Seaton Street (adjoining Cremorne Road)

Seaton Street is one of the lost streets of Chelsea, but certainly not forgotten.

It was erased and eliminated from the map of Chelsea in the World’s End Development of the early 1970s. Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council began compulsory purchasing properties it did not own in 1967 to achieve this objective.

If you put Seaton Street into the search engine of Google Maps, nothing will emerge.

Yet the slideshow above showing maps in 1900, 1913 and 1951 clearly indicates a densely populated residential street of terraced houses and shops running from Blantyre Street to the junction of Cheyne Walk and Cremorne Road.

At the northern end of Seaton Street you could look left and see the World’s End Tavern.

At the southern end you would be able to look out over the River Thames. On your right would be the famous Cremorne Arms pub and the Kensington Vestry Wharf and then the chimneys of the Lots Road Power Station.

Images from the 1920s of the famous Cremorne Arms pub almost directly opposite the site of the bombing of Cremorne Road and Seaton Street on 14th October 1940. The photograph with the handwritten sign outside advertising its availability for ‘Cars and Charabanc Parties’ is from the Chelsea Chamber of Commerce Official Handbook for 1928 and the photograph with customers and staff (one with a bicycle) courtesy of Malachy John McCauley from a postcard he acquired. The pub was badly damaged in the explosion and never recovered to continue trading after WW2.

On your left would be the Chelsea Embankment, Cheyne Walk and Battersea Bridge.

The Kensington and Chelsea librarian David Walker published two blogs presenting black and white photographs of Seaton Street before the World’s End development in Forgotten streets of Chelsea and Down at the World’s End.

The view of Seaton Street in 1969 looking down to the Chelsea Embankment.

Graffiti in Seaton Street in 1969, and one of the last shops- The Chelsea Corner Cupboard selling antiques

The London Picture Archive of the London Metropolitan Archives of the City of London does have a pre WW2 photograph of one corner of Seaton Street with Cremorne Road from 1912 and featuring the Cremorne Arms on the left. This would have been one of the sides of Seaton Street demolished in the blast.

The actress Susannah York, who was born in Chelsea, bought a house in Seaton Street in the 1960s and lived there with her first husband Michael Wells.

Seaton Street featured in the film Two a Penny with Cliff Richard, Dora Bryan and Ann Holloway which was shot in 1967. The scenes were filmed at night and it is difficult to spot which ones represent the Seaton Street location.

It is possible it could be the house Cliff’s character Jamie Hopkins takes his girlfriend, played by Ann Holloway, back to after she is evicted. This is his mother’s home and features at 55 minutes and 39 seconds.

This bears a strong resemblance to number 65 Seaton Street and a press cutting of the film location published in Chelsea’s local weekly newspaper in July 1967.

Screen captures from Two A Penny and Chelsea News archive for the purposes of comparative quotation and fair dealing historical analysis and enquiry

When buildings and streets disappear it becomes much more difficult to remember serious catastrophic bombing incidents during World War Two which cost many lives.

It seems Jo Oakman rarely ventured into this part of Chelsea during the war and her famous diary has less than a sentence referring to what happened at the corner of Seaton Street and Cremorne Road on 14th October 1940: ‘Trouble also came in Cremorne Road – HE (High Explosive) on the house – there were 7 casualties and water main burst.’ It is also a major incident missing from Oakman’s detailed records of the Chelsea Blitz timeline and locations.

[As Chris Pain explains in the comment below, before the war Jo lived above a toy shop at 405 King’s Road, four doors east of Riley Street, and this is confirmed in the 1939 Register, so she is likely to have had excellent knowledge of the west side of Chelsea as well.]

Five terraced houses and a tenement building were destroyed along with the lives of 11 people on Monday 14th October 1940.

The most important shop in Seaton Street was also blown to smithereens. John Quinlan’s newsagent, tobacconist, and sweet shop at number 1A, despite the rationing, still sold those luxuries and 1940s consumables which made war-time existence just about bearable.

The chocolate in specially ration branded bars, Aniseed Balls, Mint Imperials, and Liquorice Wheels in glass jars, and the newspapers- nationals , regionals (In London the Standard, News and Star came out in several editions) and local weeklies. They may have been reduced in size but people were so hungry for news there was a major increase in individuals and households buying one, two or three papers a day.

