The Fascination of Chelsea: Ranelagh Gardens

By G. E. MITTON (1902). Edited by Sir Walter Besant.

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Article · Chelsea · SW3 · Contributed by The Underground Map

By G. E. MITTON (1902). Edited by Sir Walter Besant.

The site of Ranelagh Gardens, which in their zenith eclipsed even the Vauxhall Gardens as a place of entertainment, is now included in the grounds of the Royal Hospital.

Richard, Earl of Ranelagh, Paymaster-General of the Forces in the reign of James II, was a thoroughly unscrupulous but an able man. He was three times censured for appropriating the
public money to his own private use, and was finally expelled from his office in the fourth year of Queen Anne’s reign. Notwithstanding this, he obtained a grant of some land belonging to the Royal Hospital in 1690, when the building was nearly completed. This land lay to the south of the burial-ground, and between the Hospital and what is now known as Bridge Road. This was leased to him for sixty-one years at an annual rent of £15 7s. 6d. He built a house on it, and soon after obtained fifteen acres more at £30 4s. per annum, and finally a third grant, which in 1698 was confirmed to him with that portion he already held, to be held in fee on condition of his paying an annual rent of £5 to the Hospital. This
Earl, described by Swift as the ’vainest old fool ever saw’ seems to have had great delight in landscape-gardening. He laid out his land with fastidious care - and thus paved the way for the public gardens of the future. His grounds are described in " Views of the Gardens near London, December, 1691," by Gibson:

" My Lord Ranelagh’s garden being but lately made, plants are but small ; but the plats, borders, and walks are curiously kept and elegantly designed, having the advantage of opening into Chelsea College walks. The kitchen-garden there lies very fine, with walks and seats, one of which being large and covered was then under the hands of a curious painter. The house here is very fine within, all the rooms being wainscoted with Norway oak, and all the chimneys adorned with carving, as in the Council Chamber in Chelsea College."

Lord Ranelagh died in 1712, and with him the earldom became extinct. The Ranelagh property passed to his unmarried daughter. Lady Catherine Jones. In 1715 King George I was entertained by her at Ranelagh House, together with a great number of lords and ladies. In 1730 the property was vested in trustees by an Act of Parliament ; the greater part of it was bought by Swift and Timbrell, who afterwards leased it to Lacey, the patentee of Drury Lane Theatre. They proposed to turn it into a place of public amusement, but soon abandoned
the idea, and relet it. In 1744 one Crispe, who then held the lease, became bankrupt, and the property was divided into thirty-six shares of £1,000 each.

It was in the time of Crispe that the great rotunda was built. This rotunda was 150 feet in interior diameter, and was intended to be an imitation of the Pantheon at Rome. The
pillars which supported the roof were of great magnificence, painted for half their height like marble, and the second half fluted and painted white ; they were crowned by capitals of plaster of Paris. The orchestra was at first in the centre, but was afterwards removed to one of the porticos, and the centre was used for a fireplace, which, if the old prints are to be trusted, was large enough to roast half a score of people at once. We have " A Perspective View of the Inside of the Amphitheatre in Ranelagh Gardens," drawn by W. Newland, and engraved by Walker, 176l ; also "Eight Large Views of Ranelagh and Vauxhall Gardens," by Canaletti and Hooker, 1751. The roof of this immense building was covered with slate, and
projected all round beyond the walls. There were no less that sixty windows. Round the rotunda inside were rows of boxes in which the visitors could have refreshments. The ceiling was decorated with oval panels having painted figures on a sky-blue ground, and the whole was lighted by twenty-eight chandeliers descending from the roof in a double circle. The place was opened on April 5, 1742, when the people went to public breakfasts, which, according to Walpole, cost eighteenpence a head. The gardens were not open until more than a month later. The entertainments were at first chiefly concerts and oratorios, but afterwards magnificent balls and fetes were held.

