Chelsea Old Church, Middlesex

Although it is largely rebuilt, the church here is particularly ancient. It was the parish church of Chelsea when it was still a village outside of London. Today, of course, it is so swallowed into London that many consider it the western edge of “Central” London.

The Church dates to the 13th Century, the two chapels date to 1325, the nave and tower to 1670. Both the Chapels were private – one, the North, belonged to the Lord of the Manor of Chelsea. The other was rebuilt in 1528 as the private chapel of Sir Thomas More, whose statue sits outside the church today. The entrance to the Chancel is considered to have been designed by Holbein.

More moved to Chelsea around 1520 and had a house on what is now Beaufort Street with gardens reaching down to the Thames. Only one wall remains from the gardens.

In 1941 the Luftwaffe bombed Chelsea’s Church and much of it was destroyed. The More Chapel was the only part that survived largely unscathed. For the next 9 years the parishoners worshiped in the adjoining hospital. The More Chapel re-opened in 1950 and the Chancel and Lawrence Chapel in 1954. Finally, the whole church was reconsecrated in 1954 by the Bishop of London with the Queen Mother in attendance.

Outside sits the famous statue of Sir Thomas More by L. Cubitt Bevis which was erected in 1969, in the little gardens immediately to the west are more important artworks including the erotic statue “Awakening” by Gilbert Ledward and a mural by Jakob Epstein. The church – the pre-War original – also features in paintings by both Whistler and Turner.

In 1978 it was suggested that Edward V of England – one of the Princes in the Tower – was not killed by Richard III at all but lived to old age and is buried in Chelsea Old Church. As of yet no solid proof of this theory has been uncovered.

Today Chelsea Old Church is still standing sentinel over the Thames, although now it is rather disturbed by the Chelsea Embankment. However, it’s a nice spot and there are a number of things to see and do in the area.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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