Hundreds of people flock to Chelsea every year. Some are attracted by King’s Road with its designer stores and fashionable restaurants. Others are lured by Sloane Street with its chic shops and ever sleeker shoppers. But those in the know head for another little gem.
Cut behind LK Bennett near the local library, stroll along a picturesque back street filled with camellias and hydrangeas, then a vision of old Chelsea emerges. It is half way between Fulham Road and King’s Road.
Think butcher, baker and candlestick maker, and you won’t be far wrong. Here are some of London’s friendliest shops. This is where the fishmonger knows many of his customers by name, the delicatessen is full of delicious delicacies and the greengrocer mists his fruit to keep them fresh. Welcome to Chelsea Green.
Originally known as “Chelsea Common”, the area is steeped in history. It is also where cows once grazed. But the words of Miss Harriet Upfield, who fondly reminisces about Chelsea Green in the 1890s, ring true today. This is an extract from the Kensington Central Library archives:
“It is occupied by folk living a family life, trading as good neighbours and old friends. A real village community almost complete in itself,” she explains. “A doctor to attend to our ills; two churches to look after our souls and of course, two “pubs” to supply those who ‘imbibe’, or whatever they do.”
Starbucks may have taken the capital by storm in the noughties, but coffee made its mark long before the retailer was even a twinkle in its founder’s eye.
“Late at night, a coffee stall would be trundled down and set out to do business with all and sundry – penny a cup, ditto cake! It really was a most useful circle of stone slabs and earned its maintenance,” she adds.
“Every morning apart from Sundays, a horse-drawn brougham would drive across the “Common”, it had inside the original Peter Jones on his way to his small shop at Sloane Square.”
Today, Chelsea is still a hive of activity. Two triangles of grass sit beside an old cherry tree in the middle of SW3. Cale Street with its small parade of shops flank one side, while Elystan Street is on the other.
But what makes Chelsea Green special? Here local shopkeepers share their stories and passions for one of London’s best kept secrets:
The Chelsea Fishmonger
“There are all walks of life in Chelsea Green – it’s the people who make it so special. I have just delivered fish to Rick Stein at the ITV studios. Nigella Lawson is a customer, too. Chelsea Green is a self-sufficient village. A hidden oasis away from Kings Road. Our fish is from Newlyn, Cornwall and I visit Billingsgate Market at 3am,” says Rex Goldsmith of the Chelsea Fishmonger.
The Chelsea Fishmonger has been in SW3 for 108 years. It is a friendly shop, where his staff have a good sense of humour. Turbot, halibut, Dover sole and lobster are all available. The sweet smell of freshly cooked crab greets customers as they approach the shop.
- The Chelsea Fishmonger (020 7589 9432;
Alec Drew Picture Framers
“We have been in Chelsea Green for 38 years and are celebrating our anniversary this autumn,” explains David Hughes of Alec Drew Picture Framers.
“I have worked here for 28 years. The spirit of the Green has remained remarkably similar – it is the village centre. It went through a fluffy period, but now there are lots of useful, local shops. But not many people know about it. Even taxi drivers couldn’t find it a few years ago.”
“We have restored pictures, dating back to the 16th century. We also restored an 18th century portrait, where the dress and sash were burgundy, but underneath the layers of dirt, they were blue.”
What’s popular today? “Customers want more luxurious finishes with gold leaf. We also leave old picture frames outside the shop for artists to pick up.
They are the only framers on the Green, crafting frames for both the Cadogan Hall and the Brompton Oratory.
- Alec Drew Picture Framers (020 7352 8716; alec-drew.co.uk).
Finns of Chelsea
“We have been here for 30 years and seen a lot of change. But it retains a traditional English feel to the Green – it’s like being in a time warp,” says Julia Bannister, the owner of Finns delicatessen.
“There are no big, high-street brands. People love the personal and traditional service. This is a one-stop shop for all your needs.
“It’s a pleasure, rather than a duty shopping here – that encapsulates the feel of the Green. People enjoy being recognised – we know our customers’ names, their grandchildren’s name and even their dogs’ names.”
Finns is a gourmet deli, offering catering and a sit-in café plus a range of food to go. Customers travel from across London to this friendly eatery.
- Finns of Chelsea (020 7225 0733;
finnsofchelsea.co.uk). Julia Bannister has also written 27 Years on Chelsea Green, available for £28.
“Chelsea Green is ‘family green,’” says Paul Nelson of Andreas, the green grocers.
“There are small independent shops with a community spirit here. We have been here for just over three years. Our customers include actors and actresses, such as Felicity Kendal and Dame Maggie Smith.
“There are lots more people here these days as customers’ habits have changed. They are moving away from supermarkets and supporting local shops.”
- Andreas is a family-run greengrocers (020 7589 5775; andreasveg.co.uk) offering fresh fruit, vegetables and charcuterie.
“I enjoy the mixture of shops here. It feels like a village not the city. ‘People say where do you work?’ And although we are so close to King’s Road, not many people know about the Green.” explains Zuzana Sturharova, the manager.
“Our customers over the years have included everyone from famous models to television presenters.”
Felt has been here for nine years and stocks costume jewellery, fine jewellery both contemporary and vintage. It is one of London’s original mini boutiques.
- Felt (020 7349 8829; feltlondon.com)
The closing words go to Miss Harriet Upfield, taking us back to the 1890s. “Most winter nights the “Hot Potato Man” would turn up with his barrow and red hot oven full of potatoes baked in their skins and we would buy a lovely large one for a ha’penny. The man would fish one out, on demand, break it open with his grimy hands, pitch salt on it and hand it over. We would devour it, skin and all, rather to the alarm of our parents”
More than 125 years ago on, Chelsea Green is still a national treasure in the heart of SW3.
- Our thanks to the people of Chelsea and the Kensington Central Library for their help with this article. Henry & James is located at 2 Cale Street, London SW3 3QU (020 7581 5011; www.henryandjames.co.uk)