British 19th C, except portraits, London: Artists and Subjects 31 Could we date this London view and find out more about H. H. Burnell?

Chelsea from the River
Topic: Execution date

Can anyone suggest a likely date for this picture from the style of boat, maybe, or simply the technique? Could the large building on the right be a very rough representation of the Royal Hospital?

H. H. Burnell is credited with just two works in public ownership. The other is also a Chelsea view, listed as ‘Chelsea Physic Garden in the Eighteenth Century, though how much credence can be given to that dating I'm not certain, as it's clearly a name attributed posthumously.

[Group Leader: Tom Ardill]

Chris Pain, Entry reviewed by Art UK


Martin Hopkinson,

A Hockey Henry Burnell born c. 1826 is recorded in the Royal Academy - but this seems too late

Osmund Bullock,

Burnell (1826-1899) was an architect, and the handful of works he exhibited at the RA 1845-7 were all architectural designs. He lived in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, at pretty much the centre of the view in our painting, assuming that is what it's intended to show. If so, it is an imagined historical view in Tudor or perhaps early Jacobean times, but seems to be full of strange anomalies. Burnell would certainly have had an interest in historical topography, as he was an associate of the British Archaeological Association.

The Royal Hospital has remained largely unchanged since it was built in the 1680s, and it never looked like the large castellated building on the right. This might just possibly be intended for its predecessor on the same site, "King James's College at Chelsey", though little of that was ever actually built. See It's hard to know what else it could be, which makes me wonder if this is Chelsea at all.

Even to guess at what is depicted will require a far higher-res image, or at least several details from one. One can make out very little indeed from the version publicly available on Art UK.

Osmund Bullock,

Oh, and he was Henry Hockey Burnell, not Hockey Henry.

Tamsyn Taylor,

I want to comment that Burnell was an architect. The other painting in the Collection of Kensington and Chelsea Local Studies is a view of the Chaelsea Physics Garden. It shows the building at the centre of the picture, and even thought it is small, the details of the architecture have been very precisely painted, and include the quoins and the keystones of the lower arched windows, and detail of the cornice. While these are all painted in a broad style, and not fine detail, they indicate a precise knowledge of architecture and an understanding of the vocabulary employed in the building. The details are confirmed in works by other artists,
So this leaves me wondering why the buildings in the present painting cannot be readily identified.

Marcie Doran,

The donor of both works, Mrs. Margaret Mead, was the daughter of Henry Hockey Burnell and Mary Anne Burnell (née Noyes)(abt. 1829–1895). Margaret Mead (née Burnell)(August 2, 1865–November 9, 1940) married the solicitor Arthur Charles Mead (1858–1925) on February 8, 1900.

The Mead family lived at 22 Cheyne Walk, near the Burnell family at 20 Cheyne Walk, at the time of the 1881 Census. Margaret's sister Maude Burnell married Arthur's brother George Edward Mead in September 1881.

Marcie Doran,

His indenture document from 1840, attached, is interesting. There were certainly some strict conditions imposed on him.

An article in the 1852 edition of 'The Ecclesiologist' about the Architectural Exhibition of 1852 states that Burnell wrote in French on a design for a Protestant Church that he was a pupil of "M. Le Bas". I imagine that he meant Louis-Hippolyte Lebas, of Paris. Burnell's design of the Protestant Church sounds like it might have been inspired by the prison of Petite Roquette designed by Lebas.

A link near the bottom of this auction page (Christie's - July 6, 2021 - no. 140 unsold)) shows that he submitted drawings for work on Londonderry House in July 1841 and July 1842. A French architect, Pierre-Charles Drusillion submitted drawings for Londonderry House in 1847.

Martin Hopkinson,

It seems unlikely that this image is by Burnell, but could it simply have been in his possession. Can it be a copy after a print?

Betty Elzea,

I whole-heartedly agree with Martin. The later generations of the family were, obviously, not apprised of the true facts.