Walpole, writing to Sir Francis Mann, says; " Two nights ago Ranelagh Gardens were opened at Chelsea. The Prince, Princess, Duke, and much nobility, and much mob besides, were there. There is a vast amphitheatre, finely gilt, painted, and illuminated, into which everybody that loves eating, drinking, staring, or crowding, is admitted for 1 2d. The building and disposition of the gardens cost £l 6,000. Twice a week there are to be ridottos at guinea tickets, for which you are to have a supper and music. I was there last night, but did not find the joy of it. Vauxhall is a little better, for the garden is pleasanter and one goes by water." The doors were opened in the evening at six, and until the time of the entertainment, some hours later, people seem to have had nothing better to do than to walk round and stare at each other - a method of passing the time described by the poet Bloomfleld, in a poem which has been often quoted in fragments but seldom in entirety. It appeared in The Ambulator (London and its Environs) in 1811, at full length, as follows :

" To Ranelagh once in my life
By good-natur’d force I was driven ;
The nations had ceased their long strife,
And Peace beamed her radiance from heaven.
What wonders were there to be found
That a clown might enjoy or disdain ?
First we traced the gay ring all around -
Ay, and then we went round it again.

" A thousand feet rustled on mats,
A carpet that once had been green ;
Men bow’d with their outlandish hats.
With comers so fearfully keen !
Fair maids who at home in their haste
Had left all clothing else but a train
Swept the floor clean as slowly they paced,
And then walk’d round and swept it again.

" The music was truly enchanting !
Right glad was I when I came near it ;
But in fashion I found I was wanting,
’Twas the fashion to walk and not hear it !
A fine youth, as beauty beset him,
Look’d smilingly round on the train ;
’ The King’s nephew !’ they cried, as they met him,
Then we went round and met him again.

’* Huge paintings of heroes and Peace
Seem’d to smile at the sound of the fiddle,
Proud to fill up each tall shining space
Round the lantern that stood in the middle.
And George’s head, too - Heaven screen him !
May he finish in peace his long reign ;
And what did we when we had seen him ?
Why, went round and saw him again.

" A bell rang announcing new pleasures,
A crowd in an instant pressed hard ;
Feathers nodded, perfumes shed their treasures,
Roimd a door that led into the yard.

Twas peopled all o’er in a minute,
As a white flock would cover a plain ;
We had seen every soul that was in it,
Then we went round and saw them again.

" But now came a scene worth the showing.
The fireworks, midst laughs and huzzas ;
With explosions the sky was all glowing,
Then down streamed a million of stars.
With a rush the bright rockets ascended,
Wheels spurted blue fire like a rain ;
We turned with regret when ’twas ended,
Then stared at each other again.

" There thousands of gay lamps aspir’d
To the tops of the trees and beyond ;
And, what was most hugely admired.
They looked all upside-down in a pond.
The blaze scarce an eagle could bear
And an owl had most surely been slain ;
We returned to the circle, and there -
And there we went round it again.

" ’Tis not wisdom to love without reason.
Or to censure without knowing why ;
I had witnessed no crime, nor no treason ;
’ Oh, life, ’tis thy picture,’ said I.
’Tis just thus we saunter along ;
Months and years bring their pleasure or pain.
We sigh midst the right and the wrong ;
And then we go round them again !"

Though Bloomfield’s metre can be scarce held faultless - yet his power of detailed description has preserved us a living picture of Ranelagh in the height of its glory. Balls and f6tes succeeded each other. Lysons tell us that ’’for some time previously to 1750 a kind of masquerade - called a Jubilee Ball - was much in fashion at Ranelagh - but they were suppressed on account of the earthquakes in 1750."

The masked balls were replaced by other festivities. In 1775 a famous regatta was held at Ranelagh - and in 1790 a magnificent display of fireworks, at which the numbers in attendance reached high-water mark - numbering between 3,000 and 4,000 exclusive of free admissions. In 1802 an aeronaut ascended from the gardens in a balloon, and the last public entertainment was a ball given by the Knights of the Bath in 1803. The following year the gardens were closed. Sir Richard Phillips, writing in 1817, says that he could then trace the circular foundation of the rotunda, and discovered the broken arches of some cellars which had once been filled with the choicest wines. And Jesse, in 1871, says he discovered, attached to one or two in the avenue of trees on the site of the gardens, the iron fixtures to which the variegated lamps had been hung. The promenades at Ranelagh, for some time before its end, were thinly attended and the place became unprofitable. It was never again opened to the public after July 8, 1803.

