Little slices of London's history

Artists, peacocks, and wombats

This day in London history: on 19 December 1851 the artist JMW Turner died at Cheyne Walk in Chelsea. Cheyne Walk takes its name from Charles Cheyne, First Viscount Newhaven, who bought the manor of Chelsea in 1657. His son, William, later laid out Cheyne Walk and Cheyne Row.

Other famous names associated with the street include George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskill, Sylvia Pankhurst, and Henry James.

Rossetti plaque cropDante Gabriel Rossetti also lived there with menagerie of exotic animals, including owls, kangaroos, wallabies, a racoon, a Canadian marmot, and laughing jackasses. He was discouraged from keeping peacocks because of the noise, but he did have a wombat called Top, which was his favourite pet.

The wombat was named after Rossetti’s friend and fellow artist William Morris, whose nickname from student days was ‘Topsy’. Morris’s wife Jane, who had an affair with Rossetti, was a favourite muse of his and perhaps the epitome of the pre-Raphaelite woman as depicted by the artist.

There is no Wombat Street in London, but there is a Peacock Street, probably named from the Peacock Brewery in Southwark.

Photo: JJ Harrison

7 responses to “Artists, peacocks, and wombats”

  1. […] plants. Sloane, who had purchased the Manor of Chelsea, comprising four acres of land, from Charles Cheyne, leased the land to the Society of Apothecaries for £5 a year in […]

  2. […] For instance, Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s favourite pet (and he had a huge menagerie, much to the annoyance of his Chelsea neighbours) was a wombat called Top. London artist William Hogarth owned many pugs and painted a self-portrait […]

  3. […] Posted on August 19, 2014 | Leave a comment Following on from our last post about London’s wicked women, equality of the sexes demands that we should have a look at some of the bad (or eccentric) boys of London’s history, starting with one of the true bad boys of the Victorian age, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. […]

  4. […] case I need to redeem myself, there is a Lordship Place in Chelsea, near Cheyne Walk. It stands on what was the old Manor House belonging to the Lawrence […]

  5. keithpottturner Avatar

    I like thestreetnames, in relation to our JMW Turner, we have now voted for the great artist to appear on a new £20 note in 2020, Threadneedle Street is a famous London Street so I enclose the following:

    The genius ‘Painter of Light’ JMW Turner is a brilliant choice, and as I informed the Bank of England, I have links to the artist and I also have an ancestor who is the son of a draftsman called Sir Percivall Pott, Queen Victoria’s surgeon who lived at the site of the Bank of England at Threadneedle Street. Our relative, Miss Constance Pott, the pioneering graphic designer and etcher produced a picture titled New Bank of England. There is much more family history in the book TURNER TREES – link to Facebook page can be found below:

    1. Thank you so much for that; what a great series of family connections you have. I look forward to reading your family history. Elizabeth

  6. keithpottturner Avatar

    Thank you Elizabeth, I’ve just told my wife the queen is going to read my book, Yes.

About Me (and my Obsession)

My obsession with London street names began in the early 90s when I worked in the Smithfield area and happened upon Bleeding Heart Yard. In my wanderings around London, I kept adding to my store of weird and wonderful street names. Eventually it was time to share – hence my blog. I hope you enjoy these names as much as I do.
– Elizabeth


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