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Property News,


Property News,


A lost royal residence in the village of palaces


Words by Charlie Duffell

One Chelsea property currently on the market overlooks the site of Henry VIII’s manor house

A royal blue plaque

Fixed to a wall in the south-west corner of Cheyne Gardens is one of the most unusual blue plaques in Chelsea. It does not record the residence of a writer, a painter or a musician, but arguably the most famous king in English history.

Chelsea has existed since the Anglo-Saxon period. For many centuries the village’s manor house belonged to Westminster Abbey. However, in the Tudor period it was acquired by William Sandys, Lord Chamberlain under Henry VIII.

Sandys was a favourite at court, and in 1536 he gave his manor to the king. In response, Henry rebuilt the property on a larger scale, to rival the nearby mansion of Sir Thomas More. More was the Lord High Chancellor, and his residence – later known as Beaufort House – was a grand mansion built from red brick. However, he fell out with the king over the question of divorce and was arrested in 1534. The following year More was executed – around the time that work began on Henry’s new home.

Royal connections

At this point, Chelsea was surrounded by fields, making it a pleasant retreat from the city. However, it also lay midway between the palaces of Westminster and Richmond, making it convenient for royal affairs. The house opened directly onto the river, which was the fastest way of travelling at the time, meaning the king was never far from the court.

According to one contemporary report, this was where Henry married Jane Seymour, his third wife, before the official ceremony in Whitehall. And, after the king’s death in 1547, the house was left to his last wife Catherine Parr. It was also home to the young Princess Elizabeth – later the queen – who grew up under Parr’s protection. One local legend claims that Elizabeth planted the mulberry trees in the garden beyond the end of Cheyne Mews.

During this period, the house was also visited by Lady Jane Grey, who briefly became queen in 1553. In addition, Henry’s fourth wife Anne of Cleaves died here in 1557, bringing the royal connection to an end.

The village of palaces

However, Chelsea was also popular with members of the aristocracy, and several impressive properties were built in this neighbourhood. For example, the seventeenth century saw the construction of Lindsey House, Danvers House, Shaftesbury House, Winchester House and Gorges House, as well as the Royal Chelsea Hospital. Come the early eighteenth century, according to Daniel Defoe, the neighbourhood was known as the village of palaces.

In 1712, Henry’s former manor house was bought by Hans Sloane. At the time, the estate included eleven houses and 90 acres of land, which were acquired for £17,800.

Sloane was a celebrated doctor to the aristocracy, as well as a compulsive collector. He soon moved his vast collection of books and curios to the house, hoping the government would eventually use both the property and its contents to form the basis of a national museum.

A demolished manor

Sure enough, Sloane’s collection played an important part in the founding of the British Museum. However, Chelsea was judged too far from the city centre, meaning a site in Bloomsbury was chosen instead. Fortunately, the collector’s legacy lives on in the local addresses that acquired his name: Hans Place and Crescent, Sloane Avenue and Square.

The blue in the corner of Cheyne Gardens marks the site of his former manor house. As that plaque explains, no trace of that manor now remains, as it was demolished in 1825 to make way for several streets of terraced houses.

Cheyne Gardens lies at the east of the manor’s boundary walls. The property now for sale occupies the centre of its terrace, with a bay window facing west. That window looks out over the far side of the street, but this view would once have included the gardens of royal residence. Close your eyes and you can just imagine the king walking through the nearby streets, one of many celebrated figures who have called this neighbourhood home.

Take a look at the full listing here.


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