In 1805 Ranelagh House and the rotunda were demolished, the furniture and fittings sold, and the organ made by Byfield purchased for the church of Tetbury, in Gloucestershire. Lysons adds that the site was intended to be let on building leases.

This plan was, however, never carried out, and the ground reverted to the Royal Hospital. The gardens are now quite differently planned from what they were originally. The public is admitted to them under certain restrictions. One or two massive elms, which must have seen the Ranelagh entertainments blossom into life and fade away, are the only ancient relics remaining.

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I have been doing some family research and have found 4 plus addresses family lived in from 1901 onwards, 43 Broughton Street 1901 census, Edward P Pritchard, Wife Harriet and children Helen, Frederick, Alice & Albert. Also in 1920 Edward & Harriet Pritchard also registered Alfred & Alice Mantell. 60 Broughton St 1920 Helen Harriet and Alfred De La Porte (Helen Pritchard). Also Alice Pritchard shown born 1888 in Montifore Street and later at No. 40 Broughton Street. Plus 1A Emu Road Emily & Frederick Pritchard and daughter Peggy (Margaret Helen Pritchard). Emily was there until 1977 when she died. The area was known as Park Town. I used to live in North Street, SW4 in the 1980s, now over in Wandsworth.

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The 1800 mapping is bounded by Stanmore (NW), Woodford (NE), Bromley (SE) and Hampton Court (SW).
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The 1830 mapping is bounded by West Hampstead (NW), Hackney (NE), Greenwich (SE) and Chelsea (SW).
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The 1860 mapping is bounded by Brent Cross (NW), Stratford (NE), Greenwich (SE) and Hammermith (SW).
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The 1900 mapping covers all of the London area.



Chelsea is an affluent area, bounded to the south by the River Thames.

Its eastern boundary was once defined by the River Westbourne, which is now in a pipe above Sloane Square tube station. The modern eastern boundary is Chelsea Bridge Road and the lower half of Sloane Street, including Sloane Square, along with parts of Belgravia. To the north and northwest, the area fades into Knightsbridge and South Kensington, but it is safe to say that the area north of King’s Road as far northwest as Fulham Road is part of Chelsea.

The word Chelsea originates from the Old English term for chalk and landing place on the river. The first record of the Manor of Chelsea precedes the Domesday Book and records the fact that Thurstan, governor of the King’s Palace during the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042–1066), gave the land to the Abbot and Convent of Westminster. Abbot Gervace subsequently assigned the manor to his mother, and it passed into private ownership. The modern-day Chelsea hosted the Synod of Chelsea in 787 AD.

Chelsea once had a reputation for the manufacture of Chelsea buns (made from a long strip of sweet dough tightly coiled, with currants trapped between the layers, and topped with sugar).

King Henry VIII acquired the manor of Chelsea from Lord Sandys in 1536; Chelsea Manor Street is still extant. Two of King Henry’s wives, Catherine Parr and Anne of Cleves, lived in the Manor House; Princess Elizabeth – the future Queen Elizabeth I – resided there; and Thomas More lived more or less next door at Beaufort House. In 1609 James I established a theological college on the site of the future Chelsea Royal Hospital, which Charles II founded in 1682.

By 1694, Chelsea – always a popular location for the wealthy, and once described as ’a village of palaces’ – had a population of 3000. Even so, Chelsea remained rural and served London to the east as a market garden, a trade that continued until the 19th-century development boom which caused the final absorption of the district into the metropolis.

Chelsea shone, brightly but briefly, in the 1960s Swinging London period and the early 1970s. The Swinging Sixties was defined on King’s Road, which runs the length of the area. The Western end of Chelsea featured boutiques Granny Takes a Trip and The Sweet Shop, the latter of which sold medieval silk velvet caftans, tabards and floor cushions, with many of the cultural cognoscenti of the time being customers, including Keith Richards, Twiggy and many others.

The exclusivity of Chelsea as a result of its high property prices has historically resulted in the term Sloane Ranger to be used to describe its residents. From 2011, Channel 4 broadcast a reality television show called Made in Chelsea, documenting the ’glitzy’ lives of several young people living in Chelsea. Moreover, Chelsea is home to one of the largest communities of Americans living outside of the United States, with 6.53% of Chelsea-residents being born in the United States.