The collection file may clarify but they are a bequest so, whether in Margaret Mead's will or more informally left, it is odd they have her father's name attached to them if not by him. The only likely confusion is if they came as 'her father's pictures' in the sense of prior ownership rather than his creation. We do not yet have other independent evidence of him being an amateur painter or not.

It does indeed seem claer that an assumption was made by the donor or recipient that the two paintings were made by her father. This seem to me to be extremely unlikely - they are quite unlike what I would expect from an architect's hand, mistakes in perspective etc. I do find it very hard to date the paintings from the images provided, even if the scenes are intended to be of Chelsea in the 17th c.

Brenda Lambourne,

If the picture is not intended to represent Chelsea, the large castellated building bears some resemblance to Syon House, which has existed on its Isleworth site for 400 years - but it is not the kind of accurate picture that you would expect an architect to produce, even as an imaginary 18th century scene.

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As already mentioned, the watercraft in the panorama are fairly clearly intended not later than 17th c. There are two or three barge houses shown, including a very large one at far right, serving the castellated building, and two large timber rafts, which was a characteristic way it was stored on the Thames (especially imported straight bulk timber, such as Baltic pine) for building purposes. If it is Chelsea then there is no obvious sign of Beaufort House (Sir Thomas More's):,_Chelsea_from_the_series_Britannia_Illustrata_2020.163.jpg

Jules Whicker,

Brenda Lambourne's identification of the large crenellated building is persuasive, especially in view of the appearance of the nearby church tower, which closley resembles that of All Saints' church, Isleworth. If this is the case, this image may be the earliest known depiction of Sion House.

I thought this worth looking into, therefore, resulting in the following observations (Images and sources are in the attached PDF):

1. None of the buildings in the ArtUK image show post-Restoration architectural features, so if the image depicts a real place, it depicts one that was either not developed in the late 17th century, or depicts it prior to that time.

2. Sion House?
The large, 3-storey rectangular building with a crenellated parapet and 4 square corner towers is a plausible candidate for Sion house, and stands in similar relation to the river and to a church whose tower resembles that of All Saints, Isleworth. The principal difference between this building in the ArtUK image is what may be a grand entrance, framed by twin towers, surmounted by a Gothic window, and with 4 windows either side of it on each storey. Other, presumbly later, images show a single, narrower central tower, with rectangular windows, and and addiitonal matching window either side of it on each storey. In no other image does the house appear to be in a poor state of repair, as indicated by the staining on the towers and walls. These details suggest the image was made between the initial completion of Sion House in 1552 and its remodelling, either between 1604 and 1613 by Henry, Earl of Northumberland, or in 1659, under Inigo Jones. If so, it may be the earliest known image of the building.

3. All Saints’ Church?
The tower of the nearby church in the ArtUK image lacks pinnacles on its parapet, which one would expect to have been installed by the 14th century (from which the tower dates), but 18th century images of All Saints’ show substantial additions to the tower (a cupola and cross) and major rebuilds of the church itself, so it was possible that pinnacles were added after the creation of the ArtUK image. The church stands amidst a settlement that may be Isleworth village.

4. The London Apprentice?
A large building with right-angled gables at the L/H end of the settlement corresponds with the current site of the London Apprentice inn, and may have served the same function, if it was not instead a warehouse. The building in the ArtUK image is nevertheless architecturally distinct from the structure shown in 18th century images and extant today.

