What’s the Story of Kensington and Chelsea?

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Kensington and Chelsea is an affluent borough in the heart of London and it is known for its beauty and history. Back in Domesday Book, a document commissioned by William the Conqueror to record taxes that were owed by William’s predecessor, Kensington is mentioned, its name given as Chenesitone. Hundreds of years ago, Kensington and Chelsea were separated; the Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas More made Chelsea his home by building Beaufort House in 1520. It was a grand house with beautiful gardens that comprised of orchards, acres of greenery and courtyards; it was from this house that he was taken from and transported to the Tower of London in 1535. The house was demolished in the early 1700’s and now Beaufort Street now runs along the site where the house once was.


This area increased in popularity with the rich and affluent with the Duke of Norfolk and even King Henry VIII building houses in the area; Henry’s manor house was erected on what is now 19-26 Cheyne Walk, 30 minutes away from The Montcalm Brewery Hotel on Chiswell Street London, and was given to Catherine Parr. The house lasted until the death of Sir Hans Sloane in 1712 when it was then demolished.


Kensington boomed in popularity in the 17th century when people with status moved to the area for its clean air and distance from the centre of London. In 1604, Cope’s Castle was built by Sir Walter Cope and, after his death, the castle changed to Holland House due to it being passed down to Cope’s daughter who was married to the Earl of Holland; it was then sold to Lord Holland, aka Henry Fox. Unfortunately, it was badly damaged during the blitz, so much so that the land was purchased by the London County Council and turned into a public park in the early 1950’s. The remnants of the house are still visible but now the land is mainly used for sport and a section of the park has been transformed into a breathtaking Japanese Garden called Kyoto Garden. It is a small section of paradise in an otherwise bustling city and it only a few minutes walk away from the luxury hotels London.


In the late 1600’s, the royals moved to the area with William III commissioning the famous architect Sir Christopher Wren to revamp Nottingham House, now known as Kensington Palace. It was an area with no prospects until the King and his court moved to the palace and it instantly transformed into a more desirable place to live and a popular place to live. The palace was, and still is, a preferred place to live by the royals with it being Queen Anne, King George I and King George III’s residence and Queen Victoria was born there and lived under its roof until her accession in 1837. In recent years, it has continued to be the home to many royal family members such as Princess Diana who died in 1997; at news of her death over one million flowers were placed on the palace grounds in a display of grief and affection. Today, many sections of Kensington Palace are open to the public, including William and Mary’s rooms, George I and George III’s rooms and exhibitions of the Queen’s former clothing and wardrobe as well as it being home to the current Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children.


The late 17th and 18th centuries saw Chelsea flourish when the Chelsea Physic Garden was established in 1673 and the Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens in 1742. The Chelsea Physic Garden was also known as the Apothecaries’ Garden and it is the second oldest botanical garden in the uk, second only to the University of Oxford Botanical Garden. The garden was incredibly popular and its time to shine came in the mid 18th century when it was the most richly stocked garden in the entire world; this initiated a seed exchange that led to the American state of Georgia to be introduced to cotton and to the Madagascar Periwinkle, beautifully bright flower with over 130 different properties, including ones that can be used in cancer treatments. Today, the garden is still thriving, if not a bit smaller due to the development of cars and roads. It has now been segregated into sections including The Garden of Medicinal Plants, The Garden of World Medicine, The Garden of Edible and Useful Plants, The Pharmaceutical Gardens and The World of Woodland Garden.


The Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens made Chelsea an extremely popular place to live and visit in the mid 1700’s where everyone would flock to enjoy the festivities. The park included a glorious rotunda which was bigger in diameter than Rome’s Coliseum; it was surrounded by an arcade that enclosed an array of entertainment, while outside was filled with dancers, masquerades, fireworks and concerts where Mozart played once as a child. It was the highlight of the city until it was closed in the early 19th century. Today, Ranelagh Park is a darling green spot in the city that borders on Chelsea Hospital and holds the Chelsea Flower Show once a year.


Today, Kensington and Chelsea are no longer on the outskirts of the city but they are right in the heart of it and are where the more wealthier members of society live, work and shop. Department stores such as Harrods, the biggest department store in Europe, welcomes millions of visitors to its doors every year as well as Sloane Street holding many of the world’s famous designer boutiques in one area, attracting the world’s finest clientele. Kensington and Chelsea are places to see and to be seen; it still holds onto its glorious past in the forms of the Physic Garden and Kensington Palace and yet it still moves with the times, ever changing to become a better version of itself.

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