Sir Thomas More settled in Chelsea in about 1520 and built himself a house there. It stood on the site of the present Beaufort Street, in spacious, formal grounds which stretched from the river, where his barge was moored to take him to Westminster or Hampton Court on state business, to the present King's Road. No traces of the house remain, other than parts of the original orchard wall, which now border the gardens of the houses on the west side of Paultons Square.
Sir Thomas rebuilt one of the chapels in the Old Church when he moved to Chelsea and his association with the church was close and devout. He and his family worshipped there regularly. Sir Thomas usually attended Divine service on Sundays at Chelsea Church, and very often assisted at the celebration of mass. The Duke of Norfolk coming one day to dine with him during his chancellorship, found him in church with a surplice on, and singing in the choir. "God's body, my Lord Chancellor!" said the duke, as they returned to his house. "What! a parish clerk! a parish clerk! you dishonour the king and his office." "Nay," said Sir Thomas, "you may not think your master and mine will be offended with me for serving God, his master, or thereby count his office dishonoured."
Henry VIII., to whom More owed his rise and fall, frequently came to Chelsea, and spent whole days in the most familiar manner with his learned friend; and "it is supposed," says Faulkner, in his "History of Chelsea," "that the king's answer to Luther was prepared and arranged for the public eye, with the assistance of Sir Thomas, during these visits.
More's fondness for animals is an interesting and curious peculiarity. Erasmus tells us, that watching their growth, development, and dispositions, was one of his chief pleasures. "At Chelsea may be seen many varieties of birds, and an ape, a fox, a weasel, and a ferret."
Hoddesdon, in his "History of More," says:—"He seldom used to feast noble men, but his poor neighbours often, whom he would visit in their houses, and bestow upon them his large liberality—not groats, but crowns of gold—even more than according to their wants. He hired a house also for many aged people in Chelsea, whom he daily relieved, and it was his daughter Margaret's charge to see them want nothing; and when he was a private lawyer he would take no fees of poor folks, widows, nor pupils."
After his beheading his body was buried at the Tower of London, in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in an unmarked grave. His head was fixed upon a pike over London Bridge, after a month his daughter rescued it.
The skull is believed to rest in the Roper Vault of St Dunstan's Church, Canterbury, though some researchers have claimed it might be within the monument he erected for More in Chelsea Old Church. The evidence, however, seems to be in favour of its placement in St Dunstan's, with the remains of his daughter, Margaret Roper, and her husband's family, whose vault it was.
The Old Church was largely destroyed an an air-raid in 1941 and subsequently restored in 1949/1950; however, the More Chapel and Monument were happily rescued almost intact.
The statue of Sir Thomas More (right) which sits outside the Church, is by L. Cubitt Bevis and was erected in 1969.
Roper's Garden, across Old Church Street from the West door, is believed to have been part of the garden of More's estate in Chelsea.