Tobacco was King. It was still chewed. Shag tobacco was sold in clumps for roll-ups, snuff was still popular with the older clientele and branded cigarettes were sold in packets- tipped and untipped.

Practically everyone was smoking in those days. Most called them fags- some called them ‘Gaspers.’

Chris Pain has very kindly identified Mr Quinlan’s shop in Bits of Chelsea: Ten Original Lithographs by Thomas Austen Brown (1921). It is possible to make out the curved façade features of the white painted two storey newsagents with canopy and newspaper stands outside in the picture called ‘The West End of Cheyne Walk.’

The shop is also identifiable in an aerial photograph taken prior to October 1940.

An experimental film made by Elizabeth Russell Food For Blush or Food For Blluuusssshhhhh! shot in 1955 with completed editing in 1959 provides a moving sequence of children in the playground constructed on the bomb-site of what had been the houses at the bottom of the west-side of Seaton Street and Cremorne Road.

The sequence appears to show remaining Seaton Street houses opposite and the boarded up Cremorne Arms on the river-side of Cremorne Road at the junction of Lots Road. The film is preserved by the BFI in ‘Free Cinema’ 1952-1963.’

The sequence begins with shots of Mary Quant’s shop pioneering boutique Bazaar in the King’s Road and may well be the earliest film of its presence there now commemorated with a blue plaque.

The bombing on 14th October 1940 not only destroyed the shop and houses in Cremorne Road and Seaton Street. It wrecked The Cremorne Arms and that is not surprising given how close the pub was to the scene of devastation.

The damage to the building was so catastrophic it was never cost effective to repair and reopen the premises and for more than 20 years it loomed over the bomb site like some grieving widow with all its windows boarded up.

A small fire in 1955 added to the dilapidation and a plan to rebuild the business as a pub and restoration in the late 1950s came to nought.

The site was earmarked for an enhanced ‘Westway’ road development running along the Thames and joining Chelsea with Fulham and other schemes prior to its full demolition to make way for the offices of the Chelsea Yacht and Boat Company and Cremorne Gardens.

Digging for Mrs. Miller: Some Experiences of an Air-Raid Warden in London.

The British Labour politician and author John Strachey (1901-1963) wrote a book about his time in Chelsea’s ARP services during the Blitz of 1940 titled Post D: some experiences of an air-raid warden and published by Gollancz in 1941. In America its title for the publication by Random House in New York was Digging for Mrs. Miller: Some Experiences of an Air-Raid Warden in London .

War-time censorship regulations meant he had to use pseudonyms and aliases for streets, and people’s names. However, sometimes it is possible to triangulate his narrative to the real-life incidents.

For example ‘Queen’s Road’ must be indicative of the King’s Road, and ‘Slaney’ district or ward was almost certainly ‘Stanley’- which covers the World’s End part of Chelsea.

There is a strong possibility that the ‘Digging for Mrs. Miller’ account is his description of the salvage operation at Cremorne Road and Seaton Street after the 14th October 1940 bombing.

This chapter was first published as a long feature article in the New Statesman and Nation weekly periodical.

Strachey said the incident was in October, the weather had been squally during the morning afterwards and the description of the residential houses destroyed in ‘Beaton Street’ near the Embankment is a close match to the location of Seaton Street and Cremorne Road.

He said: ‘A bomb, or bombs, had hit the last five houses in Beaton [meaning Seaton] Street, where it joins the river, and a small tenement that forms the last block on the embankment.’

Strachey evoked the view of the river: ‘As usual on the embankment, you suddenly became conscious of the weather, almost as if you had been in the country. The tide was low: gulls stood on the mud-flats. The wind flickered the surface of the channel.

A biggish collier, looking inappropriate so far up the river, was moored fifty yards farther on beside the power station. The power station’s chimneys stood over them. People glanced at them, and then at the mounds.’

And the description of ‘Where they had stood there was a crater, with two mounds of debris on each side of it, one some twenty-five feet, and the other some fifteen feet, high. The debris of the five houses and the tenement was completely mixed with the mounds; there was no trace of separate structures’ is largely accurate of the actual scene of the aftermath of the 14th October bombing.

