Page 1: What's in a name?

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For at least a millennium Kensington and Chelsea developed separately; each with very rich and unique histories. The following pages will offer a brief taste of that exciting past.

The names Kensington and Chelsea are Anglo-Saxon in origin, giving us a tantalising if uncertain glimpse into their early development. Chelsea derives from Chelchehithe, Anglo-Saxon for chalk and landing place, corrupted by the 16th century to the more familiar Chelsey. Cyningholt, meaning kingswood, is the modern Kensal previously the outlying portion of Chelsea. Kensington probably derives from Chenesitun, ‘town’ of Chenesi’s people. Today some historians believe that all three places were one and owned by early kings, possibly as a residence, as Chelsea was a known meeting-place. What is beyond doubt is that by 1086 the Manor of Chelsea was owned by the Earl of Salisbury and Kensington by Aubrey de Vere.

The two maps opposite show clearly the very rural nature of the area. Two villages can be seen clustered around their parish church with grander houses stretching along the riverfront at Chelsea and on the higher land between Kensington High Street and Notting Hill Gate.

Religion played a key role in community life. Both parishes, according to the Domesday Book, had a priest and probably a Saxon church. The first mention of All Saints (Chelsea Old Church) appears in 1175 and St Mary Abbots in 1242. The parish church and its land were given to the Abbots of St Mary’s, Abingdon, in thanks for medical assistance given to Godfrey, son of Aubrey de Vere; hence the name.

 

Map of Chelsea 1717

James Hamilton's Map of Chelsea surveyed in 1664, redrawn in 1717
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Map of Kensington 1741-1745

The Kensington section from the Environs of London by John Rocque, 1741-1745
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The History of the Royal Borough

Virtual Museum – The History of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
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