Second World War
It could be argued, and rather facetiously, that the place to be in Chelsea during World War Two was Tryon Street- a little narrow residential street running from the King’s Road (opposite Royal Avenue) to Elystan Place.
There was only one incident recorded on 8th March 1941 when an incendiary bomb fell in the road. It does not appear to have ignited.
The street has many charms, one of which is that it is named after a rather hapless Admiral in the Royal Navy whose unfortunate manner is said to have been responsible for the sinking of his flagship and his going down with it in 1893.
When you next walk down Tryon Street, if you have ever felt the need to say ‘It is all my fault’ or ‘I am sorry’, ‘Je suis desolé’ in French or ‘Es tut mir leid’ in German this is the place to say it.
‘It is all my fault’ were the last words of Vice-Admiral Sir George Tryon KCB when his flagship HMS Victoria collided with HMS Camperdown during manoeuvres off Tripoli, Lebanon.
The ship took around fifteen minutes to sink, with 358 members of the crew, including Tryon himself lost in the disaster.
A young George Tryon, then Vice Admiral Sir George Tryon, his flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet HMS Victoria and a photogaph of the sinking in 1893. All images public domain.
His orders on the day were inadvisable and such was the nature of his very brusque and dictatorial personality, it was seemingly impossible to countermand him.
The court of inquiry found that the collision was due to an order by Admiral Tryon.
So why did Chelsea Borough Council decide to rename this little stretch of what was Keppel Street, Tryon Street in 1913?
It was all down to the Works Committee who made the recommendation to London County Council because they wanted to perpetuate his name. And what was then College Place, adjoining it where the Queen’s Head pub is, would be later renamed Elystan Place.
It could be argued that Keppel Street was already long enough and could afford to lose its extension to the King’s Road.
From Keppel Street to Tryon Street- changing names on the maps of Chelsea 1900, 1908 and 1951
One remarkable aspect of social history involving Tryon Street is the story of the popular pub at the junction with Elystan Place called the Queen’s head. One of its proprietors, Ernest Block, spent some money during the 1920s advertising its services and charms in local newspapers; particularly after it had been granted a music licence in 1925:
‘The New Lounge. Spacious, artistic and up-to-date. Finest Rendezvous in West London. Now Open. Mr. Ernest Block has pleasure in announcing that he has now obtained a music licence at these premises, which have been considerably beautified and modernised by extensive alterations. All old friends heartily welcome. Plenty of fun and enjoyment for newcomers. Come and hear the music. First-class violinist and pianist in attendance every evening.’
Ernest also ran the Cooper’s Arms in Flood Street and had been a larger than life character in the Chelsea pub scene for more than 20 years. He would move to Earl’s Court in 1932, but not before the high jinks and ‘ragging’ at the Queen’s Head in 1928 led to an entertaining court case.
He had been sued by a 51 year old motor car engineer for setting him alight with petrol, shaving off his moustache, blackening his face with a burnt cork, and cutting his hair so close people did not recognise him. Thomas Larter alleged that enthusiastic drinking and practical jokes had gone so far in the saloon bar that he was eventually admitted to St Luke’s Hospital suffering from acute nervous breakdown, insomnia, and in such a grave state he needed complete rest and had to stay in hospital for three weeks.
The court case had turns and exchanges of evidence which gave reporters on the press bench gems of comedy:
‘Mr Nichols: Was Mr Larter drunk?
Ernest Block: Not to the extent that we in the trade consider a man actually drunk.
His Honour Judge Sturges K.C: A man in your trade thinks that if a man stands up he is not drunk. (Laughter)
The judge was most pleased when after a short adjournment Mr Larter was happy to settle with Ernest paying him damages of 20 guineas plus costs. ‘Very well. I think you have both acted very wisely’ said the judge.
The butler valet who hired a room
Changing values and perhaps the collapse in the infrastructure of local and regional journalism means news media nowadays rarely report personal and individual tragedies of single men taking their own lives.
Chelsea had its own local weekly newspaper for well over a century- The West London Press and later renamed Chelsea News. Its offices in the middle of the King’s Road are now occupied by Starbucks- a minute or two from Tryon Street itself.
‘Flaxman 1980’ would get you through to the West London Press or Chelsea News at 123a King’s Road. It’s not a place to provide news stories anymore, but to buy your coffee at Starbucks (at the time of writing in 2022-3).
In 1934 a full report of the inquest into the passing of Edward Reville was published in January of that year in the West London Press and sister paper Westminster and Pimlico News.
Everything had gone wrong for Edward- separating from his wife, losing his job as a butler and valet and not being about to find work. With his last borrowings he booked into a bedsit in 23 Tryon Street and was later found overcome with coal gas fumes.
The Coroner expressed sympathy to his relatives who had tried to hep him, and the landlady of the house Mrs Josephine Terlaeken.
The only other memorable news event to take place in Tryon Street was in 1952 when 22 year old David Patrick was arrested at 4.30 in the morning for playing his trumpet. He was fined one pound on a charge of insulting behaviour. His misdemeanor got into the national and regional papers. It must have been a very quiet news day, though the residents of Tryon Street had found his presence there quite loud enough.
The Chelsea Society has taken a keen interest in preserving the Queen’s Head in terms of its original external architecture and use as a community pub. See: https://chelseasociety.org.uk/queens-head-tryon-street/
The writer of A London Inheritance online website has found a lot to say about Tryon Street largely because he has been basing his explorations of London with photographs taken by his father between 1946 and 1954. See: https://alondoninheritance.com/london-streets/tryon-street-chelsea/
Contemporary satellite image of Tryon Street courtesy of Google Maps.
Images in slideshow at top of posting
- Tryon Street looking towards Elystan Place. Tim Crook June 2022
- Number 13 Tryon Street with green door looking from King’s Road to Elystan Place. Tim Crook June 2022
Special thanks to Karen White and Chris Pain whose families lived in Chelsea during World War Two and Malachy John McCauley, also brought up in Chelsea, who have very kindly encouraged and assisted my research. Special thanks to Marja Giejgo for editorial assistance. Research and archive facilities from Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council library services, The Imperial War Museum and National Archives at Kew.
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