A perfect pair of Chelsea houses
Words by Leo Russell
Telling the fascinating history of two neighbouring houses on Cheyne Row
The terrace on the eastern side of Cheyne Row contains some of the oldest houses in Chelsea. Each one has a unique history, but two of the most interesting can be found together: Nos. 22 and 24.
These properties were built in 1708, during the reign of Queen Anne. Many of the architectural features we associate with the Georgian Era were first used in this period, such as the classical proportions and large sash windows, which later became typical of eighteenth-century terraces.
The Home Of Thomas Carlyle
No.22 was once the home of Thomas Carlyle, believed by many Victorians to be the greatest writer of the era. Born in Scotland and educated in Edinburgh, after beginning his career as a novelist and translator, he found fame as a writer of popular history.
At the age of 38, Carlyle and his wife Jane moved to London, remaining on Cheyne Row for the rest of their lives. Chelsea was the centre of the city’s literary and artistic activity, and the couple’s weekly salons drew many of the most famous cultural figures of the age, including George Eliot and Lord Tennyson.
Life After The Carlyles
After the Carlyles died, friends and supporters bought the house to preserve it as a museum. Today, the property belongs to the National Trust and gives visitors a glimpse of a typical middle-class Victorian home. Four storeys tall with an attic extension, its rooms are decorated in dark furniture, while the staircase and front hall are lined in wood.
On the lowest floor is a simple kitchen where their only servant also lived. On the top floor is the study built by Thomas Carlyle to escape the noise of the street below. Thanks to an overhead skylight, this is the lightest room in the house, and here he would work each day on his celebrated histories and essays.
The Contrast of 22 & 24
The dim Victorian interiors of the museum provide a strong contrast with No.22, its next-door neighbour. You can guess the difference from the outside, as one house has plain window dressings and exposed brickwork, while the other has a white stucco base, painted window dressings, and a small porch projecting from the front door. In addition, the first-floor windows are unusually long, while the second floor has a fourth window installed.
That contrast continues inside in No.22, where the walls are painted pale colours and the rooms brightly furnished to give a sense of space and light. But the property has it own unique details too: one of the half-landings contains a narrow cupboard that would have housed a sword, while the top floor contains a small passageway and door which originally led to the houseboy’s bedroom.
No.22 has also been home to several distinguished residents. One of the earliest was Richard Mead, a respected doctor who not only attended Queen Anne on her deathbed, but was also appointed physician to George II. Later it became home to the second Earl Grey, who as Prime Minister oversaw the Great Reform Act of 1832 and the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1833. Today, of course, he is best remembered from the bergamot-flavoured black tea that bears his name.
More recently, No.22 was home to members of the Berry family, owners of the oldest wine merchants in Britain. Berry Brothers & Rudd is famous for providing wine to the royal family, and Sonia Berry, who lived in this house, was a childhood friend of Queen Elizabeth. The Queen would often come here for afternoon tea, with a policeman posted outside the front door, keeping guard until she was gone.
Whether it’s the large wine cellar beneath the garden, or the portrait of Richard Mead hanging on the half-landing, the history of No.22 is present in the house to this day. And, though the Carlyle’s home is now a museum, No.22 remains a private property, which means that history can keep being written.
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