5. Water Transport
The water transport in the ArtUK image is characterised by row and sailing barges with windowed cabins. Similar row barges are seen in 17th and 18th century images, but no sailing barges of this pattern appear, and camined barges of either type appear less sophisticated as well as less numerous in successive images. Entirely absent from other images are the prominent barge-houses situated directly in front of the centre of the SE façade of the presumed Syon house.
These features, along with the apparent orientation of the main entrance of the grand house towards the river, suggest the ArtUK image dates from a time when travel to the location depicted was principally via river rather than by road. If the building is indeed Syon house, subsequent changes to it may reflect a lessening of the importance of water transport for the affluent, as roads improved and covered barges were replaced by carriages, that resulted in the demolition of the barge houses and the relocation of the principal entrance to the NW façade of the house, where it remains.
6. Real or Imagined?
If the image indeed depicts Isleworth and Sion it does so as part of a composite designed to show the extent of the riverside. To achieve this, the artist has broadened the river and removes obstructions such as eyots or bends. Nevertheless, the details of the watercraft, the rafts of timber, and the individual buildings of note suggest a degree of observation from life. Identifying the other major buildings has proved fruitless, but this may be attributable to the extensive development of the area, first in the Georgian period, in response to the establishment of the royal court at Kew, and subsequently as London’s outlying villages were transformed into suburbs with the coming of the railway age.

8. Attribution. As identified above, internal evidence suggests a date in the second half of the 16th or 1st half of the 17th century. As such, the attribution to the H.H. Burnell who lived between 1826-1899 would be impossible.

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Alison Golding,

There could be overpaint on the sky, perhaps from above the lower cloud level - most of the sky doesn't seem to have much relationship to the colour of the water, for instance. Difficult to tell under the old varnish, though.

Referring to Jules Whicker's point 8: irrespective of the location or appearances of boats, buildings etc., this is not a 17th-/18th-/ or in my view even early 19th-century painting. It's a historical reconstruction, probably c. 1870 onwards.

Jules Whicker,

Pieter van der Merwe, thank you for proposing an interesting route toward understanding this puzzling painting. Have you something similar in mind from the last 150 years you could link to for comparison? In such cases, would one expect the "historical" details to be copied or adapted from genuinely ancient sources?

Quite so: although the Thames immediately upstream of London is not my general area I do find it odd that (a) nothing in terms of a possible (or even vague) earlier 'panoramic' source comes to mind nor (b) a broadly parallel example: you'd have thought someone doing this sort of thing would make something of a speciality of it. But I still think it's contemporary with Burnell even if not by him.

Brenda Lambourne,

If the building is part of Eton College (and I agree that it looks like it), then why is the adjacent chapel (certainly just as old) not in the picture?

All the suggestions for the location and the buildings have similar problems: there are additions like the various boathouse/landing stages that do not exist now, while other things (Eton chapel, Isleworth Ait) that should be present, are not. Maybe what we have is a 19th century imagination of the 17th century Thames, furnished with a selection of boats and buildings which are in character, but not necessarily in any real locations? This would bring us back to an (unidentified) 19th century artist.

Osmund Bullock,

I feel slightly guilty at knocking a large hole in Jules’s impressive exposition...but in fact this *is* Chelsea, and certainly (as both Pieter and I suspected) a view of the village in Tudor times, but as imagined by a Victorian antiquary – quite possibly, but not certainly Burnell.

The listing for it in the online catalogue of Kensington & Chelsea’s local history collection is hard to find, as it is not there attributed to him (in fact for some reason K&C seldom give even known artists’ names in their catalogue): According to the truncated description, there are “... labels on back of frame [that] name the buildings shown on painting. Left to right of picture: Sir Thomas More (Beaufort House), Sir John Danvers, Manor House, Church, Tithe Barn etc, Henry Vll's Pal...”. A higher-res image of the whole painting is available there; I’m attaching it, with a slight tweak to the watermark.

