Oakley Street Records and Recollections

Note: house numbers are shown in italics prior to 1898; the present (2002) numbers are given in bold. If no bold number is given this is because the pre-1898 house no longer exists eg was demolished to build Pier House or Adair House.

THE VESTRY AND VESTRYMEN

On 1 January 1856 the Metropolis Local Management Act 1855 came into effect: the newly designated Chelsea Vestry took over responsibility for the public management of the Parish area from the "Chelsea Improvement Commission".

Two Oakley Street residents were among the first of the new Vestrymen: Mr Austin of No.2 No.2, and Mr Samuel West Strickland of No.84.

The Auditor of the Vestry accounts was another Oakley Street resident, Mr William Newton Finch of No.6 No.6.

In 1860 George Yapp of No. 83 was a Vestryman.

One of the first actions of the new 1856 Vestry was to send a forceful petition to central Government, in the shape of the First Commissioner of Her Majesty's Works, urging him to redeem the Government's pledge to extend the new Embankment of the Thames to the west of its then limit at the Chelsea Pensioners Hospital. This was eventually done in the 1870s.

Environment and Amenities

Dust and ashes collections

were organised by the Vestry, initially on Wednesdays, but by 1859 three times a week.

Street lighting

by gas lanterns on lamp-posts in Oakley Street was shown in the O S map prepared in 1865-72; but only ten standards for the length of the Street; the placement of some of them - and their short but elegant poles and lanterns - can be seen in the 1890 Watercolour of the Street by William B. Hughes. It is reproduced on the cover of "Chelsea Past" by Barbara Denny.

The Vestry put up two improved gas lanterns at the south end of the Street in 1882, with Messrs Sugg and Cos reflectors and improved burners, as part of a trial in the Parish.

Roadway and footways

Street maintenance works are frequent items in the Vestry Minutes. For instance, when the "Ladies Home" (now Adair House) was being built, in 1882 the contractors William Cubitt and Co. had to ask permission to make a "carriage entrance" across the footway. This was allowed subject to Cubitt employing the Vestry contractor on the job and depositing with the Vestry ϣ 21.7.0.

ROAD SAFETY

The construction of the Chelsea Embankment in the 1870s and the opening of the Albert Bridge raised the question of safe crossing from Oakley Street for pedestrians (What's new!). H Barwell and G Terry - presumably from Oakley Street - asked the Vestry in 1889 to do something about this. At this date the roadway at this point was macadam. The Vestry decided that improvements would be done when the macadam wore out; wood blocks would be laid thereon and a footcrossing made at the same time.

At the same time J Carter of 74 Oakley St and other occupiers called attention to the great nuisance arising from the noise caused by vehicles travelling over the stones (granite setts) which once formed the cab rank in Oakley Street. This cab rank was disused, apparently replaced by one the other side of the Embankment. The Vestry decided that replacing the stones with wood blocks must wait until the remaking of the roadway referred to above.

Two other Oakley Street problems in 1889: a builder was reported for having relaid drains at No. 182 No.108 without getting Vestry clearance nor complying with regulations. A street lamp at one corner had been knocked over but the surveyor did not want to have to move it to a safer spot; he preferred to hope it would not be knocked down again.

TREES ALONG THE STREET

Trees are shown in the 1872 map planted on both sides but only in the central section of Oakley Street; this was the area where Dr Phene's development was taking place. He is credited with being an early enthusiast for street trees (the authority for this is not available). But he was also in trouble with them: in 1899 the London Omnibus Company reported serious complaints about the dangerous position of certain trees in front of No. 35 No. 35 . Dr Phene responds that there is only one tree outside No. 35 and that he has had all the branches within range of omnibus passengers cut back. These would have been open-top buses.

At this date the terrace with the sculptured heads enjoyed the most pleasant green views, across the orchards opposite and formal gardens surrounding a small chapel that stood in Cook's Ground. ( The status of this Chapel is not yet discovered).

Drains Several residents applied in 1895 to alter their drains: P McArthy at No. 25 No. 25; J. Dorking at No. 7 No.7 and J E Davis at No. 178 No.106 etc. (These names can be compared with the electoral registers and censuses.)

Coal Hole Plates required approval: in 1895 Charles Griffiths got permission for one at No. 25 No. 25 . ( Is it still there?)

