South Stanley Ward, Chelsea, London

Chelsea Conservative Association – 15-03-1984

The ward of South Stanley is in the heart of Chelsea, in London. In March 1984, the Conservative MP, the Rt. Hon. Cecil Parkinson – the man most responsible for returning Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to power at the 1983 General Election – was due to speak to local party members at Crosby Hall, Chelsea. Shortly before, he had been a powerful cabinet minister – not least as Secretary of State for Trade & Industry. By this time, however, a scandal involving his private life had toppled him – as was to happen to numerous other Conservative ministers in the following 14 years.

The item below has nothing to do with all that! It was commissioned from journalist Christopher Long by the Conservative Party for a brochure introducing Mr Parkinson to his audience, though it may have served to tell Mr Parkinson something about Chelsea...

By Christopher Long

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The area which we today call South Stanley Ward has, quite correctly, been described as the heart of Chelsea. It is an area of extremes, steeped in history yet vibrant with all the good and evil of 'progress' and all the advantages and disadvantages of being a small and disparate part of an inner London borough.

Once, of course, Chelsea was just a small, riverside village; a charming jumble of small houses, narrow streets, docks, wharves, inns and small businesses nearly all dependent on the river and a few palatial estates set back on the higher ground - a long way down the King's Road from the bustle of the Cities of London and Westminster. In those days Chelsea must truly have seemed to be somewhere near the World's End so far as Londoners were concerned.

Nowadays, sadly, the river is dead so far as Chelsea is concerned. The great estates have all gone - replaced by plush terraces of Victorian speculative building and the latter-day post-war council estates which house a good proportion of the ward's population.

Small businesses still exist and despite the unimaginative depredations of municipal planners, the charm and eccentricity of an older Chelsea still live on to draw the avid attention of visitors and inhabitants who retain a strong sense of the history and identity of the area while being only too aware of the realities of modern urban life - for good or ill!

Historically and geographically South Stanley Ward stretches from Sir Thomas More, and Chelsea Old Church to Lots Road Power Station and Chelsea's brand new Health Centre. It stretches from the fashionable, arty, trendy and dramatic King's Road to the traffic-congested Cheyne Walk embankment which first cut Chelsea off from its riverside antecedents and also acts as a southern boundary to some of London's grandest houses - scarcely one of which has not housed formidable and famous artists, writers, actors, musicians, politicians, eccentrics and scoundrels.

It sometimes seems that there is no notable figure from the past who has not found a home or strong associations in this tiny but much favoured heart of a village within a city.

Yet, much favoured as it is, very real problems exist too. The poverty of some is enhanced by the great affluence of others. Superbly preserved and conserved places such as Paulton's Square, Old Church Street and Cheyne Walk only point up the neglect and decay in and around the Lots Road GIA - now being tackled slowly.

The quiet calm of back streets contrasts dramatically with the unrelenting thunder of juggernauts and through-traffic along the one-way systems that lead into and along Cheyne Walk.

The small-scale charm of bijoux cottages and the Moravian Churchyard is in stark contrast with the red-brick towers of World's End Estate, stretching to the heavens, it seems, to escape the concrete anonymity of the draughty precincts and crime-ridden walkways at ground level.

Yet again, so much has been achieved that it is reassuring that local people, councillors, associations like the Chelsea Society and the community as a whole have not become too complacent.

Imaginatively Crosby Hall was moved here from the City and preserved. Incredibly, Chelsea Old Church was rebuilt after devastating war damage and restored. Stubbornly, houseboat owners battle not only with the elements but with landlords and the authorities to win security of tenure at their moorings.

Reassuringly we have seen, at long last, the creation of a superb Day Centre for the Elderly, a magnificent Health Centre for everyone and the laying out of new gardens and open space in the Lots Road GIA and along the riverside frontage. New young businesses appear to be prospering in converted warehouses in Lots Road while many people are now deeply concerned about the pros and cons of traffic management and talk of a £200 million trunk road by-pass through the heart of the area.

At the Chelsea Centre, a multitude of activities, societies and groups provide recreation, while many people point out that loneliness, isolation and despair affect more and more people all the time.

Immediate and constant worries, such as the escalating burdens of rents, rates, unemployment and cuts in social services exist here as they do everywhere among the poorer population. The impending threat to the future of the Cheyne Centre for Spastic Children is just one example of how things are not always getting better all the time.

Certainly, South Stanley Ward today bears little resemblance to the heart of Chelsea that Whistler and Greaves recorded and knew. Brunel, Turner and Epstein would find the place much changed. But, however radical and sometimes ill-advised the changes have been, Chelsea remains a much-loved and much sought-after home for an extraordinary social mix. The reason for this may be that Chelsea is, above all else, a tolerant community. It has had to be in order to accommodate a great many of its past and present inhabitants! And this tolerance has always included preserving what is best... and improving what is worst.

We can only hope that all those concerned will keep the heart of Chelsea beating healthily by keeping alive the extraordinary richness of our heritage and having an ever-tolerant eye to the present and future needs of the equally rich cross-section of society who make South Stanley Ward what it is today.

Christopher Long

This item was commissioned by the Chelsea Conservative Association who wanted an independent local journalist's assessment of the area.

© (1984) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
The text and graphical content of this and linked documents are the copyright of their author and or creator and site designer, Christopher Long, unless otherwise stated. No publication, reproduction or exploitation of this material may be made in any form prior to clear written agreement of terms with the author or his agents.

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