The traffic thunders past the fine Georgian Thames-side mansions along Chelsea’s Cheyne Walk, a traffic-blighted but rare street. Over the centuries, countless famous people have lived here, surely more than any other London street, and every other house seems to have a blue plaque: there’s artist Whistler, writers Hilaire Belloc and Elizabeth Gaskell, poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti and suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst.
The street was also home to the painter Turner and former prime minister Lloyd George and more recently Rolling Stones Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Today’s most famous resident is Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch and owner of Chelsea football club.
In the Sixties, Chelsea and the King’s Road found themselves at the epicentre of Swinging London and a decade later it was central to the birth of punk when Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s shop SEX, at World’s End, became a mecca for the iconoclastic safety-pin-and-Mohican generation.
And now we can watch the antics of the young moneyed Chelsea set on E4’s Monday evening reality TV show Made in Chelsea.
An enduring appeal
It is this rich history that gives Chelsea its allure. Even today, when only those with a big budget can afford to live there, it still has an edgier, more youthful and relaxed feel than adjoining Belgravia or Knightsbridge.
Property in chelsea: Everything from large Georgian houses, imposing Victorian homes in garden squares and red-brick mansion flats to small flat-fronted early Victorian houses, developments of 19th century philanthropic social housing, 1920s houses and sprawling 1960s tower blocks can be found in the area.
The area attracts: Andy Buchanan, who has been selling property in Chelsea for nearly 30 years at estate agency John D Wood, says that around 60 per cent of his buyers are from overseas as London property is seen as a safe haven in turbulent times. "We also see UK buyers who have recently inherited money buying homes for their children."
Staying power: International buyers who are buying as an investment tend to hold on to their homes, but a shortage of houses is forcing UK buyers to move to Notting Hill, Wimbledon or Fulham if they want to trade up.
Best roads: Cheyne Walk, despite the heavy traffic, Chelsea Square and Carlyle Square.
The Qatari royal family now has a classical design with garden squares for the redevelopment of the 12-acre Chelsea Barracks site on Chelsea Bridge Road adjacent to Wren’s Royal Hospital. The plan now has detailed planning permission for between 374 and 448 new homes, shops, a boutique hotel, community centre, sports club and medical centre. Completion is expected sometime in 2012.
Housing association Affinity Sutton is in the early stages of plans to redevelop Sutton Buildings on Elystan Street which currently has more than 462 flats in 15 blocks.
The Thornsett Group has 55 one- and two-bedroom flats and a three-bedroom duplex above 14 shops on Fulham Road which will be ready next spring. Prices range from £525,000 to £1.42 million. For details contact Fraser & Co (020 7299 9050) or Thornsett Group (020 7843 9500).
Up and coming: Buchanan tips the Lots Road area where there are terraces of smaller Victorian houses which will benefit from the redevelopment of the area around Chelsea Creek and is now served by the new Imperial Wharf overground station. Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa has planning permission for two new tower blocks and the conversion of the old Lots Road power station in a mixed use scheme which will bring 800 new flats to the area. This much-delayed development could start next year.
Getting an education
Chelsea has a good choice of state primary schools which are judged "outstanding" or "good" by the government education watchdog, Ofsted. However, many parents prefer to send their children to private schools.
Popular pre-schools are Hill House (co-educational, ages four to 13) with its distinctive corduroy knickerbockers in Hans Place; Cameron House (co-educational, ages four to 11); Garden House (co-educational, ages three to 11) in Turks Row; and Eaton House (boys aged four to eight) in Eaton Square.
There are two private all-through girls’ schools: Queens Gate (ages three to 18) in Queens Gate and Francis Holland in Graham Terrace. More House (girls 11 to 18) in Pont Street is a private secondary school. The three local state secondary schools are St Thomas More (co-educational ages 11 to 16) which is judged "good and improving" by Ofsted; the London Oratory RC (boys ages seven to 18) in Seagrove Road; and the new Chelsea Academy (co-educational, ages 11 to 18) in Lots Road, which opened in September 2009. It has an impressive new building designed by architects firm Fielden Clegg Bradley.
Shops and restaurants
The King’s Road is one of London’s premier shopping streets with a wide selection of high street shops. Peter Jones at the top of the street overlooking Sloane Square is a flagship branch of John Lewis; John Sandoe is a knowledgeable bookshop in Blacklands Terrace; The Shop at the Bluebird is a concept store owned by Belle Robinson who co-owns with her husband fashion chains Jigsaw and Kew.
There are interesting independent shops off the King’s Road around Chelsea Green and Elystan Place, where there is a butcher and fishmonger and Haynes Hanson & Clark, a wine merchant. Further down the King’s Road in Langton Street are art galleries, boutique Cabbages and Roses, and some of the prettiest linen in town at Volga Linen. In the section of the Fulham Road - known affectionately by the young Chelsea set as The Beach - there is the popular Goat in Boots pub and Vingt Quatre, a 24-hour restaurant. And at the furthest reaches of Chelsea, there are all the interior design showrooms at Chelsea Harbour which include quintessentially English brands such as GP & J Baker, Colefax and Fowler, Fox Linton and Zoffany.
The best restaurant is the Michelin-starred Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road. The other Michelin-starred restaurant, Tom Aikens, in Elystan Street is currently closed for refurbishment.
* MORE ON THE BOROUGH OF KENSINGTON AND CHELSEA:
For more local restaurants, pubs, bars, theatres, cinemas or attractions; or to book a table or tickets for a night out, visit LondonLive.co.uk/Kensington-and-Chelsea.
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Taking time out
There are pretty gardens and riverside walks along the Embankment while Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park aren’t far away. The Royal Court theatre in Sloane Square is famous for putting on adventurous new plays and has done so since it launched the career of John Osborne in 1956.
There are two Cineworld multiplexes, one in the King’s Road, the other in the Fulham Road, another single-screen cinema, the Curzon Chelsea in the King’s Road, shows new releases and art-house films. The Saatchi Gallery is in the former Duke of York barracks off the King’s Road.
Sloane Square and South Kensington Tube stations are both on the District and Circle lines and South Kensington is also on the Piccadilly line. Both stations are in Zone 1 and an annual travelcard costs £1,104. The area around Lots Road has the new overground Imperial Wharf station with trains to Clapham Junction and West Brompton (connecting with the District line) and Shepherd’s Bush (for the Central line). Imperial Wharf is in Zone 2 and an annual travelcard to Zone 1 costs £1,288. For many Chelsea residents the distance to a station means a ride on one of the buses that run along the King’s Road and to a lesser extent the Fulham Road.
Council: Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (Conservative-controlled); Band D council tax for the 2011/2012 year is £1,079.12
Buying property in chelsea
One-bedroom flat: £634,152
Two-bedroom flat: £939,364
Two-bedroom house: £1,833,333
Three-bedroom flat: £2,778,571
Four-bedroom flat or house: £3,265,417
Renting property in Chelsea (Average rates)
One-bedroom flat: £450 to £750 a week
Two-bedroom flat: £550 to £1,500 a week
Two-bedroom house: £700 to £1,300 a week
Three-bedroom flat: £850 to £2,500 a week
Four-bedroom flat or house: £1,500 to £7,000 a week
Five-bedroom house: £2,500 to £10,000 a week
Source: Douglas & Gordon
Photographs: Graham Hussey