Adrian Mews · Albert Bridge · Alpha Place · Althea Street · Ann Lane · Ashburnham Community School · Ashcombe Street · Battersea Bridge · Battersea Bridge · Beaufort Street · Beaufort Street · Bloomfield Terrace · Bolton Gardens Mews · Bramerton Street · Bull’s Gardens · Burton Court · Byam Street · Bywater Street · Cadogan Gate S.W 1 · Callow Street · Cameron House School · Carlyle Square · Cathcart Road · Cavalry Square · Cavalry Square · Caversham Street · Chapel Walk · Charles II Place · Chelsea · Chelsea Community Hospital School · Chelsea Academy · Chelsea Bridge Road · Chelsea Bridge · Chelsea Embankment · Chelsea Embankment · Chelsea Manor Gardens · Chelsea Open Air Nursery School · Chelsea Square · Cheyne Children’s Centre · Cheyne Mews · Cheyne Walk · Christ Church CofE Primary School · Circle n6 · Clover Mews · Coleherne House · Coleherne Mews · Courtyard AP Academy · Cremorne Gardens · Cresswell Gardens · Damer Terrace · Danube Street · Danvers Street · De Morgan Road · Donne Place · Draycott Terrace · Dudmaston Mews · East Road · East Road · East Terrace · Ebury Bridge Road · Edith Terrace · Egerton Crescent · Elm Park Lane · Elm Park Road · Elm Place · Elswick Street · Embankment Gardens · Evelyn Gardens · Farrier Walk · Foulis Terrace · Francis Holland School · Francis Holland School · Franklins Row · Frederick Hugh House · Garden House School · Gatliff Road · Glenrosa Street · Goodwin’s Field · Grosvenor Road · Grove Cottages · Gurney Road · Hamble Street · Harcourt Terrace · Hasker Street · Hilary Close · Hill House International Junior School · Holbein Place · Holly Mews · Hollywood Mews · Holmead Road · Imperial Crescent · Imperial Crescent · Institute of Cancer Research · Justice Walk · Kensington and Chelsea College · Kilkie Street · King’s Road · King’s Road · Knightsbridge School · L’Ecole des Petits School · Langford Primary School · Langford Road · Lennox Gardens Mews · Limerston Street · Lindrop Street · Lordship Place · Lots Road · Marlborough Primary School · Marlborough Street · Milborne Grove · Milmans Street · Moore Street · Moravian Place · Mulberry Walk · Oratory Roman Catholic Primary School · Ormonde Gate · Ormonde Place · Owen Close · Park Walk Primary School · Park Walk · Passmore Street · Paultons Street · Pearscroft Court · Petyt Place · Petyward · Pimilco Walk · Pimlico Road · Pont Street Mews · Priory Walk · Querrin Street · Ralston Street · Ramsay Mews · Ranelagh Gardens · Ranelagh Grove · Ray’s Playhouse Ltd. · Redburn Street · Redcliffe Gardens · Redcliffe Mews · Redcliffe Road · Redcliffe School · Redcliffe Square · Rich Lane · Riley Street · River Westbourne outflow · Rosemoor Street · Royal Avenue · Saint Thomas More Language College · Sands End · Servite RC Primary School · Seymour Walk · Shawfield Street · Slaidburn Street · Sloane Court East · Sloane Court East · Sloane Court West · South Parade · South Walk · Sprimont Place · St Barnabas’ CofE Primary School · St Catherine’s Mews · St. Leonard’s Terrace · St. Loo Avenue · Stamford Gate · Sussex House School · Swan Walk · Tadema Road · Tedworth Gardens · Terrace Walk · The Boltons · The Boltons · The Fascination of Chelsea: North of the King’s Road · The Fascination of Chelsea: South of the King’s Road · The Fascination of Chelsea: The Royal Hospital · The Hampshire School · The Little Boltons · Tregunter Road · Trident Place · Upper Cheyne Row · Upper Whistler Walk · Violet Melchett Children’s Centre · Walnut Tree Walk · Walton Street · Wandon Road · West Road · West Road · West Road · Westgate Terrace · Wharfedale Street · Whitehead’s Grove · Whitehead’s Grove · Whittaker Street · World’s End Passage ·
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