We are fortunate to have recent communications with distant relatives of one of the patentees we’re researching, and they were kind enough to share this photo of a watchmaker’s shop:
Not just any watchmaker’s shop, of course: this is 190 King’s Road. 1901 and 1911 census data tells us that at these times Alice Bygrave’s brother and sister-in-law (Arthur and Amelia Duerre) lived and worked here. Meanwhile Alice’s father (Charles William Rudolph Duerre) also had a similar business at 15 King’s Road, that Alice had lived at for at least some of her childhood.
To complete the hat-trick, Alice’s father also seems to have retired to 466 King’s Road sometime between 1881 and 1891, perhaps as a result of the death of his wife in 1882.
Nowadays King’s Road is associated with the Chelsea scene of the 60s and still sports many fashionable boutiques, but what might it have been like at the time the Duerres were living and working there?
Historical maps show the road layout wasn’t entirely dissimilar, but this British History Online article about Chelsea helps to convey a sense of the reality of life there a century ago:
In the first half of the 20th century large areas of Chelsea consisted of lower middle- and working-class residents whose housing was often poorly maintained and decaying, and included pockets of great poverty and deprivation, principally around World’s End. The poverty was relative, however: the upper middle-class areas around Sloane Street, seen more as part of Knightsbridge, made the rest of Chelsea seem poor, but the areas of small houses, tradesmen, and shopkeepers were not necessarily slums, and compared with seriously deprived areas of London, such as Bethnal Green, Chelsea had only modest social problems. In 1902 only about a quarter of Chelsea’s population were considered in poverty, and only about 14 per cent were assessed as overcrowded.
For me though, its the Post Office’s street directory from 1895 that I find most evocative in conveying a sense of what King’s Road might have been like at that time. Here’s the section around 190 King’s Road:
Let’s look at a map, too:
So, starting at the Eleusis Club – which you can see part of the label for in the image above – and working left and down on that side of the road, we have:
180 Eleusis Club
182 An artist in stained glass and a tailor
184 A shoemaker, electric bell manufacturer, and a shirt and collar dresser
186 A furniture dealer
188 A dairyman
190 George Duerre, our watchmaker
192 A dressmaker and a hosier
194 A tea dealer and a Post Office and bank
196 A pork butcher
198 A draper
Wow! All that craft and industry within 10 adjacent properties!
It’s not just that one little section, either, the rest of the page covers everything from farriers to surgeons, beer sellers to umbrella makers. Nearby we also have another familiar name.
For me this conjours a real sense of a hub of industry, innovation and entrepreneurship. All the things people used, ate, wore and played with had to be made somewhere, and it seems a lot of them were made here. A far cry from today’s Amazon warehouses and mass imports from anonymous factory complexes somewhere that’s just elsewhere.
It felt important to take a walk along King’s Road to try and locate all of this somewhere.
Here’s what the areas around 466, 190 and 15 look like now:
Unless there’s a big date carved on the front of a building, my skills at dating architecture are very limited. Factor in on top of this road-widening schemes (of which there were several along King’s Road), slum demolition, Post Office property numbering re-jigs and a couple of wars and it seems unlikely any of these are original to the time we’re interested in. It still feels important to have stood there though – more on that later, I expect…