16 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea

Fiona MacCarthy: William Morris (1994) Chapter Seven: Queen Square 1865-69:

“Rossetti was now living in dilapidated splendour at No. 16 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea…”Tudor House”, as it was known, was built on the site of Sir Thomas More’s old residence…

(Rossetti) was only just prevented from adding a young elephant to his increasingly exotic collection of animals and birds at Tudor House. Browning asked him what on earth he would do with an elephant. Gabriel replied that he wanted to teach him how to clean the windows: “Then when someone passes by the house he will see the elephant cleaning the windows, and will say “Who lives in that house?” and people will tell him, “Oh, that’s a painter called Rossetti”, and he will say, “I should like to buy one of that man’s pictures”. So he will ring and come in, and I shall sell him a picture.” Where Morris’s humour was direct and almost childlike, Rossetti’s was more whimsical with underlying menace…”

Cheyne Walk: Queen’s House (No. 16) Survey of London: Volume 2, Chelsea, Pt I. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1909.

“…The external appearance of the house is much as it was in 1717 when, having been erected by John Witt, the builder, who acquired so many of the plots of the old Manor garden, it was leased to Richard Chapman. The chief alteration, which, perhaps, has become to many Chelsea residents its most familiar feature, is the large bay window to the first and second floors that has been inserted in the centre of the front elevation, and which, although made of timber and plastered over, has been coloured red to match the brickwork as far as possible. Formerly the house had a plain characteristic Georgian front that depended for its effect on its well-proportioned windows, on its broad rusticated pilasters and string-courses of brick and the bold pediment brought forward upon carved brackets. The little figure of Mercury which used to crown the pediment, and had endeared itself to many a passer-by, was added during the tenancy of Rev. H. R. Haweis, but during the recent restoration of the house by Mr. Edwin L. Lutyens it fell to pieces, being merely a figure cast in some ephemeral composition. Queen’s House and No. 4 Cheyne Walk are the only houses which have the very large key-stones to the arches over the windows.

Passing for a moment to the back of the house we see that the quaint garden front is in striking contrast to the one towards the road. The 18th century element seems somehow lacking, and the grouping of the two bold wings and deeply-recessed centre is reminiscent rather of the Lincoln’s Inn gateway in Chancery Lane than of a Georgian front. The effect is, perhaps, accidental and due to the unusual plan, for one recognises in the projections on the wings the idea of simple brick pilasters, and although there is no cornice the brick stringcourses are carried round as in the front. Its unusual character may, however, have given rise to the name of “Tudor House,” which it bore until altered by Mr. Haweis. (In the view on Plate 72) it may be seen that one or two of the old sashes remain, but the large mullioned window shown on the ground floor, a tasteless modern insertion, has been removed since the photograph was taken and replaced by three sash windows to match the old.

…nowhere among examples of similar size is there a better instance to be seen of its chief characteristics—namely, fine grouping, skilful contrast of plain bars with panels of scroll work, graceful outline, and beautiful workmanship—than in the gate and railings of Queen’s House. We have before remarked that Chelsea is rich in wrought ironwork. Not only is this the best example, but it is also the best preserved. There were other gates in Cheyne Walk, just east of Manor Street, which, we may conclude from the evidence of old drawings, were from the same hand as those at Queen’s House, but they have disappeared, and the other ironwork which we have considered lacks the strong personal character which the best work displays. Attention should be directed to the clever way in which the gate is built up, with its arched bar and ornamented spandrils; to the fine pilasters on each side with four stout standards surmounted by good cast-iron vases; to the masterly lines of the cresting, enclosing the monogram of the first owner, Richard Chapman, in which the delicate leaf ornament is properly subordinated to the stronger lines of the main curves; and, lastly, to the excellence of the spearheads on the railings and the particularly fine panels that divide the latter into bays…

We will now turn to the interior. The first door opens upon a little hall, paved diagonally with black and white squares. On either side is a front sitting-room, panelled from floor to ceiling, and with two circular-headed windows towards the street. On the authority of Sir Edward Burne-Jones we are told that the overmantel in the east room, formed of Japanese lacquer designs, was put there by Rossetti, and that he had lined the fireplace with beautiful Dutch tiles. Madame Blumenthal, who occupied the house until 1908, found that the latter had been taken away, and she has placed there some fine tiles of her own collecting. The west room was restored by Mr. Walter Cave, architect. He designed the fireplace with a bold architrave, in keeping with the old work. It has also been adorned with Dutch tiles…

…the dining-room, which was Rossetti’s studio, is now some 26 feet long by 20 feet wide, including the space between the two wings of the house; but we are inclined to think that it was not originally so large.”

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