Furthermore, the digging operation was for a ‘Mr and Mrs Miller’ who were found in their pyjamas and each other’s arms. There were three couples who died in this bombing incident. Mr and Mrs Miller could have been Mr William and Mrs Maud Martin, or Mr John and Mrs Mary Turner, or indeed Mr Robert and Mrs Edith Fuller.

It seems appropriate to quote the extensive and relevant passages from John Strachey’s book as a deeply moving and evocative description of the kind of rescue and salvage operations undertaken by the light and heavy rescue squads in Chelsea’s ARP services at this time.

It stands as an iconic memory of the Blitz in what was an area of Chelsea which could be rightly described as providing the people who kept London going during these war years.

Lots Road provided the electricity for the London Underground.

Streets such as Seaton Street provided the people power which kept London working.

Most of the houses had multiple occupancy and for the late September 1939 register, for example at number 9, there were two brick layers, a builder’s labourer, shop assistant, flats’ porter, and a mail order clerk. At number 44 you would find a building plasterer, two laundry maids, and a shop assistant.

The street supplied well over 10 members of the ARP, one Metropolitan Police Constable, at least three members of the Auxiliary Fire Service, and it would not be Chelsea without a music hall artist resident.

The prose does seem to be a very accurate description of what happened at this spot in Chelsea over 82 years ago. The references to the missing and, indeed killed 15 year-old boy, fully tallies with the identity of one of the victims who perished in the wreckage of number 3 Seaton Street.

Some caution though does need to be exercised about the full verisimilitude of this style of documentary writing published by Gollancz and others at the time.

The documentary prose tradition was not subject to the high standards expected of journalistic writing today.

Strachey, like his contemporary George Orwell, may have conflated, extemporised and blended fiction with non-fiction to suit the purpose of achieving interesting or entertaining narrative and political purpose.

The book was written in the third person and narrated the experiences of two Air Raid Wardens- Ford and Rumbold. They are clearly alter ego characters to operate as vicarious witnesses for Strachey’s personal experience of events.

‘Ford and Rumbold found rescue squads working on each mound. After wandering about a little they found the warden in charge. He seemed unable to think of anything he wanted done. “Just keep them from coming down the streets,” he said. He evidently felt vaguely that it must be right to stop people doing something. But nobody was coming down the streets. Between ten and twenty oldish men and women, and one or two untidy girls were standing about in the doors and on the area steps of the more or less shattered, but still standing, houses round the incident.

Ford and Rumbold saw no one to stop doing anything; so they just waited about. […]

Ford began watching what the rescue squad on the nearest mound was doing. They had evidently been at work for some hours already. They had fixed a plank walk up the side of the mound, and a knot of them was concentrated near the top, apparently moving the debris about with their hands, and putting bits of it into wicker baskets. When the baskets were filled they took them to other parts of the mound and emptied them. It looked aimless. Ford climbed on to the debris to try to see what they were at. As soon as he got on to the mound he found that it was made up of an extraordinary texture of brick and plaster rubble, more or less shattered lengths of floor joists and beams, pieces of broken furniture, rugs, carpets, linoleum, curtains, pieces of crockery, often unbroken, all made into a homogeneous, tight-pressed pudding. It was rather difficult to climb on to.

When he got to the top he was gradually able to make out what the rescue squad was doing. They were sinking a small shaft vertically downwards through the mound from its top. They worked much in the same way as archeologists open up the debris of millennia; but this was the debris of seconds. The rescue men had blue overalls, instead of the brown overalls of the Chelsea wardens, such as Ford was wearing. The rescue men took no notice of him. They had only sunk their shaft about five feet down into the mound. They seemed to him to be working in an incredibly primitive and inefficient way- with their bare hands, and without any tools even, let alone any mechanical appliances.

One of them began to let himself down into the shaft, which was encumbered by ragged ends of floor joists and beams. He got to the bottom and then wormed his body round till he was lying in a knot with his head down by a crack, where some tattered rubble was held up an inch or so by a joist end. Ford moved to the edge of the shaft to see. The rescue men stood still, and one of them called down to the people by the mound to be quiet. Ford heard the river waves lap the mud. The rescue man down the shaft put his mouth to the crack and said; “Are you there, chum?” Everybody kept really still. But they heard nothing. The man down the shaft put his ear to the crack. The rescue man at the top, who had called to the people to be quiet, said: “Can’t you hear him any more, Smith?” Smith said, ” Yes, but he’s getting very faint.” Then he began to get out of the shaft. It was 9.30 a.m. Ford had not realised before that there were people alive under them in the mound.

