Made in Chelsea – Where Did Literary James Bond Really Live?

Article by David Salter

James Bond lived in Chelsea, a pleasant and, these days very expensive, area south-west of Central London. Beyond that the information provided by Ian Fleming is pretty blurred. The most detailed source of information on this subject is “Moonraker”, possibly the most personal of the Bond books, taking place, as it does, wholly in England and telling us quite a lot about Bond’s personal and social circumstances.

In “Moonraker” Fleming tells us that Bond’s flat is the ground floor of a Regency house in a small Chelsea Square with Plane trees. Elsewhere he develops this by telling us that it also includes the basement, where Bond’s Scottish ‘treasure’ May has her quarters, that the sitting room has a bay window overlooking the square and that there are steps running up to the front door.

Wellington Square - No. 30 is just before portico.

Wellington Square, Chelsea (Photo: David Salter)

At a rough count there are seven squares in Chelsea. Running from east to west along the King’s Road from Sloane Square, they are: Royal Avenue (an enormous open ended wide street with a central pedestrian area), Wellington Square, Markham Square, Chelsea Square, Carlyle Square, Chelsea Park Gardens and Paulton  Square. Royal Avenue can be discounted immediately for the reasons I have given above. It is, though, interesting as the location of the house in Joseph Losey’s important sixties film, “The Servant”, starring Dirk Bogarde and James Fox. I have also rejected Markham Square, Chelsea Square, Chelsea Park Gardens and Paulton Square for these reasons:

  • Markham Square: too big, open ended at the far end and does not feel ‘right’.
  • Chelsea Square: too far off the King’s Road and predominantly newer houses.
  • Chelsea Park Gardens: too straggling, not a proper, contained square and houses that are more Arts & Crafts than Regency.
  • Paulton Square: too big, too far down the King’s Road and none of the ‘atmosphere’ one would look for in Bond’s residence.

So we are left with Wellington Square and Carlyle Square. I am well aware that John Pearson identified Wellington Square as Bond’s address when he wrote the ‘Authorized Biography’ (1973) and chose No. 30, because a friend lived there. There is little to argue with here; I have long accepted this, as Wellington Square fits most of the significant criteria. It is a small square, it has Plane trees, there are steps up to the front doors, the houses could be described as ‘Regency’ and the sitting-room window on the ground floor of No. 30 would overlook the square.

David outside 30 Wellington Square

David outside 30 Wellington Square (Photo: David Salter)

There are steps down to the basement with its own front door for May’s access. The only point on which it fails is that none of the houses in Wellington Square have bay windows. This has been explained elsewhere and somewhat unconvincingly by suggesting that the wall is sufficiently thick for the side cheeks of the window opening to be ‘raked’ so that they appear angled, as a bay window would from inside.

But there is a Dark, and somewhat secret, Horse further down, and on the other side of the King’s Road. Carlyle Square. This is a small square with Plane trees, off the King’s Road. It has been described to me as ‘the prettiest square in London’. It is unknown to many people as access from the King’s Road is by two narrow pedestrian walks and sight of the square itself is sheltered by significant evergreen planting along the main road.

Carlyle Square - Bond's flat? (Photo: David Salter)

Carlyle Square – Bond’s flat? (Photo: David Salter)

Vehicular access to and from the King’s Road is from the opposite end of the square via Old Church Street – but this is simple and does not conflict with Bond driving out of the square and up the King’s Road towards Sloane Square. The houses, which have externally accessed basements, are similar to those in Wellington Square except that importantly, they have bay windows. I like Carlyle Square. It is attractive, contained and has the privacy that Bond might have appreciated.

The Gardens - Carlyle Square. (Photo: David Salter)

The Gardens – Carlyle Square (Photo: David Salter)

And consider this: in the early ’50s before and after his marriage to Ann Charteris, Ian Fleming lived in a flat in Carlyle Mansions, in Cheyne Walk, down on the embankment, only an energetic stone’s throw from Carlyle Square. He left because Ann didn’t like it there and wanted something grander. They moved to Victoria Square, behind Victoria Station.

