a fee.

There was almost everything to be had on the course in the way of
eatables and drinkables; occupants of carriages and drags began to have
their lunches spread on the top of those vehicles; corks began to pop and
a general onslaught was made on the provisions by everybody.  The
entertainments commenced their business.  Sharpers in plenty, roulette
tables, dice, three-card trick, pea and thimble, and the pricking in a
curled up strap, and every phase of gambling without let or hindrance.

At about one a bell rang, the horses were brought out on to the course
for one of the minor races, the course cleared by the few police there
were, and the race run with very little excitement, for there did not
appear to be much interest taken in the three or four races that were run
before and after the great event of the day, the Derby, that was run
about half past two or a quarter to three, when the company had fed and
had got pretty well primed with wine, and the noise became furious and
the excitement immense.

There was a great concourse of people, and standing on the hill just
before the Derby was run it looked one black moving mass, and you could
see almost the whole of the course from start to finish.  The races after
the Derby did not appear to attract the visitors so much as the early
ones, and drinking and the other amusements appeared to be all in full
swing and had plenty of patrons, and there was gambling of every form.  I
tried my luck at it with varied good and bad luck, but about five in the
evening had spent about two shillings and a penny.  I found I had only
sevenpence halfpenny to carry me home out of my sixteen shillings and
threepence which I had started with, so someone was thirteen shillings to
the good; but, anyhow, I had seen the Derby, and had thoroughly enjoyed
the trip so far.  There then set in a general activity and bustle of
brushing up and putting to of horses and preparing for the start home.
However the people got their right horses and so few accidents happened
was amazing.

The best of the turn-outs got away first, and the company appeared to be
getting livelier, and were decorating themselves with false noses and
masks and dolls stuck in their hats, and blowing tin trumpets and using
tin tubes to blow peas as they passed by the best of the turn-outs, and
there were a large number of them, with the carriages drawn by four post
horses and ridden by the post boys in coloured satin jackets, white top
hats, breeches and top boots, different coloured striped jackets, silk or
velvet jockey caps.  The best of them had relays of horses which they
changed at the “Cock,” at Sutton, a favourite halting house.  About six
in the evening the road became crowded with both vehicles and pedestrians
of every description, many of them driving most recklessly, and a
breakdown of some sort occurred at every half mile.  I counted four
wagonettes, three light carts, one carriage and four vans, complete
wrecks, and left in the ditches and the fields by the roadside, and
several with shafts broken and otherwise damaged and tied up with ropes.
The roadsides appeared like one continual fair all the way from the
course, and the company playing all manner of mad antics.

At Sutton a carriage containing four ladies and a foreign-looking old
gentleman, all elegantly dressed, and a man sitting on the box, had the
misfortune for the post boys to get so drunk that one of them fell off
his horse and had to be left behind, and the other was so incapable that
he had run into several traps and done damage and was stopped by a
threatening crowd, when he got off his horse and wanted to fight and was
quite unable to continue his journey.  Just then a four-in-hand drove up
and was appealed to by the lady occupants for assistance.  Two of the
gentlemen volunteered to ride in the place of the post boys.  The one
left was with assistance tied in the provision hampers and fastened
behind the carriage, while the two gentlemen mounted the horses and drove
off amid cheers of an admiring crowd, looking, in their dress coats, top
hats and green gauze veils and trousers not at all like post boys; but
they appeared to be quite at home on their mounts, and the ladies and all
started for home, quite happy.  In getting nearer to London the crowd got
thicker and the fun and horse-play became more furious, many of them
halting at the taverns by the roadside, at all of which there was a large
number stopping outside and in the fields provided for that purpose.

Getting towards Mitcham the pea shooting and the flour throwing
commenced, and the men selling bags of flour there for sixpence, were
doing a roaring trade.  The pelting led to a good many disturbances,
often ending in a fight.  The occupants of the various carriages and
drags made themselves conspicuous by dressing up in paper coloured hats
and false beards, and using fans and kissing their hands and bowing to
the girls and women along the road; and most of the traps were decorated
with large branches of may and horse chestnut blooms that had been torn
from the hedges and the trees by the roadside.

