People at Home.

Further information about past residents will be posted as it is collected from directories, electoral lists and censuses, and other sources. Readers' additions and personal recollections will be welcomed via this web-site (see Home Page for how to contact us). In the meantime, here are some fragments.

Captain Scott, Antarctic explorer, lived at No. 56 which carries a blue plaque.

Lady Wilde, mother of Oscar Wilde, lived at No 87. Blue plaque.

Dame Sybil Thorndike, the actress, and her husband Lewis Casson, lived at No. 74

George Best, footballer, lived at No. 87

Col. John Marshall Grant RE, pioneer in British Columbia, lived at No.107.
 

Dr. PHENE, PHENE ST., PHENE ARMS

Dr. John Samuel Phene, FRIBA. One of the individuals who have had a lasting effect on the look of Oakley Street was Dr Phene, a scholar and antiquarian who lived in Chelsea for over 50 years. He developed a large tract of land that is now Oakley Street, Margaretta Terrace and Phene Street, and is credited with givng his houses a charming classicism that endures into 21st Century.

A familiar figure around the neigbourhood, living at 32 Oakley Street, small, dapper, with a Vandyck beard, Dr Phene was known as a forceful crusader for a new theory: that trees in towns help to purify the air and prevent epidemics. To this end he planted trees along both sides of Oakley Street in 1851 (which sadly no longer exist); and his example was said to have inspired the Prince Consort to do the same outside the new South Kensington Museum.

According to Thea Holme's book Chelsea, 1972, Dr Phene came from an old French family, whose Chateau de Savenay had stood on the Loire. At the corner ofOakley Street and Upper Cheyne Row, Dr Phene designed a kind of replica. By 1906 a local newspaper observed that after five years of construction, it would be abuilding like none other in Europe.

A photograph of the "Chateau" hangs in the Phene Arms. Thea Holme describes it:

" The front was literally plastered with writhing figures.. gods and goddesses and busts of the Royal Family"; " The house was painted red, the pillars and balustrades yellow, picked out with gold."

Dr Phene died in 1912. The strange house had gone by the early 1920s, though some of the carved stones are probably those built into the boundary wall of the Chelsea Open Air Nursery School, which lies behind thesite.

Margaretta Terrace, built in 1850, was named by Dr Phene after his first wife.

THE PHENE ARMS was built by Dr Phene who intended it to serve the social well-being of the tenants he was housing in the Terrace and Oakley Street. A music license was applied for in 1865: the "tavern keeper" was Henry Duggan. Writing to the Vestry, aboutsome disputed roadworks, Dr Phene claimed:

"The terrace is most respectably inhabited, and one of the most attractive parts of the parish, and should retain its present features, and thereby its popularit y and good influence."

Dr Phene saw to it that the "local" named after him had a good meeting room upstairs, no doubt for the musical entertainment, and for the use of residents' groups. The Oakley Street residents' Association uses itat least once a year, for its Annual Meeting.

In 2001 an application was made to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea for planning approval for change of use of The Phene Arms, and its development as residences. But, after arousing much interest and concern at the possible loss of another historic pub, the application was withdrawn.

So The Phene, continues, as Dr Phene intended, to serve its local residents; and with its delightful outdoor "beer garden" under the trees, brings many visitors to this quiet corner on warm evenings.

Mary Kingsford's School

Mary Kingsford's School was at No 50. The present occupiers of this house have researched its history.

No. 50 was constructed around 1859. Its first occupant was Hereward Grant, "late of Her Majesty's Indian Civil Service." It appears that he retired to this five-storey house at the youthful age of 43. (It was not unusual in those days for Englishmen to return from Asia quite wealthy after only a short service career, and this could well have been Mr. Grant's case.

By 1866 the house was in the hands of Henry Beresford Kingsford, a partner in Kingsford & Garlant, City accountants. By the 1881 census, Henry had died and the house was held by his widow, Mary, who gave her age s 42, (but who was in fact 47).

By 1891 Mary Kingsford had turned No.50 -perhaps her only asset- into a school for young ladies. She was assisted in the running of this by her widowed sister-in-law, Mary Tennant, 54, who is described in the census as "teacher of languages". We can assume that one of the languages taught here would have been French.

Mrs. Kingsford's girls would also have been taught writing, geography, needlework and dancing, all of which would have added to their marriageability. Fees were probably around 30 guineas a year.

The school for young ladies was continued until 1910 by three spinster sisters, Mary, Alice and Florence Dashwood. It must have been a day school because there are no schoolchildren listed in the 1901 census at this address. The house returned to single family occupation with Francis "Frank" Herman Lucas, a career civil servant at the India Office. His widow lived on in the hose for another 40 years.

Thomas and Jane Carlyle

Thomas and Jane Carlyle lived at 24 Cheyne Row. Their house remains as it was at his death, owned by the National Trust. Thea Holme, who with her husband lived in and looked after the house for the Trust, wrote The Carlyles at Home a 1965 biography and social history, reprinted by Persephone Books in 2002.

The Carlyles at Home evokes the period from 1834, when the Carlyles first arrived from Scotland, to 1866 when Jane died. The book brings to life a couple who were at the heart of literary London.

" The Carlyles' dour joy in the daily battle of study and kitchen is the making of Thea Holme's detailed accont of housekeeping in Cheyne Row," wrote V S Pritchett in the New Statesman. "No stove, cooking by candlelight, a state of civil war about doors and windows: he can't bear them closed, she freezes in the draughts."

As essayist and historian, Thomas Carlyle is possibly as well known today for his influence on other writers and thinkers of his time as for his own writings- The French Revolution (said to have inspired his friend Charles Dickens in his writing A Tale of Two Cities ); The Life and Letters of Oliver Cromwell ; and Frederick The Great.

For information about admission to Carlyle's House go back to "Live Topics" on the Home Page.

A BLOOMSBURY CONNECTION

The terrace built in 1858, which was replaced 100 years later by Pier House, was built on land owned by the Earl of Cadogan. The houses were sold on 99 year leases, initially at a peppercorn rent. In 1920, the remaining lease of No. 58 (originally No 74), the end house next to the Pier Hotel, was purchased by Charles Sanger, barrister. He was a close friend of Maynard Keynes and of Bertrand Russell, who lived for a while in Sydney Street, and other "Bloomsburyites". Mrs. Sanger was a cousin of the artist and critic Roger Fry. There is a record in Virginia Woolf's diary of a visit to their home in Oakley Street; but Bloomsbury rather looked down on Chelsea, and Virginia is not complimentary about the dinner. However, the housekeeper resposible, Mrs. Ivy Carter, was left £1,000 by Mrs Sanger in her will. She died in 1954.. the terrace was demolished shortly afterwards.l

    COL JOHN MARSHALL GRANT Royal Engineers. 1822-1902 lived in retirement at No 107 ( earlier house number 180). He was sent in 1858 to British Columbia with a company of engineer soldiers to open up trails into the interior for the gold-mining rush, and to help establish the town of New Westminster on the River Fraser. He and his wife were living there in tents at first and had several children. A letter of his written from No 180 (as then it was) on 15 April 1898) recalls his quarrels with the authorities in the young colony about the choice of the site for New Westminster; he still owned 74 acres there. His two sons are living with him on sick leave from the Indian Army. He wrote that he is still living in Chelsea " principally on account of my artist daughter".  The 1901 census records her as a sculptor; he was by then a widower, and the sons have moved on.  (Source: at www.royalengineers.ca.GrantJM  this includes a portrait of him)


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