RESIDENTS KEEP IN TOUCH

In 1899 it was agreed that the footways of Oakley Street should be opened up, at the request of the Post-Master General, for laying telephone communication pipes.

It was also agreed, at the request of the Post Office, to have a pillar box put up near Margaretta Terrace: it is still there.

The Vestry also considered a request from the National Telephone Co. to be allowed to erect signs at a "shelter at the north end of Oakley Street" and at the Albert Bridge, pointing the way to "Public Telephone Call Office at ....". Vestry replied that they would be prepared to make concessions for advertising the Telephone Call Office when they " charge the same rate for telephones in London as in the provinces"!

THE CONVENIENCE OF THE PUBLIC

(For males) The Vestry was responsible for a urinal situated at the Embankment end of the Street on a plot leased from the owners of the Pier Hotel, and no doubt convenient for the cabbies at the nearby cab rank as well as patrons of the pubs. There was trouble about the lack of privacy, with residents complaining, and the Vestry Surveyor had to recommend alterations to the entrance screens. Later, the Hotel asked for the convenience to be resited, "from its present cramped site to a much more convenient and roomy one", at their expense, so that they could add a billiards room. (to the Hotel, not to the convenience!) The Vestry, agreed to this and paid for new fittings, only to discover later that they still had a lease on the bit of land which now lay inside the Billiard room, but no lease on the land where the convenience stood: legal adjustments were arranged (1895)

The Pier Hotel and Pier House

The largest building - and the most recent - in Oakley Street is the liver-coloured block of apartments named Pier House at the corner of Cheyne Walk (strictly the postal address is "Cheyne Walk". As anyone sensitive to contemporary Chelsea development issues might guess just by looking at it, Pier House was conceived midst intense controversy in the 1960s.

Perhaps the ultimate irony is that this uncompromisngly modern block actually benefits from its vantage point in an architecturally unmodernised corner of historic Chelsea. Its flats, many with views of the Albrt Bridge, are among the most expensive in London.

Pier House gets its name from the Pier Hotel, an elegant, four storey public house that commanded the corner of Oakley Street by the Bridge, until it was torn down in 1968. The Pier Hotel, in turn, was named from the Cadogan Pier where the steamboats to and from Westminster and the City took up and landedthirsty passengers.

" This cheerful Victorian pub was built on a crescent shaped site designed to match Pennethorne's crescent on the eastern corner," wrote Thea Holme: Chelse,1972.

<> Where Mercedes-Benz cars today are displayed in the gleaming glass-walled showroom, Londoners drank their pints and surveyed the waterfront. At first they would have watched the tide rise and fall along the river banks that rose steeply from the Thames, but by 1874 they would have seen the river gradually disappear behind the containing walls of the new Chelsea Embankment. They had grandstand views also of the erection of the Royal Albert Suspension Bridge, connecting Chelsea with Battersea, and its opening in 1873.

"For a view of the river and one of its bridges, the Pier...is difficult to beat", wrote Egon Ronay in the Daily Telegraph in 1960. The view could be enjoyed from comfortable settees in the large first floor windows; and "most of the cooking - which is good - is done in the room on a charcoal grill and a spit, and polished tables with candles are in harmony with the very English view."

Within two years of this commendation, however, the hotel was sold, along with some shops in Cheyne Walk, for £265,000. Nos. 57-69 Oakley Street were demolished along with the hotel, and the developers, Wates Ltd, put in their proposals for a seven storey block of fats.

In 1966, the Minister of Housing approved, on the condition that the block was limited to six storeys.

"This decision.. comes as a bitter blow to the Chelsea Society and many local residents," reported the Chelsea News. "It is nearly a complete triumph for the builders."

Not entirely, retorted Paul Wates, who told the Chelsea News: "We feel an opportunity has been lost. Making us come down a storey to conform to the skyline seems to mean that the rest of Oakley Street will never be redeveloped. We think decisions should be based on the future, not the present."

The bronze sculpture " Boy with a Dolphin" in front of Pier House was made by David Wynne and unveiled by Sir Hugh Casson. Wynne's son, Roland, born 1964, posed for the sculpture. After Roland's death in 1999, a memorial inscription was added to the plinth.



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