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Under Threat - Last Throw For Chelsea Pottery

by Stephen Gardiner 1990

When John Betjaman said 'People have no idea how important old garden walls are to architecture' he was referring to the precious atmosphere that seemingly casual things evoke about the past. He could perhaps have been thinking of the view from the back of his house at 29 Radnor Walk in Chelsea, a scene that is doomed to disappear.

Just behind the King's Road is a long windowless building, much like a garden wall, which appears on a street map dated 1836. This is 13 Radnor Walk, in a courtyard approached through a discreet archway, occupied by the Chelsea Pottery for the last 38 years and earmarked as the site of a new office block.

Peter Martin, the freeholder, calls the building 'old and dilapidated', claiming that his architect's design is imaginative and in keeping with the area. Brian Hubbard who runs the pottery, has been given notice to quit.

Quite apart from its architectural character, this unique portion of old Chelsea fabric should be listed on the grounds of its history alone, It isn't. Neither English Heritage nor the National Buildings Records Office were aware if its existence, and there is no trace of it in English Heritage Survey of London, which goes back to the 1900's. Yet No 13 is all that is left of Radnor Manor, a Regency house demolished 15 years ago and replaced with a banal-looking private clinic.

In 1952, film-maker David Rawnsley, grandson of the founder of the National Trust, started the pottery in what had been a coachworks since the nineteenth century. (Prior to that, the building may have been the Manor stables.) In the Sixties, design consultants Gaby Schreiber had her studio on the ground floor and turned part of the courtyard into a beautiful garden of camellias and figs. This disappeared a year ago, when the solicitors who subsequently moved into the studio extended their reception area.

So the creeping destructive process continues and if the redevelopment goes ahead, the destruction will be complete. For the moment, the glimpse through the archway of the pottery with its balcony and ancient vine is unchanged and mysterious. For the children from the three schools, one for the handicapped, who visit this secret place for lessons each week, it must be a wonderland - one of the gems of the Chelsea scene.