Another in the occasional series on “Far-Flung Lost London” …
Chelsea was first recorded in an Anglo-Saxon charter of 767 as Caelichyth, probably from the Old English cealc, meaning chalk, and hyth, meaning landing place, and alluding to a site to which chalk was shipped, for use in building, lime manufacture or agriculture. It was described as a small village on the banks of the Thames in the Domesday Book of 1086, and remained so throughout the later Middle Ages.
In post-Medieval, Tudor times it came to be known as the “Village of Palaces”, after a number of aristocratic country retreats were built there, including those of Sir Thomas More, the Duke of Norfolk, the Earl of Shrewsbury and even King Henry VIII himself (all have since been demolished).
Later it became equally fashionable among writers, such as Swift and Carlyle, and artists, such as Whistler and Rossetti. It became suburbanised in the nineteenth century, when the river was embanked and better access roads built (also the precursor to the present bridge). It was incorporated into the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in 1965. The Royal Hospital Chelsea was founded here by Charles II in 1681.
Chelsea Old Church
Chelsea Old Church, also known as All Saints, was probably originally built in the late eighth century (there are records of the Mercian King Offa having held a Synod in Chelsea in 787), although the first evidentiary record of it is from 1157, and the first record of it as All Saints from 1290. It has been much modified subsequently, most recently after having suffered severe damage during the bombing of the Blitz of the Second World War.
In the interior, the chancel dates to the thirteenth century; the north chapel, built for the then Lord of the Manor, to the early fourteenth, circa 1325; the south chapel, rebuilt for Sir Thomas More, to the early sixteenth, to 1528 (*).
There is a monument to the former Lord Chancellor, also lawyer, humanist, social philosopher, author (of “Utopia”) and “Man for All Seasons” Sir, now Saint, Thomas More in the sanctuary. Note, though, that after his execution for treason, for refusing to take an oath acknowledging the King, Henry VIII, rather than the Pope, as the Supreme Head of the Church, in 1535, his decapitated body was buried in an unmarked grave in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London, and his head, eventually, in the church of St Dunstan in Canterbury.
There are also a number of other fine sixteenth- and seventeenth- century – and later – memorials in the church.
(*) The capitals of the pillars leading to the chancel, traditionally attributed to Holbein, also date to 1528.