The rescue squad went on digging, no faster but steadily, filling wicker baskets with rubble, passing them from hand to hand to the edge of the mound and emptying them.

The one who had called down to the people to be quiet said, “Cut away some of that stuff”- pointing to one edge of the shaft- “the weight’ll be coming down on Smith otherwise.” A couple of rescue men took up shovels and began trying to use them on that edge of the mound, pushing rubble down into the central crater. Ford felt restless. He saw a pick lying about, so he took off his coat, put down his gas mask and torch, and began to loosen the rubble so that the men with shovels could really get at it. The rescue men neither warned him off – as he feared they might – nor welcomed him. Rumbold came and worked with another shovel.

For about a foot down his pick made good progress; it was easy to loosen the broken brickwork, plaster, and the rest of the indescribable mixture of which the mound was made. Then his pick stuck in something tough and sticky. Using all his strength, he got it out. At the next stroke it stuck again. He got it out. At the next stroke it stuck again. He got it out. Forewarned, he made smaller strokes, only attempting to loosen tiny bits of new material. He wondered what it was. He picked a bit up in his hands, and recognised it as the clay which is the universal sub-soil of London. If you dig down, say, ten feet almost anywhere in London this is what you come to. But he was working more than ten feet above street level. The bomb had picked up layers of the sub-soil and somehow spread them above the layers of obliterated houses.’

The ‘Digging for Mrs Miller’ chapter develops poignantly and agonisingly for it so truthfully and realistically depicts the humanity of how this new aerial warfare cruelly and absurdly destroyed lives, hopes and futures.

It captured the sense of ordinary everyday heroism of the toiling and disciplined application of working people who transferred their peace-time sweat and stoicism to its war-time equivalent.

Strachey poetically deploys magnificent prose writing to bring home the truths about the home front of killing by blast.

If the explosion and fire did not finish you off, the ordinary poison of domestic gas flowing out of shattered pipes would take you into the next world.

“Nobody must strike a match” said one of the rescuers, but they carried on smoking just the same.

This was a painstaking and enduring rescue process at the junction of Seaton Street and Cremorne Road as it was everywhere else after the murder rain had descended. A mixture of horror and paradox.

The Wardens had to take charge of personal property and treasured heirlooms once proudly displayed in cabinets and dressers but now a pathetic blancmange of pots, pans, china, bizarrely unchipped, ration books and an undamaged lady’s handbag stuffed with make-up equipment.

When you next stand on the busy and thundering 21st century pavement bordering the World’s End estate that used to be the mouth of Seaton Street looking out over the River Thames, imagine the picture Strachey recorded of a man, a boy in his teens and a girl crying a little standing in the doorway of a terraced Victorian house hoping against hope.

Or Strachey proffering the handful of dust-encrusted possessions and the man replying “Don’t matter about those. What I want you to get out is my boy. Is there any hope- for him?” while gesturing towards the mound.

And Strachey replying “I don’t know” and then quietly walking back to the mound and whispering to one of the rescue men: “Is it a boy under there?” and hearing “Lad of about fifteen we’re told.”

Strachey captured for posterity the unbearable pain of 15 year old Dennis Buckley’s father Daniel, an unemployed and 57 year old house painter, asking after his youngest son who had been working as an errand boy in a rubber factory and was now somewhere in that ghastly heap of destruction.

As you read the pages of ‘Digging for Mrs Miller’ you quickly realise why Post D was a best seller in 1941. It spoke for the people of the Blitz whether in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow or anywhere else.

Over and over again the rescuers were asking for quiet as they said softly at the bottom of the shaft ‘You there, chum?’ and then while screwing up their faces in the stench of gas, confirming “Can’t hear nothing now.”

