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Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII and Catholic martyr, came to Chelsea in 1520 and built a house, later known as Beaufort House. In More’s day two courtyards were laid out between the house and the river and in the north of the site acres of gardens and orchards were planted. It was from here in 1535 that More was taken to the Tower and beheaded later that year. Beaufort House was demolished in 1740 and in 1766 Beaufort Street was built on part of the site.
The More chapel, built by him in 1528 for his private worship, was the only part of Chelsea Old Church to survive the 1941 bombing along with his tomb. His London home, Crosby Hall, was moved ‘brick by brick’ from Bishopsgate to Chelsea in 1908.
He was soon followed to Chelsea by other prominent men including the Duke of Norfolk, the Earl of Shrewsbury and Henry VIII, all of whom built splendid houses so that Chelsea became known as the ‘Village of Palaces’. Henry VIII’s manor house built in 1536, now the site of 19-26 Cheyne Walk, was a wedding present for Katherine Parr. It became home to Henry’s children and to the tragic Lady Jane Grey, the nine-day queen. The last royal resident was Anne of Cleves, Henry’s fourth wife, who died here in 1556. In 1712 it was bought by Sir Hans Sloane and demolished soon after his death.
Beaufort House, drawn by Kip with the hills of Kensington on the skyline, 1708
Oil painting of Chelsea from across the river by Thomas Priest, 1742