The not so wild west
Country Life UK|May 05, 2021
West Chelsea–the area between Cremorne Road and Sydney Street–is where the fortunes of this famous and much-loved area began, finds Carla Passino
Carla Passino

HANDS clasped in his lap, Thomas More looks pensive, his gilded eyes turned upriver towards the Tower of London. Set in a pocket of greenery sheltered by neatly trimmed hedges, Leslie Cubitt Bevis’s statue stands as a tribute to religious freedom, but also to the first of the great minds that called old Chelsea—the roads that run on either side of Old Church Street—home.

Henry VIII’s Chancellor moved to the village (originally a Saxon settlement stretching around the Old Church) in 1520 and built himself a house in Beaufort Street, where he kept ‘many varieties of birds, an ape, a fox, a weasel, and a ferret’, according to his guest Erasmus of Rotterdam. It was from there that he was taken to the Tower to be beheaded for being ‘the King’s good servant, but God’s first’. The house has long been lost, but part of its former grounds are, fittingly, home to the Allen Hall Catholic Seminary: the grim concrete chapel has a Marmite appeal, but the gardens preserve some ancient mulberries thought to have been planted by the Lord Chancellor himself.

Part of More’s chapel at the Old Church also survives, although the building was all but destroyed by a parachute mine in April 1941, and another of his former homes still soars above Chelsea. This is Crosby Hall, where he lived between 1519 and 1523— except that, at the time, it stood in Bishopsgate. In 1910, the house was moved piece by piece to Cheyne Walk, where it remains, a slice of medieval London in SW3.

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