Notes on...

In praise of Chelsea Green, a London oasis

28 April 2018

9:00 AM

28 April 2018

9:00 AM

Splats of calves’ liver in a puddle of blood; rabbits, headless, stretched and stripped of fur; and plucked poussins, nestling together in plastic trays. All garnished with sprigs of parsley. Welcome to Jago’s butcher, Chelsea Green, where the liver is ‘as tender as a butcher’s kiss’, as Rob the butcher tells me as I consider raw flesh through the glass.

A few doors down, the cobbler runs what was previously his father’s shop. He has worked on the green since he was a child, and returns your shoes in a bag made of thick white paper. Then there’s Sign of the Times, a dress agency, selling secondhand designer clothing at reasonable prices. It is clean, clear and well laid out under bright, white and unflattering lighting. Here I once bought a pair of lurid-green tweed trousers by Burberry for under £100.

There’s the grocer, Andreas, where I like to play ‘guess the price of…’ An apple can set you back £3.50. And the fishmonger, who every day chalks on the blackboard a terrible pun that has nothing to do with fish.

Opposite is Felt, the jewellery shop where I work. ‘We go from crap to Christie’s,’ says Eliza, the owner. A pair of 1970s costume clip-ons are pinned next to diamonds on felt walls. Half the shop is sourced, and the other half is jewellery that clients bring in to sell. I like to drape myself in the full range, and sometimes forget to take off some truly foxy diamonds for the post office run.

Felt is a bit like a GP’s surgery. Someone comes in on a mission. They have something to celebrate or say sorry for, something to fix or mend. We diagnose and prescribe something sparkly from the cabinets.

The shops are integral to the community of Chelsea Green, which is a cocktail of rock stars, aristocrats and politicians. Allegedly, Mick Jagger and Margaret Thatcher once arranged a viewing for a flat on the Green at the same time, but Jagger was an hour late.

The shops are set like stones in the crown of the Sutton Estate, a housing estate built by the philanthropist and entrepreneur William Sutton in 1913. It’s a building on borrowed time in the hands of Clarion, the largest housing association in England. Having neglected the buildings for years, it has proposed plans to demolish and rebuild. The new design is soulless and anaemic, and incurs a loss of 103 social housing units.

Some of the occupants of these units buy jewellery from Felt. One woman came in recently with a necklace for us to attach round her neck as her hands are too arthritic for the clasp. She was immediately followed by another regular, who was in the market for a new shahtoosh.

A shahtoosh, I discovered is a highly desirable, expensive and illegal shawl made of the chin hair of an endangered breed of Tibetan antelope. They are so fine that you can thread them through a wedding ring, and according to our client, they are the only scarf that really keeps you warm on an airplane.

‘I don’t care if it’s illegal,’ she said.‘I never travel anywhere without my shahtoosh.’

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