Pandemic - History Repeated

Chelsea was vulnerable to the plague carried by refugees from the City and Westminster, and a draft proclamation of 1630 threatened to punish inhabitants encouraging disease by entertaining strangers. A pest house suggested by the king's physicians in 1631 was not built, though one existed by 1666.

The Church

There has probably been a Church on this site ever since Christianity came to England. It used to be the Parish Church of the Village of Chelsea before this village became part of London. The building, as it stood before the war, consisted of the Chancel, dating probably from the 13th century, with Chapels on the North and South (about 1325), and the Nave and Tower (1670). The cupola was removed in 1815, but the weather vane remains.

Both Chapels were private property, that on the North, now known as the Lawrence Chapel, belonging to the Lord of the Manor of Chelsea. The present arch leading from the Chancel is a reproduction of the original 14th century one, which collapsed in 1784 and was only partly restored.

To the East of this arch is a "squint", probably intended to enable worshippers in the Chapel to see the Altar; this purpose was interfered with by the raising of the floor of the Chapel and the placing of the Bray Tomb on the North of the Chancel.

The Chapel on the South was rebuilt in 1528, as his private Chapel, by Sir Thomas More. This date is inscribed on one of the capitals of the pillars leading to the Chancel. These capitals are alleged to have been designed by Holbein and represent the symbols of More's offices in Church and State.

A description of the Church, the fittings, heraldry and monuments including those in the churchyard before their removal at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol7/pt3/pp1-4 also at


There are also nearly 100 photos of the Church and monuments around 1921 at


Of the whole Church, the More Chapel was the least heavily blasted. when a parachute landmine fell near by and the blast blew the Tower over onto the church destroying it during the bombing in 1941.


https://archive.org/stream/winterofthebombs010956mbp#page/n243/mode/2up this link takes you to page 221 of 'The Winter of The Bombs The Story of The Blitz of London' by Constantine Fitzgibbon which describes the night in detail.

For 9 years the congregation carried on its worship in a ward of the adjoining Cheyne Hospital. In 1950 the More Chapel, with extensions, was reopened for service; the Chancel and Lawrence Chapel were restored and rededicated in May 1954; and the whole Church reconsecrated in May 1958 by the Lord Bishop of London in the presence of H.M. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

The Consistory Court having granted a Faculty, the Stanley monument was transferred to the Lawrence Chapel, and the More Chapel was furnished and dedicated in July 1964, being thus brought into use again as a Chapel for weekday services for probably the first time in 408 years. More's great-grandson, Cresacre More, wrote of how his ancestor built himself a chapel

"where he might sequester himself...and shake off the dust of earthly businesses which otherwise would easily defile his soul."

The Church has been restored in its entirety on its old foundations and looks substantially as it did before, with its square Nave built in the classical style from which the medieval Chancel and Chapels can be seen through the three arches. The King Post at the West end of the More Chapel, which had been plastered over, was revealed by the blast and has been left uncovered as an example of pre-Tudor building.

It has been said of Chelsea Old Church that it has the finest collection of church monuments outside Westminster Abbey and they are especially valued because of the painstaking reconstruction of the church after its destruction in the Second World War.

Reconsecration service attended by the Queen Mother 13 May 1958

Then sin combined with Death in a firm band

To raze the building to the very floor:

Which they effected, none could them withstand.

But Love and Grace took Glorie by the hand,

And built a braver Palace than before George Herbert (1593-1632)



Lysons observes that the most ancient record in which he has seen the name of this place mentioned is a charter of Edward the Confessor, in which it is written "Cealchylle." The name seems to have puzzled the Norman scribes, for in Domesday Book it is written both "Cercehede" and "Chelched;" and in certain documents of a later date it is called "Chelcheth," or "Chelcith." "The word 'Chelsey,'" observes Mr. Norris Brewer, in the "Beauties of England and Wales," "was first adopted in the sixteenth century, and the present mode of spelling the name appears to have grown into use about a century back." It may here be remarked that the name of Chelsea has been derived by some writers from "Shelves" of sand, and "ey," or "ea," land situated near the water. But Lysons prefers the etymology of Norden, who says that "it is so called from the nature of the place, its strand being like the chesel [ceosel, or cesol], which the sea casteth up of sand and pebble stones, thereof called Chevelsey, briefly Chelsey." In like manner it may be added that the beach of pebbles thrown up by the action of the sea outside Weymouth harbour, is styled the Chesil bank. Perhaps it is the same word at bottom as Selsey, the name of a peninsula of pebbles on the Sussex coast, near Chichester.

The old (pre 1941) parish church of Chelsea, dedicated to All Saints and later St. Luke, stands parallel with the river. It is constructed chiefly of brick, and is by no means conspicuous for beauty. It appears to have been erected piecemeal at different periods, and the builders do not seem to have aimed in the slightest degree at architectural arrangement; nevertheless, though the building is sadly incongruous and much barbarised, its interior is still picturesque. The chancel and a part of the north aisle are the only portions which can lay claim to antiquity; the former was rebuilt shortly before the Reformation. The eastern end of the north aisle is the chapel of the Lawrence family, which was probably founded in the fourteenth century. The southern aisle was erected at the cost of good Sir Thomas More, who also gave the communion plate. With a forecast of the coming troubles, he remarked, "Good men give these things, and bad men will soon take them away." At the commencement of the present century modern windows, with frames of woodwork, were introduced. These, it need hardly be said, in no way improved the already mean appearance of the fabric. More's chapel, which was an absolute freehold, and beyond the control of the bishop, was allowed to fall into a very dilapidated condition; but it has recently been purchased by a Mr. R. H. Davies, who has transferred it to the rector, churchwardens, and trustees of the new church of St. Luke, under whose charge the old parish church is placed; and it has since been partially restored. The church was considerably enlarged in the middle of the seventeenth century, at which time the heavy brick tower at the west end was erected.

Edward Walford, 'Chelsea', in Old and New London: Volume 5 (London, 1878)


Extract from Chelsea Old Church by Rev. Davies

Rossetti donated to the Church restoration fund. Though Rossetti’s art would not naturally, perhaps, appeal to an Evangelical clergyman, uninitiated in Pre-Raphelitism, Rosetti’s wild animals, which now and again excited some apprehension in the minds of his Cheyne Walk neighbours, would have furnished fitting topics of conversation.

By the boatmen, bargees and good many belonging to the riverside neighbourhood, Rossetti was chiefly known as the owner of a menagerie. It is difficult to say how much truth there was in the tales which gained currency as to his habit of walking about after dusk, leading a bear, or of his keeping a giraffe in the house, etc. But it is a fact that Rossetti once wrote a letter to the Cheyne Walk residents to warn them not to allow any small children out alone in the gardens at the rear of their houses, because a rather ’rampagious’ racoon has escaped. The letter contained the request that everybody should set traps for the creature, baited with large pieces of raw meat, or they would be useless. Night after night these suggestions were followed but in vain. No animal was captured but some weeks later a sweep discovered the creature in a torpid state in the chimney of a neighbouring house

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Church from south east 1826

Church from south east 1922

Church from south east 2013

More Chapel, after most of Church destroyed by parachute landmine

The ruins of Chelsea Old Church-May 1941. Griffen

Cheyne Walk by moonlight-Pether