Heritage Trail

Heritage Trail

Join us on a stroll along this famous high street to uncover its cultural touchpoints in history, spanning the aristocratic origins as King Charles II’s private road to mighty modernism that is on offer nearby.

Trail Stops

1. David Mellor

David Mellor, 4 Sloane Square, London, SW1W 8EE

You could easily miss the David Mellor shop in the northeast corner of Sloane Square. The shop is tucked away in a modern building with glass windows framed in aluminum which somehow feels fitting for a shop selling the no-nonsense cutlery Mellor was known for designing.

David Mellor himself trained as a silversmith in Sheffield before designing ‘Pride’ in 1953, a range of award-winning cutlery which is still in production today. He quickly made a name for himself as a product designer and turned his hand to our streets – traffic lights, bus stands, letter boxes, etc. Mellor tested his traffic lights around the corner from his shop on nearby Pont Street before they became used throughout the UK. The traffic light is very typical of his design: something you know and use, yet you don’t really notice (the design) because, simply, it works.

Mellor’s Sloane Square shop was known for its fresh approach to retail, carefully selected products for the 1960s & 70s aspirational audiences. Mellor once served Jackie Kennedy although failed to realise who she was (one of the most famous women in the world at the time). The shop provided modern tools required for the home including saws and screws as well as cutlery, pots and pans, all displayed beautifully and thoughtfully. It still has the same attention to detail, now run by Corin Mellor, David’s son, also a designer. It’s a dream shop for those who love cooking; there’s every tool you never knew you needed for the kitchen.

2. King’s map and tokens

Duke of York Square, King’s Road, London, SW3 4RY

If you wander across Duke of York Square and look down, you might notice some shiny coins embedded in the pavement. The coins surround an old map, drawn in the early eighteenth century for King George I, identifying the route to London from his palaces at Kew and Hampton Court. The route had been created by King Charles II in the second half of the seventeenth century and has been known ever since as ‘The King’s Road’.

When it was built, the new road was thought to have been a useful route for King Charles II and his mistress, the actress Nell Gwynn, to link St James’s Palace to Fulham, and Fulham to Kew. There are many references to Nell Gwynn found around Fulham Road where she lived.

Initially the King’s Road was an exclusive road only for the King and a chosen few. The coins, or tokens as they were called, were the currency for accessing the King’s Road from around 1720 when it could be used by members of the public who had paid for the privilege. It’s thought that the map was made around this time to identify or formalise the arrangement. The road was made public in 1830.

3. Running Track, Duke of York Square

Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York Square, SW3 4RY

Running is not necessarily the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about the King’s Road, but nestled behind Duke of York Square, in front of the Saatchi Gallery, there is a running track which was the training ground for an historical sporting event. Roger Bannister trained here for his legendary 4 minute mile in 1954 when he made history by being the first person to achieve this goal. Bannister’s choreographed achievement, and the close competition he faced, has since been immortalised in films and a TV series over the years.

There has been a running track here since the Ministry of Defence occupied what was the Duke of York’s HQ (now the Saatchi Gallery) in the early part of the twentieth century. Previously, the Duke of York Royal Military School (opened in 1801), was designed by a pupil of architect Sir John Soane as a home for the orphaned children of soldiers. The more recent development by Cadogan has restored the HQ into a beautiful gallery space and created one of London’s largest privately-owned public spaces at Duke of York Square.

If you fancy some interval training, you can join the running club who meet at the Saatchi gallery every Tuesday and Thursday via One Track.

4. John Sandoe Books

10-11 Backlands Terrace, London, SW3 2SR

Opened in 1957 as a tiny bookshop on Backlands Terrace, opposite Duke of York Square, John Sandoe Books is a treasure trove for book-lovers. The shop has, over time, expanded over upper and lower floors of the eighteenth-century premises and to its adjacent neighbours, one of which was the veterinary practice caring for Winston Churchill’s dogs. It has a domestic feel, an old-world charm, with walls and staircases crammed full of books – books you really want to read – and window seats in which to do so. There’s an impressive selection of art, architecture and design books: we noticed it had the most recent copies of the Survey of London, which documents the buildings of London’s past and present, a must for architectural historians or those interested in our city’s-built environment.

The shop and its booksellers have had some famous patrons over the years, notably the novelist Edna O’Brien, painter Lucien Freud, fashion designer Mary Quant and design entrepreneur Terence Conran who referred to it as ‘a bookworm’s dream… the perfect bookshop in which to browse where staff delight in making intelligent recommendations on books you have read and enjoyed’.