In true Shakespearean style Strachey captures the comic absurdity mingling with affectionate humanity:

‘The next arrival was a smallish, quick-moving man who said, “Where’s my rabbits?” He received no answer. “Four I ‘ad,” he said, “kept ’em in the Anderson, and this morning I saw two of ’em up the top of Beaton Street.” Ford wondered if his warden’s training should have included elementary rabbit catching. But one of the rescue men said unexpectedly that he had seen a rabbit on the embankment. “There,” said the small man, “how they do stray! “‘

The morning wore on, the ‘All Clear’ sirens sounded, the shaft got deeper and an ambulance drove up and the rescuers said: ‘ “I’m afraid you won’t be wanted.” The driver said, “Oh”, but she backed the ambulance up to the mound’ in any case.

Strachey recalled taking some time looking after an old lady pretty badly shocked who was ‘shaking all over and kept repeating, “Find me somewhere to go before to-night: before to-night: before to-night.” Ford put the First Aid people on to her; they were glad to have something to do, and finally took the old lady off to hospital.’

Strachey describes how the rescue men eventually uncovered two dead human forms, one dressed in white and red and the other white and blue striped material- the pyjamas of two bodies, lying face down, on top of each other, or rather, with their arms and legs intermingled both with each other and with the network of boards, joists, bits of bedsteads, and the omnipresent rubble, which made up the bottom of the shaft.’

They had found Mrs Miller with Mr Miller: ‘The bodies had been driven, whether by the blast itself or by the falling debris, not only into the material of the houses, but also into each other. They were locked in a reluctant intercourse.’

Mrs Miller had been ‘a very big, strong, and vigorous woman.’

Strachey wrote after she was pulled out: ‘Her black hair was mingled and matted with the brick rubble. Her face was covered thick with it, like an actress in her dressing-room, taking her make-up off with cleansing cream. She bled a little at the mouth, as her head sagged.’

The sirens went off again and more planes came over with nearby anti-aircraft guns firing into the sky and ‘There was a heavy thump as a big bomb fell somewhere south of the river. The mound shuddered. So they took Mrs Miller away, and the sounds of the new raid were her only requiem.’

Next out was Mr Miller with the rescuer now speaking in ironic tones:

“It’s a funny thing, but you hardly ever find what you’re looking for at this game. I expect that lad who was talking is in another part of the mound altogether. Dead, of course, by now. Shouldn’t wonder if they all died of the gas in the end. Hope so. It’s quietest that way.”

Strachey then closes the chapter describing how it was now lunchtime, he went home to wash, met up with two friends and went to eat in a restaurant in Soho and in many respects that ‘was the first peculiar thing that had happened that morning.’

It can now be confirmed that John Strachey’s powerful description of the attempted rescue and digging for Mr and Mrs Miller related specifically to 34 year old Mrs Edith Fuller and her 35 year old husband Robert Fuller of 3 Seaton Street.

They were the couple who died in each other’s arms in their respective red and white, and blue and white striped pyjamas.

Mr Fuller had been a baker and Mrs Fuller had been a clerk working in the War Office. She wore an identity disk on her wrist. He had been six feet two inches tall and she had indeed been ‘stout’ in stature.

With all due respect to John Strachey I rather think Robert and Edith Fuller had not just been blasted into each other, but more likely held each other in love and reassurance as the air raid sent the bomb their way.

Quite apart from the tragedy of this devoted couple and a 15 year old boy on the cusp of his life being so appallingly wiped out, this high explosive bomb killed with extraordinary coincidence two sets of parents and their adult daughters, the Martins and the Turners at numbers 1A and 4 Cremorne Road.

This is the location in 2023 of the 14th September 1940 bombing and the ‘Digging for Mrs Miller’ event described with so much historical resonance and literary dignity by John Strachey in his book Post D.

Irene Haslewood’s written account of her experience in a Chelsea stretcher bearer and salvage squad provides another remarkable human dimension to this bombing.

This was a 1,000 lb bomb and had to have been an ‘extraordinary explosion’ according to Irene because the houses had been blown up high into the sky and turned upside down before falling to the ground in ruins.

Rescuers found the roofs in the shattered basements, then the succeeding strata of bedroom furniture and ground floor furniture, and after days of excavation the body of one man was found deep in clay standing on his head eight feet below the basement’s foundations.

The salvage operation carried on for two months afterwards, largely because Mr William and Mrs Maud Martin’s bodies could not be found. They had been living in the block of 1A Seaton Street known as ‘Embankment Residences’.

It is understandable that their family had insisted on their recovery.

Irene and her squad were assigned to help in the digging and recovery operation on 20th November nearly 5 weeks after the incident.

