As purveyors of fine food since 1972, Partridges represents quintessential Chelsea. The shop is still in the family, still offering delightful delicacies and still very much operating with the same independent spirit as when they first opened. We asked John Shepherd, current Managing Director and brother of the Founder, Sir Richard Shepherd, for his ultimate guide to King’s Road.
In 1972, things were very different in our part of Chelsea. There were four grocery shops in Sloane Street and Sloane Square for a start and a pet shop with puppies in the window as well. There was also a dry cleaner, a newsagent and the General Trading Company. The first shop we occupied was a car showroom and then we took over the carpet shop next door about 10 years later. Across the road, Holy Trinity Church was being considered for closure due to dwindling congregations and its service times seemed few and far between. In 1972, there was no Duke of York Square; it was the Duke of York’s Barracks and a wall separated the area from the King’s Road. A room in a King’s Road flat was advertised at £30 per calendar month in those days and King’s Road shops had illustrious names such as Granny Takes a Trip, Alkasura and Cobblers to the World.
Partridges has changed in many ways too. Our product range in 1972 included gulls’ eggs, frozen jugged hare, gunpowder tea, bird’s nest soup, veal, ham and egg pie, and bottles of Chablis, which on our opening day cost 77p. Our deliveries were executed using a traditional bike with a large basket at the front which (from personal experience) was something of a death trap when cycling around Sloane Square. Hardly anyone used a calculator, preferring instead slide rules and multiplication charts to work out the prices of our products. We also had two large display windows which attracted a lot of attention and which we miss in our present location.
Sir Richard chose Chelsea because it was the part of London that we regarded as home. We lived in the Pimlico Road at the time of my birth and apart from a period of about 15 years, we have always had a flat in Chelsea. In the early days, our family dentist used to supply the free-range eggs that we sold.
The best thing about working in the area is the community feeling that exists. We still have customers who first came in the 1970s and in general, most of our visitors are very friendly. It is a pleasure to come to work every day. I particularly like Saturdays when 50 artisan food traders set up their stalls outside our shop on the Duke of York Square. It has a tremendous atmosphere.
A day of perusing the King’s Road would involve walking westwards to see what’s happening in all the shops. Peter Jones is a great place for perusers to start. Possibly a visit to the Chelsea Farmers Market Garden shop on Sydney Street. A sandwich in St Luke’s Gardens, past the fire station, and a stroll down to the World’s End before returning up the other side of the street. It’s about a 40 minute walk but is filled by hundreds of typical Chelsea sights and sounds.
I would take a visitor first to the Saturday Food Market. Then to the gardens behind the Royal Hospital which seem like the countryside in SW3. Then the Chelsea Physic Garden which is an amazing place and then a stroll down to the river for a truly unique view across to Battersea Park with a noble bridge as well.
The present location of McDonald’s used to be the site of the Chelsea Drug Store – an iconic part of swinging London but now quite forgotten. Also, the Chelsea Arts Club is a delightful place with a delightful garden but you need a member to invite you in. Finally, Holy Trinity Church was described by Betjeman as “a Cathedral to the Arts and Crafts movement”. You can see what he means.
The best place for a cup of coffee has got to be the Duke of York Square, either at Partridges or Manicomio. You can watch the world go by and spot many Chelsea characters in all their glory. This would do for evening drinks too.
The best place for finding unique gifts: Peter Jones (household), Sandoes (books), Penhaligons (perfumes), Norman the chemist for a pharmacy, Trotters for children’s gifts and Partridges for hampers, wines and Chelsea Flower Gin, of course.