The House in Little Chelsea

The House in Little Chelsea

by Clare Hastings


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781910258965
Publisher: Pimpernel Press
Publication date: 12/01/2018
Edition description: None
Pages: 176
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Clare Hastings is the daughter of Anne Scott James, the step-daughter of Osbert Lancaster, and the sister of historian Max Hasting. She started her career in the fashion department of Harpers & Queen magazine, before leaving to work freelance as a stylist and later as a costume designer. Thirty years later, Clare changed direction to work freelance alongside her daughter, Calypso, in The Indytute.

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The Builders



Director of Corbett and McClymont, Builders

I am sick of banks. Rather, I am sick of visiting them. Today I did the rounds of three, securing further loans at variable rates. By a stroke of brilliance I offered the manager at The National Bank free use of a house at Westgate over Christmas, which certainly sweetened the pudding.

It has been a mixed day. On the good side I have just released the keys to no. 53 Finborough Road, which means that all my completed houses are now leased.

I had hoped to attract a slightly more affluent class to the road, and certainly the northern end of the street has been much slower to sell than the properties further down, but sell them I have, which should ease cash flow somewhat. I am determined not to relinquish the building standards for which our firm is famous. If we must pay more for better bricks, then pay we will. I seem to have reverted to the role of accountant, to leave McClymont (Alexander) to handle the day-to-day building. I used to enjoy watching the practical and the design side of building, but raising money is what I am good at, and also what we seem to need. The interest eats into profits. I am not interested in the selling process, so I am leaving that in the capable hands of Rogers and Chapman (Gloucester Road office), whose eyes positively glitter when a prospective client walks through their doors.

I am giving a dinner tonight for Lady Price, who looks good for investment. Our timber merchant, Alfred Waterman, has also expressed an interest in lending us funds. Alfred is much tickled by the idea that not only does he sell us the timber, but he also takes a share in the finished product. He is never happier than when we talk about the new steam-powered machinery he helped us to buy and install in the Lillie Road joinery shop. We have shared many an hour in the club discussing new methods of building, and myriad ways to use more product! He is fixated on the idea of timbered roads. I have pointed out that the horses' hooves may slip in the wet, but he is not be shifted, and indeed sees a sideline in specialist shoes. He is a man on a mission. But then, so am I.

Alexander came round to the office this afternoon. The masons have been stirred up by union talk from their 'brothers in the North': the joiners want grinding money, the painters want lodgings money and various overtime privileges that will not enhance our bottom line at all. They particularly object to hourly pay and want to be paid a day rate. They threaten to strike. I despair. Let them have my job, and they would see that there is a lot more to building a house than bricks and mortar. Alexander wants me to talk to the men and use my powers of persuasion, or work will grind to a halt. I will have to cancel several valuable meetings. I couldn't give anyone the real reason for my cancellations as I do not want funds to dry up – although I expect word will be out soon enough. I am absolutely resolute that I shall not pay a set rate. I will start out tomorrow and deal with the joiners. Grinding money, ha!


First over the Threshold



Aged twenty-six years

Edward has collected the key to our very own front door. He is as thrilled as I am, although fearful that we may have paid too much. Luckily, finance is not on the list today. We are the first people to cross the threshold. Our very own brand-new house in Chelsea (the map actually refers to our area as ' Little' Chelsea, but it will always be just plain 'Chelsea' to me). Edward is going to be commuting to his office in Cannon Street, and I am to be left in charge, mistress of all things.

The very first thing I shall be doing is making a list of new furnishings. Edward thinks we can make do with the various trimmings provided by my mother, and some rather awful pieces provided by his (including a hideous sideboard which is much too large for the house), but he has made it quite clear that this is going to be my department, and I fully intend to run wild.

The move has taken a bit of time coming. We have been residing with my parents, who, though pleased to have us (well, me, at any rate), waved us off rather too cheerily, I thought. Edward has recently been made a partner at Gillett, Gosport and Ray, and is to be specializing in cases brought before the Court of Chancery. This is excellent news, as he tells me the cases run on forever, which means we will be in funds and I won't have to be too frugal when it comes to hiring staff and choosing materials.

I'm delighted to say Edward is quite a man of ambition (my sister's husband, John, being the complete opposite). He has taken to reading passages from a stirring self-help book by Samuel Smiles, which comes 'complete with illustrations', and it has really fired him up. He is now up on his feet and running. The new house is our first step into home ownership, and who knows what we may eventually aspire to – semi-detached, bay windows, a conservatory – but I am getting ahead of myself.

Edward has warned me to be wary of callers. At a quick glance it seems that our side of the street is inhabited by very respectable people – similar to ourselves. I have already been greeted by a slightly deaf colonel who lives only two doors down and I know that our architect (how grand that sounds) lives with his parents further up the street at no. 12. Edward is, however, more concerned about the inhabitants of Ifield Road. They are apparently a motley bunch, and the houses will not be home to anyone of influence, in fact probably the reverse. I have been instructed to turn left as I leave the house and not to cross over unless I have to. Well, the road is very busy, so this will not cause me any hardship. According to my brother-in-law John, there are several public houses locally. He assures me they are much further down the street and I certainly do not expect our neighbours will be frequent visitors to those establishments. How John is so familiar with them I can only hazard.