The heavy rains meant the sides of the excavation hole fell into the bottom nearly every night despite systematic shoring up of the walls with wooden plans.

Irene said it was a ‘really loathsome job’ because the ‘hideous smell of death’ hung heavily over the scene along with the continuing smell of escaping coal gas. They were still finding household belongings in the soaked and sodden debris.

They had great difficulty moving the battered timber and beams of the smashed buildings especially when they had no access to heavy lifting cranes.

The body of William Charles Martin had been found sixteen days after the bombing at 9.10 on Wednesday morning 30th October.

But throughout November and December there had been no sign whatsoever of what had been Mrs Maud Martin.

This was even after a team of Pioneer British Army soldiers specialising in digging and excavation had been brought in. Officially her death was registered on 14th February 1941.

Irene Haslewood revealed that some days after Christmas 1940, the body of a woman, which we can presume was Mrs Martin, was discovered after a barge was moved from its moorings off the Embankment directly opposite the houses in Seaton Street and Cremorne Road.

She had been buried in the mud underneath the barge. The bomb blast must have thrown her out of the building and onto the mud flat close to the barge.

As the tide flowed in, the barge then moved over her with the body being covered by the hull of the barge when followed by further ebs and flows of the tidal river water.

Seaton Street is no more, nor the houses in Cremorne Road which stood on this side of the Embankment now overlooking luxury house-boats.

But the memory of the Fullers who died embracing each other, the Martins blasted so far apart- one deep into the wreckage and not found until a fortnight later and the other discovered at the end of the year under the mud of the Thames, 15 year-old Dennis Buckley who died last hearing his tunnelling rescuers kindly and tenderly asking ‘Are you there chum?’ and all the others killed in the adjoining houses during the height of the Blitz in Chelsea in October 1940, will live on.

The Casualties at Seaton Street and Cremorne Road

78 year old John Edward Quinlan of 1A Seaton Street who was injured at 1A Seaton Street, rescued but died the same day at St. Stephen’s Hospital. Mr Quinlan lived on the premises of his tobacconist, confectioner, and newsagents shop at number 1A which was on the corner with Cremorne Road.

35 year old Robert Frederick Fuller, a baker of 3 Seaton Street, son of the late William Fuller, husband of Edith Fuller who died at 3 Seaton Street.

34 year old Edith Fuller, a clerk in the War Office, of 3 Seaton Street, daughter of the late John Wright, wife of Robert Frederick Fuller who died at 3 Seaton Street. Edith Fuller was the manageress of a library before the war.

15 year old Dennis Buckley, an errand boy,  of 3 Seaton Street. Son of Daniel and Ellen A. Buckley, who died at 3 Seaton Street.

68 year old Bertram John Turner, a boat repairer, of 4 Cremorne Road, son of Mr. and Mrs. A. Turner, of 40 Seymour Walk, South Kensington, and husband of Mary Frances Turner who died at 4 Cremorne Road. He was identified by the distinctive snuff box he always had on hm.

70 year old Mary Frances Turner of 4 Cremorne Road, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. A. Mayo, of 34 Crouch Street, Banbury, Oxfordshire, wife of Bertram John Turner who died at 4 Cremorne Road.

34 year old Marjorie Mary Turner of 4 Cremorne Road, daughter of Bertram John and Mary Frances Turner who died at 4 Cremorne Road.

48 year old Maud Mary Martin of 1A Cremorne Road, wife of William Charles Martin, who died at 1A Cremorne Road.

[The surviviving Chelsea Borough Council records state that Mrs Martin’s body remained missing, hence the formal registration of her death in February 1941.

Frances Faviell in her book on the Blitz in Chelsea titled Chelsea Converto recorded that one casualty at Seaton Street was never found and that the place where she was known to have been had been hallowed with a small religious ceremony.

Irene Haslewood’s written account of the missing woman’s body being found after Christmas 1940 in the mud of the River Thames under a barge moored opposite the bombing location raises the question of why no record can be found of any formal inquest in local newspaper reports.

This ordinarily happened with bodies found in the river even during war-time.

It may be the case that the Coroner decided, following identification by her family, that Mrs Martin had died at her home address in the bombing in order to spare them the furthur distress of a public hearing process.