It was now drawing towards seven, and I began to get a bit tired, dusty
and footsore, when I saw an opportunity of a ride, and by a little
manœuvring I got behind a carriage without being seen by the occupants,
and sat myself down comfortably on the step and had a nice ride all
through Mitcham and Fig’s Marsh, with only a flip with the whip now and
then from a passing driver.  Getting into the Mitcham Road and the
Broadway I had to contest my possession of the seat with several boys who
wanted it, and at the corner of the Broadway just turning into the
Tooting Road, a biggish, rough-looking fellow who had been trying to get
possession of my seat, snatched off my cap and threw it down in the road.
I got off, collared and began to punch him, and had one or two rounds
just opposite the Castle tavern.  A crowd quickly surrounded us, and we
were soon supplied with seconds, and were hustled by them through the
large stable yard of the Castle tavern into a meadow at the back,
attended by a large crowd of both men and women, and stripped for a
regular fight.  I certainly was the younger and the lighter of the two,
but my knowledge of the use of my hands stood me in good stead of both
weight and age.  We had a fair stand-up fight, the only one I ever had in
my life, and was well attended.  I got terribly punished in the body, but
not a crack on the face.  It lasted nearly twenty minutes, when a master
butcher that was well known in the neighbourhood, pushed through the
crowd and said that “The young ’un has had enough of it,” and the crowd
began to murmur, when the butcher turned round and said, “If any of you
particularly want a fight, you can have one.  I do not mind obliging
you,” but the offer did not seem to be accepted.

CHAPTER 12.—The First Steamboats.

The Morris Dancers at Chelsea on May Day or early in May would pay us a
visit, generally consisting of from nine to twelve, all men or lads.
They had the appearance of countrymen, dressed some in smock frocks,
others in shirt-sleeves, breeches and gaiters, and all decked out in
coloured ribbons tied round their hats, arms, and knees of their
breeches, with long streamers, and others carrying short sticks with
ribbons twisted round, and bows on top, or garlands of flowers tied on
small hoops.  They generally stopped outside the taverns in the roadway
and danced to a drum and pan pipes, tambourine and triangle.  They would
form themselves into three rows, according to their number, about three
feet apart each way, and would dance a sort of jig, and change places by
passing in and out and turning round to face one another, striking their
sticks and twisting their garlands to the time of the music, and then
stamp their feet and give a sort of whoop or shout, and finish with a
chant in honour of the month of May, and make a collection among the

The “Endeavour,” a wooden paddle boat, was the first to run three times a
week from Dyer’s Hall Wharf, London Bridge, to Hampton Court; leaving
London Bridge at nine and passing Chelsea at about a quarter past ten.
The passengers had to be put on board in the wherries at a charge of
threepence each.  A signal was made from the Yorkshire Grey stairs for
them to lay to to take them on board, as there was no pier at Chelsea at
that time.  The boat, always once or twice during the summer, would come
to grief under Battersea Bridge by knocking its paddle-box off, and get
a-ground once or twice before it got to Hampton Court.  I have several
times seen her a-ground just before you get to Kew Bridge, and lay there
for two or three hours with no way of getting ashore but by being carried
on men’s backs through the mud.  The fare was three shillings and
sixpence, and five shillings.  They always advertised “Weather and Tide
permitting.”  If everything was favourable they would arrive about half
past twelve and leave again at four.  The passengers were not very
numerous.  The boat ran for about two years, and then one called the
“Locomotive” started, a very much superior boat, and much quicker; and a
start was made for a ider of a very primitive character at the Yorkshire
Grey stairs—merely two old coal barges with gangways from the shore, and
one from a landing stage.  A company was then formed called the Chelsea
Steamboat Company, with four small wooden boats, and a pier was built.

The Wellesley Street tragedy (now called Upper Manor Street), occurred on
the left hand side about four or five doors from the top.  The house was
kept by an old lady who let the best part to lodgers, and on one Sunday
evening about nine she had taken her supper beer from the potman at the
Wellesley Arms, who came round in those days at meal times with a tray
made for the purpose of carrying beer to be sold at the customers’ doors;
and about eleven o’clock the people who occupied the upper part of the
house came home and opened the door, but did not find any light as they
expected, as it was usual for the old lady to leave a candle burning on
the ledge of the staircase window.  They went to a neighbour to get a
light and returned and found the old lady at the foot of the stairs.  She
appeared to have been stunned and then strangled.  The jug with the beer
was standing on the stairs, the place had not been robbed, and nothing
had been disturbed.  The people in the house had been recently married,
and it had been their practice to go away the whole of the Sunday and
spend it with their friends.  There were several arrests, but there
appeared to be no clue, and the matter was never cleared up; the only
theory was that it was a contemplated robbery, someone knocking her down
and then strangling her, but got scared and took to flight without taking
any thing.