5. Thomas Crapper

120 King’s Road, SW3 4TR

The world’s first bath, toilet and sink showroom, opened in 1907.

6. Chelsea Drugstore

49 King’s Road, SW3 4ND

This iconic building by Antony Cloughley featured in the Clockwork Orange movie, 1971.

7. Wright’s Dairy

(Former Wright’s Dairy) 69 King’s Road, London, SW3 4LY

High up on the corner of the building at 69 King’s Road is a cow’s head. Proudly protruding from the red brick wall, it was there to promote Wright’s Dairy that used to occupy the property. Like much of London until the 19th century, King’s Road used to be countryside with many farms in the area, though only a few survived into the 20th century.

Wright’s Dairy opened here in 1796, with a shop and a pasture behind their headquarters on nearby Old Church Street (where another cow’s head can be found). The cow’s head is both a memento of the 50 or so cows that used to graze here as well as the elaborate signage typical of the era. You can find another property marked by animals just down the road at the Pheasantry (152 King’s Road).

Once occupied by the game dealer Samuel Baker who provided pheasants for the royal household, the Pheasantry’s elaborate archway and courtyard was created when it became home to interior designers Amédée Joubert & Son in the late 19th century. For a time, there was a ballet academy in the basement where Dame Margot Fonteyn trained, and flats above where the model and actress Eleanor Thornton lived. Later, it was home to Eric Clapton with a club below hosting acts like Hawkwind, Queen and Lou Reed. It’s now a pizza and jazz restaurant.

8. Mary Quant’s Bazaar

138a King’s Road SW3 4XB

Iconic shop of the 1960s by the influential fashion designer.

9. St Luke’s Bollards

At either side of Markham Square, King's Road, London, SW3 4XB

King’s Road is lined with black bollards except for the two white ones either side of Markham Square. They are the remnants of boundary markers that defined the old parish of St. Luke’s. Our modern city design uses more subtle signs to define borders instead of elaborate markings like this but these bollards remind us of a time when maps, let alone smartphones, weren’t readily available to the general population which is probably one of the reasons why many markings were substantial.

St Luke’s parish was one of the largest in Chelsea, running from the Fulham Road to the river. Designed by James Savage, St. Luke’s Church itself sits nearby on Sydney Street and is one of the first examples of new Gothic churches in London. The gardens are also one of the nicest green public spaces in the area, a nod to when the church was built in 1820.

10. Club dell’Aretusa

107 King's Rd, SW3 4PA (now Kobox Gym)

Descending the stairs at 107 King’s Road on one evening in May 1968, instead of an underground boxing gym you would find a club filled with bohemian clientele attending the launch of Apple Tailoring, the shop at 161 King’s Road the Beatles started in partnership with fashion designer John Crittle.

Club dell’Aretusa was a members-only club that attracted many famous faces including Sammy Davis Jr, David Bailey, Twiggy, the Stones, David Bowie and Mary Quant. The Beatles were a local staple at the time and the cover of their Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was shot in a studio on Flood Street nearby. Apple Tailoring unfortunately didn’t last too long, with the Beatles backing out later the same year and eventually closing its doors late 1970. We can imagine how tough the competition was on King’s Road being home to many fashionable boutiques of the 60s, catering for trend-conscious audience who eagerly followed different fashion movements.

11. The Chelsea Potter

The Chelsea Potter, 119 King's Road, London, SW3 4PL

This well-positioned pub is interesting for its connections to different Chelsea potters over time, although it’s unclear which potter, or group of potters, the pub is named after. There was a ‘Chelsea Porcelain Factory’ as far back as 1745 – the first important porcelain manufactory in the UK – some pieces from which are held in the V&A collections.

The Chelsea Potter pub was thought to have been built as a beer house in 1842 called the Commercial Tavern and was re-named as the Chelsea Potter in 1958. At the time of its renaming, there was indeed a Chelsea Pottery studio located on Radnor Walk, which was an open studio for potters. The highly decorative work was followed by celebrities of the time; Jimmy Hendrix and Paul McCartney were known to be customers of the Pottery.

The pub sign, however, is a painting of William de Morgan, painted by his wife, Evelyn de Morgan, who were both part of the Victorian Arts and Crafts movement. De Morgan’s Chelsea Pottery was founded in nearby Cheyne Row in the 1860s and his work in ceramics, some of which he made for friend and colleague William Morris’s company, are also part of the V&A collections.

