History Of Oakley Street

The land of Oakley Street relates closely to the River Thames. In the sixteenth century there was no bridge nearer than the City. The opposite shore was low and marshy. Along the Chelsea side there was probably a track of some kind, which later became Cheyne Walk. Behind this the ground rises gradually. The River end of Oakley Street is recorded as 17 feet above mean sea level in 1865, the King's Road end as 26 feet. Further away from the bank were "sandhills" ( later Chelsea Park estate).

EARLY YEARS

The parsonage owned a good section of the land by the sixteenth century. But the main landowners were the wealthy men of London who built manors, with gardens running in front towards the River, and water steps and water gates for access to boats for travelling down to Westminster and the City or up to Richmond and Hampton Court. Orchards lay behind.

These Tudor manor houses included one that came into the hands of King Henry VIII; it stood behind what are now Cheyne Walk Nos 23 to 26 (east of the present Albert Bridge.) Several of his wives lived there at different times, and the young Princess Elizabeth. Queen Anne of Cleves died there in 1557.

In 1640 a large extension of the King's house, now granted to the Marquis of Hamilton, was built to the west. This was later sold on to the Bishop of Winchester to be his London Palace (1668). The King's mansion was demolished by 1790, but Winchester Palace continued in use until 1828. Its westmost foundations lie under the present 52 to 56 Oakley Street; their back gardens occupy what was the internal court of the Palace. The still standing court of Fulham Palace would give a good idea of what the Winchester Palace court looked like.

IN THE 1750s

In 1750 if you stood with your back to the River, just where the traffic lights now are, and looked up the line of Oakley Street, what would you see?

To your left a straggle of small houses along the waterfront towards the Church, including the Three Tuns public house. The ferry crossing is working, but plans are in hand for replacing it with Battersea Bridge (Act of Parliament 1766, finished 1772).

To your immediate right a substantial water gate and pier serve Winchester Palace and the King's Manor House beyond. The Manor is occupied by the ageing Sir Hans Sloane, a former President of the Royal Society. He is surrounded by his museum of treasures, which will help to establish the British Museum. Both these fine houses have large front parterres. A little further on is a terrace of fine Georgian private homes, (today Cheyne Walk 1-18) recently built on the great garden of the Manor House. When Sir Hans dies it can be anticipated that his son-in-law, Baron Cadogan, will demolish the Manor House and build more Cheyne Walk houses (19-26) on the site.

Walking up the side of Winchester Palace, we pass between formal gardens. These have water features which, together with the household needs are supplied by a conduit running down the slope of the land from a small reservoir up at the King's Road, which is in turn fed by a long conduit down from Kensington Palace Green. We cross a branch of this conduit which is taking a supply to Alston House; this stands on our left, a little back from the River. (Pier House will stand over this branch and the modern Shrewsbury House block of flats covers the site of Alston House.) Alston House was once the Tudor home of the Earls of Shrewsbury and Bess of Hardwick.

We proceed by walking across Sir J Alston's considerable orchard; then on across parsonage grounds. In front, to the right we see the back of the Six Bells public house in the main road. On our left we look over a hedge onto the remains of a large bowling green. This used to run up from the Three Tuns. By 1760, much of it has been developed; here are the Queen Anne houses in Cheyne Row, and some of the early Georgian ones in Upper Cheyne Row. Here also is Cheyne House, built in 1715 for the Duchess of Hamilton. It is rather run down and is shortly going to become a school. Also on our left as we walk through the field we can see the backs of houses recently built by Francis Cook. He has been able to lease some of the parsonage or glebe land here and is developing "Cook's Ground" which will later be called Glebe Place. Eventually we come out close to a large house on the King's Road. Designed in 1723 by an Italian architect it has been lived in since 1754 by Mrs Mary Villiers. (The next occupier will be the fourth Duke of Argyll and although he left in 1770 it has since been known as Argyll House.)

The main road was laid down as a private Royal road for the monarch to get from London to Fulham without using the too busy Fulham Road. However, Sir Hans Sloane has persuaded King George to at least allow its use by the local gentry, though still to be known as The King's Road.

The Street - Early Years 1860s

Move on one hundred and ten years, to 1860. Start again from the River.

Ahead runs brand-new Oakley Street, opened in 1857. Baron Oakley was one of the titles of the Earl of Cadogan. Just behind to our right, passengers are boarding at Cadogan Pier, newly built with handsome gateway to serve the new steamboats. Access to the pier was one reason for making Oakley Street, but the area was ready for house-building. Winchester Palace demolished in 1828 and its grounds available as well as the parsonage fields beyond. The elegant curve of the Cheyne Walk corner leads up into brand new Oakley Street. Opposite is a large public house, the Pier Hotel. Behind it, where Alston House stood there is a timber yard. A fine mid-Victorian terrace of twelve houses has been erected on the left side of Oakley Street (Nos 57-69 now gone). On the right side, replacing Winchester Palace, another fine terrace of thirteen houses.

Beyond these terraces, Oakley Street has not been fully built up. There are a pair of houses at the entrance to Upper Cheyne Row, one of which Dr Phene lives in, while he supervises the developments in Margaretta Terrace. Further along on this west side there are various gardens, before we come to a terrace of eight houses running up to the wall of Argyll House.

On the east side there is a brand-new terrace of 14 houses with the unusual sculptured heads in roundels Nos 14-25. These have just been built by Dr Phene cutting across the view of the houses he built only a few years before in Margaretta Terrace. It is forgotten whose heads these are meant to be.

Finally, we reach the terrace nearest the King's Road Nos. 1-11 . They seem to be older than the setting out of Oakley Street. At the back they look over the gardens behind the Six Bells. Here a bowling green is comfortably set out with arbours. It survives as the garden of H J Beans (built 1901). To finish off the corner a matching block including shops on the Kings Road has been built, probably by Dr Phene.


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