CHAPTER 13—Politics on Kennington Common.

There appears always to have been a radical element in Chelsea, for a
large contingent met on Chelsea Common and marched to Kennington Common
to give the Dorsetshire Labourers, Frost, Williams, and Jones, a grand
reception on their return from imprisonment.  They were drawn by four
horses in a hackney carriage with outriders, and followed by a large
number of vehicles occupied by their admirers, and a large crowd, when a
meeting was held on Kennington Common, and violent speeches were made.
The crowd became very disorderly, some ugly rushes were made, and the few
police and constables who were there got very roughly handled, and in one
of the scrimmages a policeman’s top hat was knocked off, and got kicked,
and I had a kick at it—what boy would not do so?  In the excitement,
anyhow, I got collared, and was being dragged away when a rush was made,
the police upset, and we all rolled in the mud together, and I got away.
More police came up and began to hunt the crowd, and made many arrests.
I, in one of the crowds, rushed down a mews at the back of the houses in
the Kennington Road.  As I was without a cap, and covered in mud and my
face was bleeding, it was thought they were after me, so I was picked
bodily up and pitched over the wall into a lilac bush in one of the long
gardens, and I slid down on to a stone garden roller on which I sat,
pretty well dazed and thoroughly done up.  I do not think I was noticed
by the people in the house, for I sat there some considerable time, when
some children from an upper window noticed me.  Soon after, an old
gentleman in a dressing gown and a scarlet smoking cap and two or three
ladies appeared on a sort of verandah at the back of the house, and had a
good look at me, but did not attempt to come down in the garden.
Presently two men came up the steps from the kitchen under the verandah,
one of them dressed as a groom, and the other in his shirt sleeves and a
big rough hairy cap on, who I found afterwards was the potman at the
White Bear Tavern opposite, while the other was the doctor’s groom, who
lived two or three doors higher up the road, who had been fetched in to
arrest me.  They brought me up into the hall at the bottom of the kitchen
stairs, and the old gentleman began to question how I got into such a
scrape, and where I came from.  When I told him I came from Chelsea near
the Hospital, he asked if I knew any of the officers, and as I mentioned
several of them by name that he knew; he told me he was a retired army
surgeon.  I was allowed to go into the scullery to have a wash and brush
the mud off, and it was suggested by the potman that I had better stop
until it was dark for fear I should be known, and as I had no cap he went
off to his mistress and begged an old one belonging to one of her boys,
who had just gone back to school.  As soon as it was dark I was let up
the area steps and started home and went to bed saying nothing about it,
but felt awfully sore and bad.

In speaking of the King’s Road I forgot to mention a very famous pump
which stood opposite the “Six Bells,” close to the old burial ground, and
that had the reputation of giving the most transparent and sparkling
water that was to be obtained, which was fetched from far and near.  The
boys used to play some trick by placing a large stone up the curved
nozzle, so that when the servants came with their jugs and began to pump
it would send out the stone and through the bottoms of the jugs.  It got
complained of, and the parish put a grating which stopped that little
game.  The reputation of the water went on till some wag asserted that a
human tooth had been pumped up and found its way to the water bottle on
the dressing table.  It then began to dawn on the authorities that it
might not be so wholesome as reported, and the handle of the old pump was
chained up, and soon after the road was widened by taking a part of the
burial ground, and the old pump was done away with.

CHAPTER 14.—Knightsbridge.

