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Chelsea Key Site Information

Chelsea Key Site Information

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Key Site information for the foreshore site at Chelsea, West London
Key Site information for the foreshore site at Chelsea, West London

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Thames Discovery Programme on Apr 06, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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archaeological and historical background
There are a range of finds from the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic and Iron Age periodsrecovered from the area around the site, from both controlled excavation and as the result ofchance finds. For example, small number of residual prehistoric struck flints and potsherds werefound during excavations at 61-62 Cheyne Walk and 6-16 Old Church Street. Most recently, twopits, possibly of Mesolithic date, were recorded at 2-4 Old Church Street. Artefacts of Palaeolithic,Me
solithic and Neolithic date were collected by antiquarians from the Thames ‘off Chelsea’, as was
an assemblage of Iron Age material. Most significantly, a concentration of artefacts from stratifiedNeolithic contexts has been recovered from this zone during foreshore survey. A well-preservedpaleoenvironmental deposit consists of peats with organic inclusions in the form of waterloggedtree branches and logs and from this widespread feature, a variety of artefacts have beenretrieved, both as surface finds and in stratified contexts. These include burnt and worked flints,animal bone, ceramics and a wooden club or beater, which is c 0.7m in length and dates to 3630-3350 cal BC. This artefact is presently on display at the Museum of London. Human remains havealso been retrieved from the peats and include two femurs (one dated to the Neolithic 2910
2770cal BC and one to the Bronze Age 1620
1440 cal BC) and a fragment of a Bronze Age skull(1750-1610 cal BC). This adult male skull is the first dated example from the London area showingevidence for trepanation
There is very little evidence for use of the area during this period. Evidence from excavation at the
three ‘dry land’ sites mentioned above
suggests a small scale rural settlement during the Romanperiod.
early medieval
The changing shape of the river over time is further evidenced by place-name evidence for eyots,or islands, such as those discovered at north Southwark. It is known that Westminster Abbey wasestablished on
by the late Anglo-Saxon period and it has been suggested that similarislands may have existed further west at Chelsea and Battersea during this period. Chelsea[
] is first mentioned in the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 
, which records that a church synodwas held there in AD 785; this was followed by a number of other councils. This fits well with therecently discovered archaeological evidence for Middle Saxon settlement at 6-16 Old ChurchStreet, and with the discovery of two Middle Saxon fishtraps on the Thames foreshore. The firstdiscovered is a V-shaped trap with 84 posts so far recorded (dated to 730-900 cal AD), and thesecond is of 10 posts and may be a barrier trap ((650 to 890 cal AD).
thames discovery programme
Chelsea FKN01
The zone is approximately 600m long and 70m wide. Since the 1940s,houseboats have been permanently moored on the upper part of theforeshore, connected to land by a series of pontoons. At present the onlysafe permanent access from the waterfront to the foreshore is via a set ofstairs located on the Embankment, downstream of Battersea Bridge (over1km away). Once upstream of the bridge, the only safe passage to the site isacross a narrow area in front of the moored houseboats which means it iseasy to become cut off, especially as the tide comes in very quickly. It is also possible to access theforeshore directly from the houseboat pontoons via moored vessels or temporary ladders . Both of theseroutes are somewhat unsatisfactory and the amount of both personnel and equipment that can safely bebrought to the site is limited. The unstable nature of parts of the foreshore surface suggests that someareas have been scoured in the past (possibly due to the movement of vessels across the foreshore),
although it seems unlikely that any large scale dredging has occurred on the site. The presence of ‘soft’
areas, masked by silts, makes the site very dangerous for those unfamiliar with it.
late medieval
The community at Chelsea was probably well established during this period and in 1086
Domesday Book 
provides the first definite documentary evidence of settlement. After the Conquestthe manor was granted to Edward of Salisbury, and it is described in
Domesday Book 
ascomprising two hides with enough arable land to support five plough teams and nine tenants.Archaeology again supports the documentary material, with structural and artefactual evidencerecorded at a number of sites, and demonstrating that the settlement was well established by the13
century. There is documentary evidence for a
church at Chelsea in 1157, but the first specificrecord of the church is in 1290. The Old Church was originally dedicated to All Saints but became
St Luke’s in the 17th century. The eastern half of the chancel was
constructed in the 13th century,whilst the north chapel was built in the 14th century Old Church Street was a medieval road, aswas Milmans Road to the east of the site, where the rectory was originally located. Theimportance of the relationship between the settlements at Chelsea and Battersea on the oppositebank of the river is demonstrated by the establishment of a ferry during this period (or possiblyearlier).
 post medieval
During the 16th century Chelsea became known as the ‘Village of Palaces’.
Notable home ownersincluded Sir Thomas More and later Henry VIII, the Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Shrewsbury.Elizabeth I spent part of her childhood here, as did Lady Jane Grey. The Old Church was added toand modified several times during the post-medieval period. Sir Thomas More rebuilt the chapel in1538, and in 1667-68 the nave and the tower were rebuilt. Work in the 18th and 19th centuryculminated in a restoration by H.H Burnell in 1857-8. Unfortunately the church was severelydamaged by bombing in 1941, and it was subsequently rebuilt between 1949 and 1958 by W. H.Godfrey as a precise recreation of the original.
By the Georgian period, Chelsea had grow
n into a ‘garden suburb’
, and by the middle of the 18thcentury, there were around 3,000 inhabitants. The main occupations of the area were connectedwith market gardening, the river or the shops and inns. Construction of Battersea Bridge began in1771, the original timber bridge was demolished in 1881 and replaced by the present bridge(designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette) in 1886-90. The building of the first bridge led to increasedurbanisation of the area, a process which was continued by the construction of the Embankment,which was opened in 1874. This feature somewhat divorced the suburb from the river and thefocus of commerce turned landwards towards the Kings Road. The Embankment extended only
as far as the bridge, leaving a small ‘bay’ (in the area of 
the site) to the west.
range of post-medieval and modern features, representing the remains of maritime activity(probably associated with the Victorian boatyard and the present day use of the site for mooringsfor houseboats) have been recorded, including barge fragments, an anchor and the remains ofpossible jetty structures and causeways.

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