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.

Wombat
Photo: JJ Harrison