More research needs to be undertaken with the archives of the Coroners sitting at this time to investigate further how Mrs Martin’s death was eventually certified and registered.

Certainly the body found in the mud just off the Cheyne Row/Chelsea Embankment should have been subject to a Coroner’s inquiry to determine identity and cause of death.]

23 year old Emily Margery Eileen Martin, a shop assistant caterer, of 1A Cremorne Road, daughter of William Charles and Maud Mary Martin who died at 1A Cremorne Road.

49 year old William Charles Martin, a motor mechanic of 1A Cremorne Road, husband of Maud Mary Martin who died at 1A Cremorne Road.

52 year old Margaret Marie Morley of 6 Cremorne Road, wife of Francis George Morley who died at Cremorne Road. Her body was one of the last to be recovered three days later at 1.30 p.m. on Thursday 17th September 1940.

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.


  1. One more little thing. You say that Jo Oakman rarely ventured into the western parts of Chelsea. This is no doubt true as regards wartime. Before the war, however, from 1935 to 1939, if the Electoral Lists are to be trusted, she lived above a toy shop at 405 King’s Road, 4 doors east of Riley Street, so in my neck of the woods, before moving to Justice Walk in yours.

  2. As I was telling you, Tim, I have a personal connection to the Seaton Street incident. It’s a bit of a long story and I need to avoid using names in order respect other people’s privacy.
    A few years ago I took a DNA test as part of my genealogical research. After a while I got a list of people I’m related to, some more closely than others and some who are a total mystery to me. So far so good. Then, a few months ago I received a message telling me I had a new “close match”. Apparently someone had taken a test and the results showed that we shared large amount, nearly 10%, of our DNA. Two possible relationships were hypothesised: according to the genealogy website they were either my “1st cousin’s son” or my “half 1st cousin”. I did some digging and discovered that this person’s father was born in the 1930s in Chelsea to an unmarried young lady, who lived with her parents in Seaton Street. The father was unknown. The connection was on my father’s side and his family lived close by at the World’s End, so I immediately thought of my Uncle Bill, black sheep of the family, sent to prison for thieving, hated by my mother, about 24 at the time in question, as the likely father, which would match the first hypothesis. The second hypothesis would mean the child’s father was my grandfather, which I thought was unlikely because he was about 54 at the time, even though I get the impression (he died before I was born) that he was a bit of a Jack the Lad, like his son Bill, and quite unlike my father, who was rather strait-laced, maybe as a reaction to his father.
    Recently, however, for reasons too complicated to explain, I’ve started leaning towards the second hypothesis, but only yesterday, upon reading the above, did I associate the fact that the girl’s family lived in Seaton Street with the fact that my father once told me, as we walked along the embankment together, that his father had worked as a potman in the Cremorne Arms. Maybe the girl who fell pregnant worked there too, or was a regular.
    In the end we’ll never know for certain which of my disreputable relatives was responsible and how it all happened.
    What has all this got to do with the Seaton Street incident as described above? Well, again only yesterday, I noticed that the father of the girl in question, was buried in mid-October 1940. Upon seeing this I immediately thought he must have in some way been caught up and killed in the bombing, though he is not listed among the Civilian War Dead of Chelsea. Then I came across a little article in the local newspaper recording the death of this man’s widow, the mother of the girl who fell pregnant, in the 1950s. In recounting her hard life it states that she was bombed out of Seaton Street on the day her husband was buried.
    So in the end the girl’s father was not killed in the incident. He was already dead when his house was damaged by the bomb.

  3. Dennis Buckley the 15 year old boy was my great uncle (my dad’s uncle) and reading this has brought me to tears, it’s so sad but my grandad never told me this about his younger brother when he (my grandad) was alive so it’s good to hear what actually happened, but I can’t imagine what my great grandfather Daniel must have felt waiting to see if his son could be rescued, so very sad. Thank you for writing this, his name and memory will live on through this article and the others who lost their lives on the now gone Seaton Street on the 14th October 1940.

    Lauren Buckley.

    1. Dear Lauren, Thank you so much for your moving family perspective on this tragic event. I think your great uncle and great grandfather were tremendously brave people and I will continue to try and tell the story of this generation living in Chelsea and experiencing the Blitz in those years. Kind Regards Tim Crook.

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