For well over a hundred years Chelsea has provided homes and studios and social life for some of the world’s greatest artists, including Turner, Millais, Holman Hunt, Munnings, Sargent, , Whistler, Rossetti, Augustus John, and many others.
Today the artistic community has lost some of the vitality which it had in its greatest years – but it still survives. Everyone has heard of the Chelsea Arts Club, which not only survives but embodies to this day the special charm and character of Chelsea, which The Chelsea Society is committed to support and enhance.
Less well known is the London Sketch Club, which has been the home of graphic artists and illustrators for more than a century. Some of its best known members included H.M. Bateman, Heath Robinson, Harry Rowntree, Frank Reynolds, Baden-Powell, Terence Cuneo, and Tom Browne (who created the “Johnny Walker” character). The Club moved to its present home in Dilke Street in 1957.
Every Friday evening from October to May the members get together in their studio cum-clubhouse cum-dining room and they draw and paint for two hours. The works are then pinned on the walls and a lively discussion ensues over bread, cheese and ample supplies of wine and beer. Over many years the social life of the Club was enlivened by Charlie Chaplin, Stanley Holloway, Victor MaClure, Cyril Fletcher, Philip Harben, Max Jaffa, and many others, who were delighted to be associated with the Club. Going into the Sketch Club is like entering a time-warp. It remains one of London’s best kept secrets and forms a link with the artists, illustrators and writers of a century ago.
But – the social life of the Sketch Club is now under threat from an individual who has bought a house next door. He moved next to the Club when he knew or ought to have known what it was – he or his predecessor made a considerable noise during refurbishment works – and then started to object 18 months ago to the members playing their piano, singing and doing what they have always done. The other neighbours understand and value the important contribution which the Club makes to their community, and we have heard no complaints from them.
This individual has even persuaded the Council to issue a noise-abatement notice, and is trying to get the Club’s licence revoked. We hope he fails, and that he begins to understand what kind of place Chelsea is – or moves away to a place which is more consistent with his own lifestyle.