Chelsea's disappearing pubs
"former Markham Arms"
Pub closures may have been hitting the headlines in recent years, but there has been a steady stream of disappearing pubs for decades. Take Chelsea for example. A stroll down the King’s Road in the mid-1970s would find the Markham Arms, once an attractive bow fronted Victorian pub frequented by smart young trendies dressed in Oxford bags and velvet jackets bought from men’s boutiques like the Village Gate and Lord John. The boutiques and the Markham Arms are long gone; this former pub is now a branch of Santander Bank.
Almost opposite the Markham Arms was the Chelsea Drugstore, another long lost pub, now a McDonald's. In hindsight it should have been called the Chelsea Eyesore for this Victorian building’s fine red brick features were rendered over and the story inside wasn’t much better. This modernising happened about the same time as householders put sheets of hardboard over their panelled doors to make them look contemporary; only to be uncovered a few decades later giving their new owners a sense of discovery. The Chelsea Drugstore features as a record shop in Stanley Kubrick’s film A Clockwork Orange
, its star Malcolm McDowell chats up two molodoy devotchkas (young girls) at a counter.
Among the pretty terraces and town houses in the back streets of Chelsea were many hidden gems. The Australian was a pretty ivy clad pub in Milner Street, north of the King’s Road. A couple of decades after it was built in 1850, Prince’s Cricket Ground was founded in nearby fields. The Marylebone Cricket Club and the Gentlemen of the South teams used the ground and in 1878 a touring Australian side played two matches there. The visitors obviously made an impression at the local pub for it to change its name in their honour; a collection of cricket memorabilia was accumulated by successive landlords including many early bats and a replica ‘ashes’ urn. The site has changed so much it’s difficult to see any trace of this fine old pub.
"Kings Head & Eight Bells"
Down by the River Thames in mega-expensive Cheyne Walk was another pleasant pub - the King’s Head and Eight Bells. It had had a few refurbishments but still achieved a traditional pub atmosphere. The pub’s curious name is the result of an amalgamation of two old pubs that stood here side by side, their union completed in 1580. This was long before Joseph Bazalgette built the Embankment in 1875; this pushed the river back fifty yards and prepared the area for a mass of new buildings, now safe from the high tide. The building is still there but is now a brasserie.
Of course there are survivors. The Surprise in Christchurch Terrace is still there but depending on your taste was transformed from a homely traditional pub into a bistro-eatery under the stewardship of Geronimo Inns. At least the Surprise hasn’t closed but somehow it’s lost its heart.
"Queens Head, Chelsea"
If you yearn for a ‘pub like they used to be’ then the Queen’s Head
just off King’s Road in Tryon Street shouldn’t disappoint. This multi-roomed pub is a true survivor. Apparently it’s a popular gay pub, but you wouldn’t know it on a Wednesday lunchtime when the clientele are local office workers and builders. It has a typical old London boozer atmosphere with a dark stained ceiling, panelled walls to dado height and classic wallpaper, not at all Chelsea.
"Chelsea Potter, still turning"
Back on King’s Road, still open and still traditional is the Chelsea Potter
. Not the loveliest of pubs but it always appears to be busy and does good selection of ale. The food won’t win prizes but doesn’t need an arrangement with your bank either. This is a pub to sit and watch the world go by, either through the large windows or from the small gathering of tables outside. Keep your eyes peeled for the man in the Oxford bags and velvet jacket; they’re making a come-back.