Reginald Blunt.

The wonderful village; a further record of some famous folk and places by Chelsea reach online

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tenure of the College and its lands ; and the Com-
missioners duly concluded that by the discontinu-
ance of its corporation, the royal foundation was
determined ; and that the^ premises, being no longer
employed to the uses for which they were given,
the place "might be conceived to be in the present
possession of the Commonwealth," Q. E.D.

It was next, accordingly, seized and used as a
prison ; where we find, amongst others, " the Scots
officers taken at Worcester " ; and an order of
24th December, 1651, directs that " Major Andrew
Carr and Captain James Keith, now prisoners in
Chelsea College, be permitted to go to Scotland
for four or five months on their parole, on behalf
of the rest of the prisoners in Chelsea College, to
fetch them some relief from their friends, for their
better accommodation and subsistence during their
imprisonment here."

Two years later, seven boat-loads of Dutch
prisoners were sent to Chelsea ; but finding the
place already crowded by the Scotsmen, they had
to be accommodated in huts erected round the

There were not wanting, even in these days of
its long tribulation, some zealous souls who were
moved to make an effort for the resuscitation of
the College to its original purposes. In "a briefe
Declaration of some motives forcible to excite good


Christians' zeale to a voluntary and liberall con-
tribution," printed by E. P. for Nicholas Bourne,
we read, fo/ instance : —

" The worke we confess hath hitherto proceeded
slowly ; and no marvel, seeing great workes are not
easily achieved. Noah's Ark, God's Tabernacle
and Temple, and famous Schooles and Colledges,
albeit founded by Kings and great men, were long
in building ; and doe we wonder that this Colledge
is not yet finished ? As for those that draw back
in this service, let them mark the words of our
Saviour: He that is not with me is against me. . . .
Curse ye Meroz, saith the Angell, for they came
not up to the help of the Lord. . . .

" Only, for satisfaction of those that desire to
know why this Colledge is erected at Chelsey, and
not in one of the Universities, this we thought fit
to adde, that this place was thought most fit to
obtain intelligence from forrain parts, to receive
directions from our superiors, to consult with men
of best experience, to print books and to disperse
them, and lastly to obtain the favour of the State
and Citie."

Samuel Hartlib, Milton's Polish friend, also wrote
repeatedly to similar effect, and hinted that Dr.
Wilkinson, the Rector of Chelsea, who was at that
time Provost of the College, was enjoying a com-
fortable sinecure and "bagging the revenue."

In 165 1, John Dury in "The Reformed Spirituall


Husbandman " wrote a humble memorandum con-
cerning a " Correspondence with Forreigne Protest-
ants on all things belonging to the Communion
of Saints " ; and advocated in particular that " the
patent of Chelsey College should be renewed and
confirmed by Parliament, with means to maintain
more Fellows not only to oppose Popery but to
maintain an Evangelical Intelligence and Brotherly
Correspondency with Foreign Divines."

In 1662, again, John Darley, Rector of Northull
in Cornwall, published a pamphlet, dedicated to
King Charles II., and entitled "The Glory of
Chelsey Colledge Revived " ; explaining, in his
epistle to the reader, that it was written "partly to
clear the innocency of Dr. F^eatley, the late Provost,
somewhat blotted by Dr. Fuller's pen, proceeding
rather from an error of judgment than will.

" It is great pitty " (he quotes Dr. Joseph Hall as
saying) " that the late Chelseyan project was suffered
so foully to fall to the ground. Middleton's Aquse-
duct from Ware • to London spoiled the water
project of Chelsey College ; the design for repairing
of Paul's Church likewise quite eclipsed and damped
the building ; but, above all, the untimely death of
Prince Henry, who was the stately Elm by which
the Vine of Chelsey College did hope to rise and
spread. . . . To say nothing concerning its ca-
lamity in the extent of the late fury, the abuses,
the abominations in the Desolation, it becoming


as a cage of {Ho7'resco reputans) unclean birds, a
prostibulum for whores, a stable for horses, &c., and
not only a place petitioned for to make leather guns
in, but desired also for a Palaestra to manage great
horses, and practice horsemanship."

