‘You went to boarding school in the country, Amelia. Remember?’
‘Oh yes. The country. Hertfordshire?’
‘Are you deliberately trying my patience? You know full well it was in Chelsea.’
Chelsea is the country? God this places really is hundreds of years behind the times.
Yes, Chelsea was the countryside. London of the 1600s had tens of thousands of people living there, while Chelsea only had a few thousand. With this many people, Chelsea was classified as a village and during Amelia’s time, it was in just as much high demand by the who’s who of rich people as it is now.
According to the British History Online website, the village was inhabited by Earls, Lords, Sirs, Countesses and Dukes. Royalty have also lived in this small region just outside of London, as it provided homes for them that when they were unable to find suitable accommodation in the crowded capital. And it was close enough – by boat – to travel to and from Whitehall.
The famous Kings Road, now an Oxford Street for the rich and famous, was so exclusive that until 1829 no one could even walk down it unless you had a Royal Pass.
Chelsea was no stranger to problems, however. As we mentioned earlier when we were talking about the plague, those who could afford it left London for the countryside to escape the disease so that the common folk were left to fend for themselves. But those trying to escape the plague would potentially endanger the residents. The British History Online also said that inhabitants would be threatened with punishment if they were to “encourage disease by entertaining strangers.”
There are a number of buildings from the 16th and 17th century and beyond that still survive today.
The Chelsea Physic Garden, founded in 1673, was originally set up “with the purpose of training apprentices in identifying plants”. In fact, this location was chosen because it was close to the riverside, meaning that “a warmer microclimate” allowed the survival of many plants that were not originally found in Britain. Funny that, considering a warm climate is a rare thing in the London I know and love.
The Royal Hospital at Chelsea is also an important building from this time. Before the hospital was built in the 17th Century by Sir Christopher Wren (remember him?), there was no real care for veteran soldiers and it was often up to religious institutions to take care of those who fought in the wars. Furthermore, when King Charles II wanted to build the hospital, Parliament showed no interest in providing funding for this project and money had to come from private sources.
Now known as the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, this area is still home to the rich and famous. But also is home to some of the best schools and universities, the most exclusive shopping areas and some great museums.