Our house has a certain grandness. We are set just back from the street, behind railings and a gate, which does much to enhance the appearance of the front. The pillars definitely give the property an allure. I'm not saying that we can compare ourselves to the houses over in The Boltons, but I certainly feel we have arrived somewhere, and somewhere is several steps up from my mother's spare bedroom.


Aged thirty-six years, partner in a City law firm

Husband to JANE

What a relief finally to have our own house. Of course I am grateful to Jane's parents for their hospitality, but, oh goodness, those nightly lectures from her papa: 'Jane should not be expected to do this, or that or the other.' He must have fellow guests at his club snoring into the soup. I know I was in a perpetually glazed state most evenings. It was positively light relief to leave the table and go back into the drawing room to sit with her mama.

Jane is a different person when she is with me alone. With her parents present, she becomes quite retiring and shy, but then her mama is mistress of the quiet put-down. Mama was struck dumb when, over dinner last month, I quietly slipped into the conversation that I had been made partner and was now in a financial position to purchase our own home, and that her daughter would soon be running her own household. I would have given several of my hard-earned pennies to have captured a daguerreotype of her stunned expression.

I have had my eye for some time on a recently completed property in Little Chelsea. It has all the features you would expect of a design from the firm of Corbett and McClymont. I am most impressed with the way they move with the times, employing all the latest methods of build. The roof design particularly arrested my attention (Jane's less so). It is made apparently with a rain-resistant membrane – which seemed so obvious once they had pointed it out. They have been building properties all over the area, and have an excellent reputation, although I believe they are having a few disputes with their workforce over wages (what else?), and a strike is looming.

Luckily that doesn't affect us, as our house is finished and we will be in before the stucco is dry. We are both thrilled to have a brand-new house. There is something about being the first couple into a property that excites me. I intend to carry Jane over the threshold (although not up the front steps, as I don't want to court disaster in front of our new neighbours). The road is a busy one, but we both rather enjoy the bustle of traffic, and I feel certain that, as we are a property on the very border of Greater Chelsea, it won't be long before we are attracting a very good class of person to our new neighbourhood, and we shall be the front-runners. Ifield Road is a little down at heel (well, very down at heel really), but maybe Corbett can turn his attention shortly to that street and my investment will prove sound. John (Jane's brother-in-law) cast a sour note by mentioning he had seen in the papers a similar property for sale up the road a hundred pounds cheaper, and he thought we had paid somewhat over the odds (£530). I did not allow this to upset me (although I have to confess to a couple of somewhat restless nights), as by the time he was waving the property page in front of me I had already put down the deposit.

It is only money! I feel our future is now secure with the purchase of our new home, and when I turn the key to the door for the first time, I shall do so with a song not only in my heart but probably out loud too.


It is not that I am a prude, far from it, but I do think there is a time and place to discuss plumbing. It is not at 10.30 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, when I am just getting ready to go out.

It is also not in front of our new maid, Jessie, who I caught sight of in the hall mirror laughing into her apron. I was just on the verge of opening the door to leave the house, when who should pound up the steps but brother-in-law John. He didn't wait to be asked in, but walked straight past me into the parlour, and sat down without even noticing I was wearing my pelisse and hat ready for the off. Anyway it turned out he is now a regular at the Finborough Arms up the road. He has a new drinking companion, Mr Thomas Crapper. It appears Mr Crapper likes to start his day with a refreshing bottle of champagne, and John is just the man to share it with him. This has evidently been going on for some time and they are now joined at the hip. How my sister puts up with it I do not know. Mr Crapper owns a plumbing business, and has apparently offered John a discount on his sanitary ware, including fitting the new 'Waste Water Preventer'. Not having his own home (I wonder why?), John thought to pass this arrangement on to us. I hardly knew where to put myself. Luckily I was already seated. John said as I was already dressed to go out, why didn't we do a turn by Mr Crapper's Marlborough Road showroom, where we could see the wares comprehensively displayed in the window! I could only reply that I thought this to be more Edward's sphere than mine, and maybe he could call back one evening to discuss. John seemed quite put out, and said something to the effect that 'offers like that one don't come every day', and we should 'seize the moment'. It was only by promising to mention it to Edward at the first opportunity that evening that I managed to extract him from the house. I could hear Jessie downstairs chortling. Presumably telling Cook.


Is a man to have no peace? I had barely walked through the door, and taken my hat off when Jane came bustling into the hall in an agitated state. It turns out that John has his eyes set on refurbishing our water systems, or rather his friend Mr Crapper has. I am perfectly content with the water closets we do have (why I am even thinking about this?) and I am not going to enter a discussion on the subject with poor Jane, who explained that she has been having a difficult day with the servants, who having overheard the earlier conversation have been living off it ever since.