But though even Mr. Richard Baxter, chiefest
of English Protestant schoolmen, " left it to the
judgment of all men that are not asleep in their
security whether this design of restoring, according
to the first wisdom of it, for the defence of our
Church articles and oppugnation of the adversaries,
be not altogrether of Christ," there seems to have
been no backing whatever to the pleading of these
pugnacious and persistent zealots ; and after just
escaping conversion into a workhouse by Lord
Newport, and a headquarters by the Royal Society,
the poor derelict buildings were once again, in
1665, appropriated by the Government as a
hospital for sick and wounded sailors, and a prison
for the Dutch captives of the war.

And as often happens in this contrary world,
it is in connection with this chance and — by its
promoters — undreamed-of use of King James'
College, that we meet the most interesting and
attractive name that was ever associated with
its tragic history.

In October, 1664, King Charles nominated John
Evelyn as one of four Commissioners for the care
of sick and wounded prisoners of war ; and the


immortal " Diary " at once reveals that most charm-
ing gentleman as taking up his new responsibility
with unselfish devotion and solicitude. The key-
note of his work is struck, at the outset, by his
order for the seal of the Commission, which bore
the figure of the Good Samaritan, with the motto,
Fac Similiter. In 1665 we find him visiting his
prisoners at Chelsea College to examine for himself
how the Marshal and Sutlers were behaving :
and cheerfully recording that the inmates' only
complaint was that "their bread was too fine."

In April of this same year the Duke of York
writes from the Fleet advising him of the arrival,
as prisoners, of young Captain Evertson and some
other considerable Dutch commanders, who had
put up a most gallant fight against a superior force
of British ships ; and we find Evelyn bringing
Evertson to the King, who (as he happily records)
gave him his liberty, a passport back to Holland,
and fifty pieces in broad gold. But the number
of Evelyn's prisoners rapidly increased, and by
May the charge for their maintenance is stated to
have reached ^1000 a week, which there was
evidently much difficulty in extracting from the

And then came the plague, with deaths in
London increasing steadily from 2000 to 10,000
a week. Of course the epidemic spread to
Chelsea ; and Evelyn tells in pitiful phrase of


the prisoners' sufferings, " many with legs and
arms off, miserable objects, God knows," and his
own " exceeding perplexity to find neere 3000
prisoners sent to me to dispose of, more than I
had places fit to receive and guard."

He had to make personal and peremptory
demands for ^10,000, to save them from starva-
tion, and his brief entries from day to day show
us his wearisome travels about his allotted district,
to Gravesend, Erith, Chatham, Maidstone, Dover,
etc. ; his selling of prize ships to raise money for
his prisoners ; his billeting of the sick in vessels
at various ports ; all this difficult and thankless
work carried out by a man of physical and mental
delicacy, in days when travelling implied the end-
less fatigues of horseback, of execrable roads and
comfortless coaches ; and rendered tenfold more
hazardous and hard by the terrible ravages of the
plague, with which he was constantly brought
in close contact. It was, indeed, a year of horror,
from which London had only begun to recover
when the Great Fire once again plunged the City
in desolation, to which the Dutch Fleet, actually
anchored in the Thames, added the final touch
of terror, in the daily threat of bombardment.

Small wonder that poor flighty Charles, who
had sought refuge, first at Hampton Court and
then at Oxford, should, when the worst was over,
have " run to greet " and thank his faithful subject


for such loyal and unselfish service, at a time when
almost every one had fled from his employment
in sheer panic.

There is no doubt that, in spite of all that
Evelyn could do, the Chelsea prisoners suffered
terribly. Half-starved, overcrowded, and ill-treated
by their gaolers, they "died like dogs in the
street," they begged to be knocked on the head,
they asked to be allowed to take service with the
English, they fought and mutinied ; and the prison
burial ground which was afterwards unearthed,
bore grim testimony to their fate.

In 1667, when the war was over, and after pro-
tracted negotiations with Sutcliffe's spendthrift
nephew who laid claim to the building, Evelyn re-
ceived orders from the King to deliver possession
of Chelsea College " used as my prison during the
war for such as were sent from the Fleete to
London" to the Royal Society, as a gift from His

Two years later (8th April, 1669) this grant was
actually completed ; but the gift proved a white
elephant to the Society ; its distance from London
and its ruinous condition precluding its advan-
tageous use or lease, whilst Prince Rupert's glass-
house, which adjoined it, seems to have been a
constant source of annoyance.

