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Traveling In Style : CORRESPONDENTS' CHOICE : STREET SCENES

March 01, 1992|William Tuohy, London\f7 bureau | Six Times correspondents from around the world offer brief portraits of fascinating streets in cities they have covered.

CHEYNE WALK, London

Hidden along the banks of the River Thames, in London's Chelsea, the tree-shaded lane called Cheyne Walk evokes a sense of the past--and the artists and writers who lived there. It is not a long street, but it has a rich history. Blue plaques are mounted on houses right and left, marking the former homes of such luminaries as novelist Mary Ann Evans (who wrote under the pen name George Eliot), poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, poet Algernon Charles Swinburne, painter James McNeill Whistler, bridge builders Sir Marc Isambard Brunel and Isambard Kingdom Brunel (father and son), author Hilaire Belloc and early feminist Sylvia Pankhurst. Sir Thomas More, confidant of King Henry VIII and "Man for All Seasons," once lived on Cheyne Walk, too, and took his last boat ride from here, down the Thames to the Tower of London, where he was executed.

Most of the Georgian-style brick buildings on the street have small gardens in front, behind low brick walls and wrought-iron gates, and larger ones in the back. In the summer, hostess and former actress Nuala Allason, who lives next to John Paul Getty II on Cheyne Walk, gives summer balls in her garden that grace the night air with music and lights. Though visitors can enjoy such pleasures of the street only vicariously, they are welcome in the several tiny parks along the way, one containing a statue of More himself.

The major public structure along Cheyne Walk is the Chelsea Old Church, which dates from the pre-Norman period, with a chapel remodeled by More in 1528. Novelist Henry James, who lived nearby, is buried here. Not far away, an inviting pub, the King's Head and Eight Bells, provides a view of the river and two of its bridges, the Battersea and the Albert, both painted by Whistler and by Joseph Turner.

For all its illustrious history, though, Cheyne Walk remains a low-key delight. As one resident of the street puts it, "This is a wonderful corner of London, a quiet and pleasant place which reflects village life, with nobody in a rush. It's a place for people of all ages."

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