Really, John is a menace. Not only will I have to put a stop to his sanitary ambitions, but I will also have to explain that some conversations are better off conducted between men, outside of the home. How on earth did he think he could take Jane to visit a plumber's showroom?

Of all the pubs in all the world, why on earth has he chosen to become a regular at the Finborough Arms?


Brother-in-law to JANE GOLDING

Edward and Jane have become house bores. They have already paid too much for the property – I told Edward as much before they moved in – and now seem determined not to take advantage of my connections to improve the facilities. I asked Edward to come down to the Finborough one morning and meet Thomas, but apparently the courts call, and he has no time off.

I have already made acquaintance with several of their neighbours, including Arthur Hughes, who is considered a painter and illustrator of note and married to the delightful (and very beautiful) Tryphena, who is also his muse. In turn they are friends with the Reverend Charles Dodgson, a regular visitor. Edward and Jane have no idea of the quality that resides a stone's throw from their front door. I shan't introduce them. Anyway, I can't see Jane posing as one of Hughes's wistful Ophelias. Jane thinks herself a step above her sister, Elizabeth (who would be more than happy with an outing to Crapper's), so I intend to keep any new discoveries to myself. The area is awash with types of humour and talent, but I can see they won't be heading towards no. 53.


I can't believe it. I was late back tonight, due to a traffic jam involving a horse, two dogs and a drunken post-boy. I was just off the omnibus, and relieved to be making my way down the road home, when a particularly smart hansom stopped just in front of me, and disgorged brother-in-law John in full evening dress. I was in two minds whether to greet him, when he turned back towards the cab and helped a very svelte and elegant Elizabeth to negotiate the step. They looked so in the fashion, that I found myself shrinking into the shadows and actually putting my head down. John offered Elizabeth his arm and the two of them turned into the gate of no. 2. They were very lively up the steps and as the door opened, on the pretence of attaching a boot button, I managed to glance up. It was particularly galling to see the house absolutely twinkling, ready for what could only be a dinner party, and I swear I could hear the tuning up of a violin in the background. As they were whisked inside, just as the door was closing, John turned round. I feel sure he saw me left out in the cold, so to speak.

I am stunned and mortified. It is not that I mind that our neighbours down the street have not been to call (surely John has mentioned us?), we have after all only been here a couple of months. It is that John has made absolutely no reference to the fact that he has any acquaintances living on the road, let alone smart ones. Did he see me? I so hope not, otherwise he will wonder what on earth I was doing skulking and avoiding them. He is bound to make a joke of it, and I will look a fool.

I won't mention it to Jane – but then if she finds out later it will be all over for me. John and Elizabeth live nowhere near here – for goodness' sake, they have lodgings in North London! I had assumed that Crapper and the Finborough were a passing amusement, and that he would soon be back to his old stomping grounds. But then I have observed that John has a way of getting to know people. They are drawn to his enthusiasms. So far we have enjoyed a sherry with the deaf colonel who lives two doors down, and Jane has received a card from our architect. It is hardly the cutting edge of society. I usually turn into our gate with a skip, but tonight I felt decidedly cast down. Silly, I know.


I do enjoy going to Finborough Road, and had the most delicious dinner with the Hugheses this week. Elizabeth was a huge success and has a new friend in Tryphena. They are planning no end of outings, and Tryphena insisted on giving Elizabeth a particularly decorative shawl she was wearing, as 'it is always colder in the North'. I wasn't sure where she thought we were going, but Elizabeth was enchanted, and talked about her new friend all the way home.

The funniest thing happened just as we were entering their house. Hearing a noise in the road, I glanced round – and there was Edward, looking decidedly ill at ease, bending over and fiddling with his boots. He must have seen us, as we were both quite animated on leaving the cab. I can only conclude he was avoiding us. I will allow him to think he has got away with it, and then in a couple of weeks' time, when I next go round, I will casually drop it into the conversation. Teasing Edward and Jane is the best of sports. I know I shouldn't, Jane being Elizabeth's sister and all, but I can't help it. They do so like to do everything by the book, which I suppose, given Edward's calling, is not surprising.


Excerpted from "The House in Little Chelsea"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Clare Hastings.
Excerpted by permission of Pimpernel Press Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

The House 2017,
The Occupants of No. 53,
The Builders,
First Over the Threshold,
The Newly-Weds, Spring,
Going Down,
The New Keyholders,
The Bookseller, Autumn,
Going Down, Going Down,
The New Keyholders,
The Enterprise, Spring,
Going Up,
The New Keyholders,
The Life and Sole, Winter,
Stuck Between Floors,
The New Keyholders,
Show Business, Winter,
Door Closing,
The Keyholders,
The Author, Autumn,
Author's Note,

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