12. William Friese-Greene

Gaumont Palace, 222 King's Road, SW3 5XP

There are many firsts and oldest in this area: oldest botanic garden (Chelsea Physic Garden, 1673), the first Starbucks in the UK (123a King’s Road, 1998) and the world’s first permanent ice rink (379 King’s Road, 1876) but there is one that is less known; the earliest recorded motion picture. It was filmed at 39 King’s Road in 1891 by William Friese-Greene whose portrait can be found on the facade of Gaumont Palace which is currently under construction. In the film you can see horse drawn carriages go by while a man with a walking stick walks across the frame. Still very much an experimentation at this stage, the film nonetheless started the long development of film as an art form, and eventually, the everyday content we know today.

The area has also been the location for many films since then, making an appearance on titles such as Clockwork Orange and Blow-up, as well as 30 Is a Dangerous Age, Cynthia, the 1968 film in which King’s Road becomes flooded with imaginary brides, the result of an imagination of the protagonist played by Dudley Moore.

The building has recently undergone restoration and redevelopment to recreate a cinema fit for the future, in homage to Friese-Green and his cinematic influence. The building will also house artist and creative studios which have a long history in the area (see stop 11).

13. The Six Bells

197 King's Road, SW3 5EQ (now the Ivy)

If you don’t get too distracted by the decorations on what is now the Ivy Chelsea Garden and look up, you will see six small bells hanging over the entrance of 197 King’s Road. They call upon the past occupant of the property, the Six Bells public house. Poet Dylan Thomas and playwright Samuel Beckett (Beckett was staying in nearby Paultons Square in the 1930s), are among many who frequented the establishment.

It became a well known venue for Jazz in the 50s and 60s when the upstairs was occupied by Trog’s Jazz Club, run by cartoonist and clarinettist Wally Fawkes. Amongst others, the venue catered to the students from Chelsea College around the corner on Manresa Road who were ready to have fun after the post-war austerity. Fawkes was an accomplished musician himself and played with the likes of Humphrey Lyttelton and George Melly.

14. Glebe Place Artist’s Studios

Glebe Place, London, SW3 5JE

If you walk down the King’s Road past Glebe Place it’s easy to see yet another Chelsea Street. Look closer to the east and walk south towards the river to discover a concentration of artist’s studios built during the mid 19th century. During the Victorian period Chelsea became known as the art centre of London. Previous painters had moved here to paint the river and the Victorian interest in commodities including art ownership had led to a rise in professionalism amongst artists who could afford to build their own studios in Chelsea at a reasonable cost.

Chelsea became an enclave for artists who enjoyed the studios and their north-facing windows, providing pure, constant light and high ceilings to accommodate large easels and paintings. To the east of Glebe Place is a series of studios called ‘Turners Studios’ where JMW Turner, one of the earlier artist residents, is said to have worked. Other notable inhabitants of Glebe Place include Augustus John, Winnifed Nicholson and Francis Bacon.

Some of the artist’s studios were built by leading architects of the era, including West House, 35 Glebe Place, designed by the arts and crafts architect Philip Webb (this also features in the 1980s film Withnail and I) and Studio House, 49 Glebe Place, designed by Charles Rennie Macintosh who had his own garden studio at 43a Glebe Place. It’s also impossible not to notice 50 Glebe Place, which was built in the 1980s for the advertising executive, Frank Lowe.

15. Modernist Houses

64 & 66 Old Church Street, SW3 6EP

A stark visual contrast to the Victorian and Georgian buildings of this Chelsea neighbourhood, 64 and 66 Old Church Street, just off the King’s Road, are welcome examples of Modernist architecture. Architects Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School, and Erich Mendelsohn, known for his expressionist architecture, both designed the Church Road houses whilst living in London having fled the Nazi regime in Germany.

The grade II listed 64 Old Church Street, ‘the Cohen house’ was designed by Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff for the publisher Denis Cohen, completed in 1936. It’s undergone two modifications: a new conservatory at the south end, completed in 1992 by Norman Foster, and the second by Apt, the refurbishment of the exterior and a pre-built new extension at the north end of the building. The house looks industrial but the spaces inside are indeed residential living spaces, complete with a sunken squash court and a library.

No.66 or ‘the Levy house’ is the only building by Walter Gropius in London. Gropius designed the house with British architect Maxwell Fry for playwright Ben Levy and actress Constance Cumming. No 66 is at a right angle to its neighbour 64 (originally the two plots were one) so only the side of 66 can be seen properly from the street. It has large windows, a conservatory and terrace and there’s a covered space which links the two properties. No 66 has been altered with (non original) exterior tiles, but still looks striking as you walk by the famous Chelsea Arts Club towards the King’s Road.