The records of their proceedings show the vari-
ous efforts made by the Society to utilise the royal


o-ift as a nursery garden, as an astronomical ob-
servatory, and as the laboratory for Prince Rupert's
experiments in glass-making ; and in the valuable
extra illustrated copy of " Faulkner's Chelsea " in
our Public Library I find the following memor-
andum in manuscript : —

"At a Council at the President's, Sept. 5, 1678.

''Present: The President [Sir Joseph William-
son], SirCh. Wren, Mr. Henshaw, Sir J. Louther,
Mr. Hill, Dr. Grew, and R. Hooke.

" Ordered: That an account be drawn up of the
charge and expence that Chelsey Colledge hath
cost this Society ; and that the same be delivered
to the President in order to shew the same to his

" Ordered: That the Committee formerly ap-
pointed to consider of the present state of Chelsey
Colledge be desired to consider of what is reason-
able to be* given for recompense to the person that
hath taken some care for preserving the materials
of the same.

''Ordered: That Sir Ch. Wren and Mr. Hooke
be desired to view the house of Chelsey Colledge
and consider of what is best to be done to the

Negotiations drifted on for another three years ;
and then, at last, early in 1682, Sir Stephen Fox
resold the College on behalf of the Royal Society
to the King for ^1300, His Majesty having de-


termined to build, upon its site, an hospital or in-
firmary for soldiers, spending ^20,000 on its erec-
tion, and settling ^5000 a year for its endowment,
for the relief and reception of 400 men.

The history of the institution of Chelsea Hos-
pital, however, must not concern us here. That is
another story, which would need — and surely de-
serves, a volume to itself. But at least it is pleasant,
at the end of this chequered tale of a great failure,
to leave our gentle and lovable Evelyn closeted in
his study, before supper, with Sir Stephen Fox,
hard at work arranging "the governour, chaplain,
steward, housekeeper, chirurgeon, cook, butler,
gardener, porter, and other officers [for the great
Hospital to be], with their several salaries and en-
tertainments, I would needes," he adds, character-
istically, "have a Library, and mention'd several
bookes, since some soldiers might possibly be
studious when they were at leisure to recollect."
That is a sentence on which one could comment
very emphatically to-day ! And it is pleasant also
to reflect, as we survey the sorry story of the
College and its successive occupants, how step by
step, through its use as a prison and as a hospital
for sick and wounded warriors, and through John
Evelyn's association both with the College and the
Royal Society, King James' theological failure
eventually paved the way to King Charles' bene-
ficent success.



u .

O <u


It is strange that the recorded facts in regard to
Chelsea's early association with pottery should be
so few and so disputable. A succession of names
prominent in the history of ceramics — the Elers,
Duesbury, Sprimont, Thomas, Wedgwood, Ruel,
Hempel, and De Morgan — are all borne upon our
Chelsea Roll of Honour ; but the records of the
earlier potters here are extremely slight and un-

It has been stated that there was a manufactory
of glass and perhaps also of porcelain in Chelsea
before the close of the seventeenth century, carried
on by Venetian workmen, under the patronage
of the Duke of Buckingham ; and that the Elers
family, who came to England on George I.'s acces-
sion and certainly settled in Chelsea some years
later, were associated with this work as early as
1720; and it is also recorded that a number of
Burslem potters from Hot Lane came to Chelsea
in 1747, to work at the China factory ; that,
finding themselves before long to be the best
workmen in the place, they started a separate

(145) 10


factory of their own in Chelsea ; and that this, after
some success, was given up, owing to disagree-
ments among themselves ; the men going back to
Burslem. It seems a little doubtful whether this
venture was in porcelain or earthenware, and
whether it was the beginning of the famous Chelsea
factory, or a separate concern ; but the earliest
production of true Chelsea China is generally dated

about 1745-50-

Of that wonderful little Lawrence Street exotic
some account has already been given in a former
paper ;^ and it is to the story of two less known
but interesting Chelsea adventures in pottery that
these pages are chiefly dedicated.

Chelsea historians — and the distinction is by no
means unique — have many sins of omission and
commission to their debit ; and amongst the former
it seems strange indeed that the fact of the greatest
individual piece of work of the great firm of Josiah
Wedgwood & Co. (with the exception, perhaps, of
the Portland vase reproduction) having been
carried out in Chelsea should have remained almost

Faulkner — though he took special pains to in-
vestigate the facts about the china factory — is
quite silent ; and so are Lysons and L' Estrange
and Dr. Martin and George Bryan, and even Mr.

i"At the Sign of the Anchor." In Cheyne Walk and


Godfrey's admirable Survey ; while Mr. Beaver
just mentions the existence of Wedgwood's Chel-
sea branch, but does not seem to have known any-
thing about the great work carried out here.