At Knightsbridge there used to be a toll collector, but I do not
recollect any toll gate.  A man used to come out of a gate in the fence
to collect it, about where the Bank now stands, beside it the Cannon
Brewery, a large building with a cannon at the top, with the back
overlooking the park.  That and White’s menagerie, adjoining the Fox and
Bull tavern, were pulled down, and one of the first National Exhibitions
was built on the ground.  It was for a collection formed by a doctor who
had travelled in China.  It was a collection of all sorts of curios,
illustrative of the habits, idol worship and life and industry of the
Chinese, with native workmen and women carrying on their various trades
and domestic apparatus, as they did at home with their temples, and
performances in idol worship.  It was first exhibited at the back of the
Alexandra Hotel in a large room in the old barrack yard, and it was such
a success that in the following year the large brick building was built
on the site of the Cannon Brewery.  There were a lot of immense stuffed
dragons and winged snakes and flying fish and many-headed monsters and
curious reptiles that had never been seen in Europe before, and several
Chinese ladies sitting on pedestals exhibiting their deformed feet, which
looked like hoofs with a row of small lumps of flesh underneath with
nails that represented the toes.  There was a large number of visitors,
and it kept open for about two years, having had some waxworks added to
its attractions.

A little beyond the Alexandra Hotel stood a dairy that was noted for its
asses’ milk, which at that time was considered a cure for consumption.
There would be as many as forty donkeys there of a morning and they would
be driven in pairs by boys round to the customers and milked at their
doors twice a day, which was a very large and profitable business.

On the Knightsbridge Road, opposite Gore House, stood an old tavern in
the middle of the road with some old stables and sheds, a great place for
the market carts and country wagons to stop at of a morning.  Gore House
became the residence of the Countess of Blessington, her daughter and
Count D’Orsay, a very handsome and fashionable Frenchman.  There were
large grounds attached to the house and they used to give very grand
garden parties both public and private, many of them for charities.  I
recollect going to one given for the benefit of the Caledonian School.
It was a very grand and fashionable Fancy Fair with the guards and the
Caledonian School band, and Athletic Sports, trials of strength, sword
dances and the Highland fling, putting the stone and flinging the hammer,
the bag-pipes, and many other Scotch pastimes.  The grounds were very
beautiful.  The property was bought by the commissioners of the ’51
Exhibition from their surplus funds, and the Albert Hall now stands on
the site.

The “Admiral Kepple” tavern at the top of College Street stood by itself,
with tea garden at the back, and at the west side in the Fulham Road was
the old parish pond, and a little farther west at the back of about where
the “Stag” tavern now stands was a large pond from which Pond Place took
its name.  The present road in front of Chelsea Hospital was only a
footpath that was closed every Holy Thursday; and the parish authorities
beat the bounds, which they did on Holy Thursdays with the two beadles in
uniform, the churchwardens, overseers, and parish constable, and the
way-warden; and a great number of school children with willow wands would
perambulate the parish to beat the bounds, and would knock down the
obstruction and pass through the district called Jews’ Row at that part,
a labyrinth of courts and passages of small and two-roomed houses.  It
was called Jews’ Row, bounded by White Lion Street on the east, Turk’s
Row on the north, and Franklin’s Row on the west, and was inhabited by
the very lowest and most depraved and criminal class both male and
female, many low lodging houses and thieves’ kitchens, and the roadway
was at least one foot six inches lower than the path, and all along the
curb the low, loose women would sit and insult and rob the passers by.
It was quite impossible to arrest them as they escaped down the labyrinth
of courts and alleys, and it was so well-known as a dangerous locality
that very few people would venture through it, while the district lying
to the east between White Lion Street and the boundary of the parish, and
Chelsea Market, where Sloane Gardens now stand, was nearly as bad, with
courts and alleys and crime and depravity.  As a market it had long been
disused.  I can just recollect a few poor miserable stalls on the large
open space enclosed by posts and rails in front of the shops in Lower
Sloane Street, where Sloane Gardens now stand.  This district is now
nearly all swept away and made one of the best and most fashionable
residential districts of the west of London.

                       [Picture: Decorative image]

   Dear old Chelsea, the land-marks fast fading away,
   Where the warrior, the statesmen, the grave, and the gay,
   Came to rest and to play.
   Where fair maids and grand dames spent their fortune and fame,
   Then flirted away where grand lords and gay courtiers came
   For their wooing by the silent highway.
   Where men of learning high in the state,
   Passed from their hearths to the dungeons and died for their Faith.
   Brave to the last,
   Dear old Chelsea will soon be but a page of the past.

                       [Picture: Decorative image]


{32}  It marks the parish boundary, and is carried across Sloane Square
Station in great iron cylinders.—J. H. QUINN.

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