Even before I found this I’d become sure the view was intended for Chelsea. Apart from the much-altered church (which may possibly not have had much of a tower until its rebuilding in the 1670s), the only pre-Stuart building that lasted late enough to be recorded for posterity in a convincing image was Shrewsbury (alias Alston) House – built in the early C16th, it was mostly demolished in 1813, though what was probably one wing survived until 1931. An ink and wash drawing of the house’s south (river side) frontage was made c.1790 for the extra-illustrated edition of Lysons’ ‘Environs of London’ ( , and in 1810 Thos Faulkner published a print after a similar drawing by Edward Ward ( - ignore the mention of Sir Thos More, a common C19th misapprehension). These show a building that much resembles the large, isolated waterfront house in our painting about one-third in from the RH edge, and which is furthermore in roughly the right place (about 40-45 Cheyne Walk today). The artist, though, has shrunk some of the distances to keep the picture of manageable length. See attached comparison.

Osmund Bullock,

The large castellated brick building on the far right was initially a puzzle, but in fact can only be the artist’s idea of what the second Chelsea Manor House (later called Chelsea Place) might have looked like – again it’s in more or less the right relative place (the frontage was at today’s 19-26 Cheyne Walk). This was for many years believed to have been built by Henry VIII as a royal palace after he acquired the manor from Lord Sandys in 1536. More recent research ( suggests that Henry was less enamoured with Chelsea than previously believed, and that it was not he who built a new manor house to the east of the main village to replace the medieval one near the church. It is now thought to have been built by Sandys or his predecessor very early in the C16th, and that despite it becoming a minor royal residence with several grace-and-favour residents from the late 1530s, it was initially of more modest proportions and the King spent little on enlarging or improving it.

Our C19th artist would have known nothing of this, and following contemporary wisdom, imagined a grander structure. He doubtless loosely based its look on the only picture of the house known, a partial view of the other (north) side of the house, but with the large western extension (of quite different construction to the Tudor brick) built soon after 1638 by a later owner, the Duke of Hamilton: There is some doubt as to the accuracy of this image (only known as the print, also after Ward and published by Faulkner in 1810), and it does not in any case show the whole of the original brick front; but it is all we have.

Most of the added Stuart wing was at some stage in the C17th disconnected from the original brick manor house, and this wing, now a free-standing house, became the official residence of the Bishop of Winchester, for whom it was named: It was demolished in 1825 (Oakley Street runs over part of the site), while Chelsea Place (the manor house) had been pulled down long before, in the late 1750s.

Osmund Bullock,

There is a lot more to explain about the even more speculative renderings of Sir Thomas More’s house (the very big, partially stone-built building with attached chapel on the left) and Danvers House (the largish house between the last and the village centre) – in truth even today we have almost no idea what either looked like, nor even exactly where More’s house was. It is no longer believed to have been the site of the later Beaufort House, though close to it, and each was in its day the main house of the same estate. More’s was probably much closer to the river than shown in our picture, more modest in size, and may have been demolished to improve the view from its later, larger replacement. See If I do write more on this, it will have to be next week – I’m off to Dorset for a few days tomorrow.

Osmund Bullock,

There is also a lot to tell about Henry Hockey Burnell, but I’ll leave that until I’ve seen our painting, especially the back, in the flesh (if they let me – I’ve put in a request). I want to see the other one attributed to him of Chelsea Physic Garden, too: Interestingly the K&C collection also has some old photographs of the latter, two of which have notes on the back that, on the face of it, support the attribution to Burnell: However, the wording could merely mean he took the photographs – I’m hoping to investigate that further as well.

Osmund Bullock,

Forget my comment about the artist having "shrunk some of the distances to keep the picture of manageable length". Leaving aside Danvers House (which is slightly misplaced if I've identified it correctly), the distances from More's house (taken as the same as Beaufort St) to the Church, to Shrewsbury House, and to Chelsea Place (Henry VIII's manor house) are proportionally *exactly* the same in the painting as they are when measured on a map.

Jules Whicker,

Osmund Bullock, no need for any guilt - except perhaps on my part for leading this discussion astray- I was only too happy to read your analysis of ancient Chelsea and to see your Shrewsbury House comparison. For whatever was possibly right about Isleworth's "candidacy" there were many things obviously unexplained by it, and a better match with Chelsea knocks that contradiction neatly on the head.

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