The story of this interesting little invasion, so
far as I have been able to collate the facts from
Miss Meteyard's biography, Lady Farrer's privately
printed letters of Wedgwood to Bentley, Dr.
Williamson's elaborate monograph on the Imperial
Russian Dinner Service, and a few details from
Messrs. Wedgwood's and other sources, is briefly
as follows : —

It was in 1768-9, when the indefatigable energy
of Josiah Wedgwood was engrossed in the estab-
lishment of the new workshops of Etruria, that he
and his partner, Thomas Bentley, decided to
transfer their small London enamelling shops, then
adjoining the saleroom in Newport Street, to a
more open neighbourhood, where expansion would
be possible.

That courage of enterprise which made Wedg-
wood what he was is typically illustrated by the
bold undertaking of this great Russian order, the
establishment of a new branch Factory at Chelsea,
and the transfer thither of the pick of his Etruria
painters at the very time when the parent works
were in the throes of reconstruction and develop-

Chelsea was doubtless well known to both the


partners ; for Wedgwood was interested in the sale
of the moulds, models, fixtures, and materials of the
porcelain manufactory which were at that very
time put up for auction ; and Bentley had Chelsea
patrons in Sir William Meredith, Sir Henry Chairs,
and others ; and a suitable piece of land with a com-
fortable house being found available there, Bentley
seems to have taken it on lease in September, 1 769,
after Josiah and his wife had inspected and approved.
Owing to the incompleteness of the Wedgwood re-
cords of this period, and the loss of all Bentley's
letters to his partner, it has been no easy matter to
fix the exact position of this house and land, which
even Miss Meteyard, with the agreement for the
lease from Mr. Green before her, has not precisely
identified. But after carefully comparing all the
particulars at present available it is, I think, practi-
cally certain that the plot of land leased by Bentley
was bounded on the south by a wall behind the
present houses on the south side of Little Cheyne
Row, on the north by the King's Road, on the
east by a wall running up behind the east side of
the present Glebe Place, and on the west by a line
running northward from the ends of the Great
Cheyne Row Gardens, and behind the present
houses on the east side of Bramerton Street to
the King's Road. Without the agreement or plan
or any of Bentley's letters, it is impossible to
identify with certainty the house on this land which


he himself occupied. Miss Meteyard seems to
think that it was actually in Little (now Upper)
Cheyne Row, and if so it was probably either
Cheyne House, the last house on the north side of
the Row, which was demolished in 191 5, or The
Cottage, on the south side of the Row, a little
further east, part of which still stands. But John
Collett, the painter of many subjects "more ludi-
crous than witty," appears in the rate books of
1766-73 as the tenant of Cheyne House; whilst
Mr. Bentley, whose rental, including gardens and
barley field, appears to have been fifty guineas, is
rated under the King's Road, upon which his land
abutted northward.

In Thompson's Survey of 1835 another house is
shown on this land, called "Alpha House," the site
of which is now covered by part of the western side
of Glebe Place ; and it is possible that this may
have been the one occupied by Wedgwood's
partner, being nearer the King's Road, in which
his rating is entered.

During the autumn of 1769 the necessary repairs
and alterations were made in Bentley's house,
including the addition of a coach-house for his im-
pressive " Chariot," and some adjoining buildings
and sheds were erected or adapted as workshops.
In November Wedgwood wrote to his partner :
" I am glad you go on so currently at Chelsea, and
hope you will soon be settled there to your satis-


faction ; pray push them all you can to find money
for the alterations and take the new buildings too if
practical " ; from which it would seem that at any
rate at the outset, the firm did little actual building
themselves. By December the premises were
ready for use ; and a mufile, bought at Lambeth,
had been installed ; Mr. and Mrs. Willcox, two of
the best painters at Etruria, had arrived in London
by waggon, having taken a week on the road, and
were set to work at Chelsea ; and Wedgwood's
master-foreman, David Rhodes, had also come up
from Staffordshire and been installed in the house
in Little Cheyne Row, now No. 14, where we find
his name in the rate books from 1770-7. Bentley
himself probably came into residence in January,
1770, and by April the work was evidently in full
swing, Rhodes looking out for more hands, and
one of the Chelsea kilns having already, it appears,
been blown up, through precipitate firing.