16. Bluebird

330–350 King's Road, SW3 5UU

There is a small bluebird icon placed on each side of two posts which outline the entrance and exit to what was once the Bluebird Garage. The Bluebird Garage was the largest automobile garage in Europe when it was built in 1923 at what was considered the end of London (Worlds End). If the birds could talk they would tell you about the Garage’s many well-to-do customers, some staying overnight here whilst their cars were serviced before driving from the city to the countryside.

In more recent years the Bluebird Garage has been a destination for shopping and eating, thanks to the visionary design entrepreneur Terence Conran. It’s fair to say that Conran had an interest in these industrial automobile buildings, he also bought the Michelin (tyres) Building nearby on Fulham Road, which was home to the first Conran Shop for many years and still houses Bibendum restaurant and Oyster Bar.

The Bluebird was something else – a fashionable restaurant on the first floor (impossible to get a table when it opened in 1997), more casual cafe and fine food shop on the ground floor, and later, London’s first concept store The Shop at Bluebird. Despite the lack of transport (there is no tube stop nearby) the Bluebird was a destination everyone wanted to go to in the 2000s. The Shop housed an eclectic mix of brands; fresh new designers mixed with high fashion names such Prada and Comme de Garcons, it was an entirely different offering to anything else in London.

Sadly the Shop at Bluebird is no more but its influence lives on in the area. This part of the King’s Road is known particularly by interior designers and stylists who travel to the beautiful furniture shop Sigmar at 263 King’s Road and its well-known neighbour, Designers Guild.

17. Glaciarium

379 King’s Road, SW3 5ES

The world’s first ice rink opened just off the Kings Road in 1876.

18. Worlds End

430 King's Road, SW10 0LJ

Let It Rock, Too Fast to Live Too Young to Die, SEX and Seditionaries are all names of the shop at 430 King’s Road Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood had since 1971 before settling on Worlds End in 1979 which continues to this day.

Worlds End is the name that the area started to be called in the 17th century for it’s distance from the centre of London. The Worlds End shop was designed by the architect David Connor and features a tilted floor that necessitated an installation of a flat section behind the counter for the shop staff who started to suffer back pains from standing on the wonky floor. Another, more known feature is the 13 hour clock that ticks rapidly backwards, a whimsical and dizzying image that subverts our expectations, yet despite its disorientating effect it still manages to tell the right time more than twice a day. These things were probably informed in part by McLaren’s social revolutionary tendencies that were inspired by Situationist International philosophy which played a pivotal role in the May 1968 movement in Paris.

19. Swan Song Records

484 King’s Road, SW10 0LF

Launched by Led Zeppelin in 1974, many tracks were recorded at their HQ on Kings Road.

20. Granny Takes A Trip

488 King’s Road, SW10 0LF

One of London’s first psychedelic boutiques with an ever-changing shop front.

About the Trail

If streets could speak, the King’s Road’s would be an epic tale: a haven for aesthetes and creatives, from the site of landmark feats, such as the earliest-ever recorded film shoot, to where an eclectic mix of the famous and infamous lived, worked and partied.

A walk through time and design

There are no roads quite like the King’s Road and its surrounding Chelsea neighbourhood. This area once hosted a private Royal thoroughfare for King Charles II (to travel between his palaces) and is associated with major cultural movements – Victorian Arts and Crafts, the Swinging 60s, Punk (1970’s) and the Sloane Rangers of the 1980s.

On this trail, curated by Anna Stewart and Tetsuo Mukai, uncover the legendary moments experienced along this street and travel through the ages to meet some of the artists, radicals, designers, painters and poets, including: Mary Quant, Vivienne Westwood, Mick Jagger (who celebrated his 80th on the road recently), Terence Conran, the Beatles and many more.

Peel away layers of history – now stunning homes were once verdant fields and dairies, flamboyant art-deco garages have found new life as restaurants, iconic clubs have morphed into gyms, and now jazz clubs were previously pheasantries. Take a deep dive into the design heritage that exists in the creative studios, stores and contemporary art spaces, and don’t forget to look up and admire the architecture that ties it all together.

Curators

Anna Stewart

Anna Stewart is interested in design and how it shapes the way we live. After training as an editor Anna managed an influential design programme in London. She now writes and produces materials on design, often with a historical perspective.

Tetsuo Mukai

Tetsuo Mukai is a designer, an occasional writer and sometime curator, interested in various relationships we form with designed objects and environment.

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