Daydreaming on the King’s Road
A walk through time and design
If streets could speak, the King’s Road’s would be an epic tale: a haven for aesthetes and creatives, from the site of landmark feats, such as the earliest-ever recorded film shoot, to where an eclectic mix of the famous and infamous lived, worked and partied. Join us on a stroll along this famous high street to uncover its cultural touchpoints in history, spanning the aristocratic origins as King Charles II’s private road to mighty modernism that is on offer nearby.
There are no roads quite like the King’s Road and its surrounding Chelsea neighbourhood. This area once hosted a private Royal thoroughfare for King Charles II (to travel between his palaces) and is associated with major cultural movements - Victorian Arts and Crafts, the Swinging 60s, Punk (1970’s) and the Sloane Rangers of the 1980s.
On this trail, curated by Anna Stewart and Tetsuo Mukai, uncover the legendary moments experienced along this street and travel through the ages to meet some of the artists, radicals, designers, painters and poets, including: Mary Quant, Vivienne Westwood, Mick Jagger (who celebrated his 80th on the road recently), Terence Conran, the Beatles and many more.
Peel away layers of history – now stunning homes were once verdant fields and dairies, flamboyant art-deco garages have found new life as restaurants, iconic clubs have morphed into gyms, and now jazz clubs were previously pheasantries. Take a deep dive into the design heritage that exists in the creative studios, stores and contemporary art spaces, and don’t forget to look up and admire the architecture that ties it all together.
Anna Stewart is interested in design and how it shapes the way we live. After training as an editor Anna managed an influential design programme in London. She now writes and produces materials on design, often with a historical perspective.
Tetsuo Mukai is a designer, an occasional writer and sometime curator, interested in various relationships we form with designed objects and environment.
4 Sloane Square, SW1W 8EE
Category: Product Design
David Mellor opened his first shop here in 1969 as an ironmongery, providing ‘the most carefully chosen tools in London’. A leading designer of the twentieth century, his beautifully functional creations – from butter knives to traffic lights - bring an uncontrived contemporary design aesthetic to the everyday.
Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York Square, SW3 4RY
Category: Sports / Film
Not necessarily the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about the King’s Road, but nestled behind Duke of York Square, in front of the Saatchi Gallery, is the running track and training ground for athlete Roger Bannister’s legendary 4-minute mile in 1954.
Duke of York Square, King’s Road, SW3 4RY
Category: Urban design
Look down at Duke of York Square to find some curious coins embedded in the pavement. The coins surround an old map, drawn in the early eighteenth century for King George I, identifying the route to London from Kew that one of his predecessors, King Charles II had created: the ‘King's Road’.
10-11 Backlands Terrace, London, SW3 2SR
Category: Art / Collectibles, Literature
Opened in 1957 in an eighteenth-century building on Backlands Terrace, John Sandoe Books is a treasure trove for book-lovers. It has an old-world charm with walls and staircases crammed full of books, including an impressive art, architecture and design selection. The cushioned window seats are the perfect spot to sit and browse.
69 King’s Road, SW3 4LY
Category: Urban design
At 69 King’s Road, a cow’s head adorns the building, recalling Wright’s Dairy's past. King’s Road's rural history has long faded, but the cow’s head still remains as an echo of the past. Another animal motif on King’s Road is the Pheasantry which was occupied by a royal pheasant supplier.
At either side of Markham Square, King's Road, SW3 4XB
Category: Urban design
King's Road has mostly black bollards except for the two white ones at either side of Markham Square. These are remnants of St. Luke's parish boundaries that hark back to an era without maps or smartphones. St. Luke's Church itself is an early new Gothic marvel situated on Sydney Street nearby.
107 King's Rd, SW3 4PA (now Kobox Gym)
Category: Music, fashion
Club dell’Aretusa hosted stars like Sammy Davis Jr, Twiggy, The Rolling Stones and the Beatles. The latter had quite a presence on King’s Road, shooting an album cover at a nearby studio and, for a short while, the group owned a shop, Apple Tailoring, close to Mary Quant’s renowned ‘Bazaar’.
119 King's Road, London, SW3 4PL
This well-positioned pub has connections to different Chelsea potters over time, notably William de Morgan who is pictured on the pub sign. It’s unclear which potter, or group of potters, the pub is named after, but it is known that there was a ‘Chelsea Pottery’ as long ago as 1745 - home to the first porcelain factory in the UK.
Gaumont Palace, 222 King's Road, SW3 5XP
On the facade of Gaumont Palace you see a portrait of William Friese-Greene who is credited with creating the oldest recorded motion picture on King’s Road. Filming movies on King’s Road was later followed by the likes of Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange and Antonioni’s Blow-up.
197 King's Road, SW3 5EQ (now the Ivy)
Category: Music, Literature
If you look up at the entrance of 197 King's Road, you’ll see six bells, the old pub signage for what was once the Six Bells pub, known in the 1930s as the haunt of playwright Samuel Beckett and poet Dylan Thomas.
Glebe Place, SW3 5JE
Category: Architecture, Visual Arts
Discover a concentration of artist’s studios built in the Victorian period by some of the leading architects of the day, notably Philip Webb and Charles Rennie Macintosh.
64 & 66 Old Church Street, SW3 6EP
A stark visual contrast to the Victorian and Georgian buildings of this Chelsea neighbourhood, 64 and 66 Old Church Street, just off the King's Road, are welcome examples of Modernist architecture by Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School, and Erich Mendelsohn known for his expressionist architecture.
330–350 King's Road, SW3 5UU
Category: Design, Architecture, City Districts
Built for the Bluebird Motor Company in 1923, the garage was once the largest motor garage in Europe, placed at what was considered the end of London (Worlds End). It has since been a destination for dining and retail thanks to the entrepreneur Terence Conran who took over the site in the late 90s.
430 King's Road, SW10 0LJ
Let It Rock, Too Fast to Live Too Young to Die, SEX and Seditionaries are all names of the radical shop at 430 King's Road that Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood opened in 1971 before settling on ‘Worlds End’, the historic name of the area.
Additional Points of Interest
The King’s Road is a true treasure trove for design aficionados and culture buffs. Here are a few more things that you might want to explore in the area:
49 King’s Road SW3 4ND
This iconic building by Antony Cloughley featured in the Clockwork Orange movie, 1971.
120 King’s Road SW3 4TR
The world's first bath, toilet and sink showroom, opened in 1907.
Mary Quant’s Bazaar
138a King’s Road SW3 4XB
Iconic shop of the 1960s by the influential fashion designer.
379 King’s Road SW3 5ES
The world’s first ice rink opened just off the Kings Road in 1876.
Swan Song Records
484 King’s Road SW10 0LF
Launched by Led Zeppelin in 1974, many tracks were recorded at their HQ on Kings Road.
Granny Takes A Trip
488 King’s Road SW10 0LF
One of London's first psychedelic boutiques with an ever-changing shop front.