Besides Rhodes and the Willcox family, several
of Wedofwood's best hands were at work under
Bentley in Chelsea, including James Bakewell,
Ralph Unwin, and Nathaniel Cooper : John
Roberts, his son, and two daughters, who suc-
ceeded Rhodes in possession of No. 14 Upper
Cheyne Row ; Miss Glisson and Miss Pars, and
Mather, the accountant. The transfer of country
hands to London led in more than one case to
trouble and difficulties. Lads lodged away from









their homes became refractory and unsettled ;
questions of comparative wages arose, and in
August, 1772, we find Josiah writing to Bentley :
" I do not think it answers any good purpose to
send our Country People up to Town. The
Change is so great that not one in ten can stand it
with Jilt being ruined or spoild or being seized
with the Swiss disorder," The arrangement al-
together must have been a somewhat costly and
difficult one ; for, besides entailing some duplica-
tion of staff, the plain glazed biscuit ware, thrown,
moulded, and fired at Burslem, had to be carefully
packed and sent up by wagon or packhorse or in
panniers on ponies and asses to Chelsea (150 miles),
there to be decorated, enamelled, and refired, and
thence consigned to the warehouse and showrooms
in Soho. But against this, certain advantages were
doubtless set, including the greater possibilities of
obtaining good painters and craftsmen in London,
the proximity of Bentley's personal supervision,
and the facility of carrying out at Chelsea, under
his eye, special orders taken at the Newport Street

To explain the scope of the work done at Chelsea,
it may perhaps be well to quote the following from
Mr. William Burton's work : —

" In enamel decoration the painting is applied
on the fired glaze, the colours used being such as
were employed by the glass painter, or the


enameller of metals. Enamel colours contain a
large proportion of fusible glass or flux, so that
when the piece has been painted it only needs to
be raised again to a clear red heat to fuse them
firmly to the glaze. At this low temperature many
colours can be used which would disappear at
the high temperatures necessary to melt the glaze
itself "

Mr. Burton elsewhere states that Wedgwood
established the Chelsea works "for the enamel
painting of the cream colour and the encaustic
painting on black wares ; and for many years
goods were sent up from Etruria to London to re-
ceive their final decoration there."

Josiah C. Wedgwood wrote later of his great
predecessor: "The sober border decorations of
his tea and dinner ware which is, to some tastes,
the very best part of his work, were done at Chelsea.
His most successful patterns are mere enamelled
borders, perfectly enamelled on perfectly potted

One of Wedgwood's letters to his partner, written
in June, 1770, refers to his approaching visit to
London "to see the Russian Service and your
enamel work at Chelsea " ; but this refers, not to
the great service for the Empress Catherine, but
to a small set ordered by Lord Cathcart to take
out with him to Petersburg by way of illustration
of what could be done.


In June, 1772, Bentley, with whom his sister-in-
law Miss Oates and a little niece had hitherto been
living, took a week's holiday from Chelsea, to be
married to Mary Stamford of Derby, and made, as
Josiah puts it, " a Happy Man for life " ; and early
in July, Mr. and Mrs. Wedgwood paid the newly
wedded pair a visit at the Cheyne Row home,
which seems to have been a very comfortable and
hospitable establishment, if we may judge from
Wedgwood's cheery references to his sojourn there
amid genial friends and festive glasses and quiet

"We flatter ourselves," he writes in July, 1770.
" with being remembered sometimes over an even-
ing pipe at Chelsea. "

It was in the spring of 1773 that Mr. Baxter, the
British Consul at Petersburg, was empowered to
commission for the Russian Empress, from the firm
of Wedgwood, a truly Imperial dinner service,
which was to consist of nearly a thousand pieces, on
each of which was to be painted a different view of
British scenery ; each piece to bear the mark of
the green frog, signifying its intended appropriation
to the Palace of La Grenouilliere. The negotia-
tions as to cost, time of execution, and securities in

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Online LibraryReginald BluntThe wonderful village; a further record of some famous folk and places by Chelsea reach → online text (page 9 of 19)