I am certainly not trying to dispute John Pearson’s well established identification of Wellington Square as Bond’s address but I would like to promote this attractive alternative for consideration.

Incidental Intelligence

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4 thoughts on “Made in Chelsea – Where Did Literary James Bond Really Live?

  1. The Case against Carlyle Square

    The article appearing championing Carlyle Square as the location for Bond’s flat as described by Fleming. There are a few reasons against this theory, namely, location, location and location.

    Bond’s flat is ‘featured’ in three of the Fleming novels; Moonraker, From Russia with Love, and Thunderball. It is mentioned almost in passing in two others – Diamonds are Forever, where Bond tells M. that he has put Tiffany Case up at his flat, “in the spare room…”, and in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, when Bond returns home from escaping Blofeld and needs to hurry to file his report and get to M.’s house for Christmas lunch. Here is where we find him going “up the steps”.

    Now, I do not, unlike Raymond Benson, agree with 30 Wellington Square as Bond’s flat.
    (Bond heads towards Wellington Square on his way back from dinner in Benson’s book “DoulbeShot”.)
    For one thing, a bay window is a bay window. 30 Wellington Square does NOT have a bay window. Also, there is the small matter of the fountain in the park. Fleming never mentions one, but 30 Wellington Square is almost directly opposite the park’s fountain.

    I tend to discount the ‘Plane Trees’ park as well, Fleming himself did live in a house with a rounded bay window opposite a plane tree’d park before his marriage, and most of the squares have trees in them, but not all have plane trees. Americans would know them as sycamore trees.
    So now we have a tree-lined square off the King’s Road, close by Sloane Square (in Thunderball, he turns onto Kings Road then Sloane Street into the Park (that would be Hyde Park) to the Marble Arch in 3 minutes flat.

    I have always favored Markham Square, it’s U shaped configuration provides easy ingress and egress from the King’s Road. The architecture is similar to Wellington Square, and there are a few houses with both basement access, steps to the door, and having bay windows. #38, for example.
    Lastly, let’s revisit the time factor. Bond’s Chelsea Square is directly off the King’s Road. From here he can drive to the Secret Service HQ at Regent Park in fifteen minutes in ordinary traffic (Moonraker) or, when he’s really pushing it, in about ten minutes (Thunderball). We also know it is close to Sloane Square.
    On Google Maps, I asked it to plot from the corner of Baker Street/Marylebone Road to Markham Square/Kings Road and to the corner of Carlyle Square/Old Church Street. Using driving directions, the time for both was 13 minutes. However, the Carlyle Square address did not use the King’s Road, but rather turned right and then right again onto Fulham Road, and turned again before getting to the Marble Arch. For the Markham Square address, I made sure it went to the Marble Arch, turned right, then left onto Baker Street. When I used the Kings Road with Carlyle Square, the drive time went up to between 15 and 17 minutes, depending on traffic. There is roughly three miles distance from Regent’s Park to Markham Square, three and a half miles to Carlyle.

    In short, Markham is the more likely candidate than Carlye.

    We should also discuss when Bond acquired his flat. We know from “You Only Live Twice” that Bond joined the war at the age of 17, dropping out of school. From there he would have been billeted until the end of the war. He went directly into the secret service from there and was in both Moscow and Jamaica stations for long periods of time, so if we use late 1945 as the starting point, allowing a few months for training, he would have been posted in early 1946. In short, we can probably safely put the earliest years for Bond to settle down in London late 1947, or more likely 1948.

    Thanks for the website.

    • Oh dear. I’m sorry if I have given the impression that I was “championing” Carlyle Square as the location for Bond’s flat. That was not my intention. I doubt that Fleming had any one “small, plane tree lined square off the King’s Road” in mind when he was setting up Bond’s background. The location and style of his flat, just like his clothes, his car and his possessions was given as an indication of the type of man he was. I think Fleming used typical components of London squares – Plane trees, Regency houses, steps, basements, bay windows and located it in Chelsea because that is where he himself had lived for much of his adult life. The point of my article was to look at all the Chelsea squares that might qualify and using the co-ordinates and clues that IF provided narrow the list down to those with the best claim. It has long been accepted by students of the canon, that Wellington Square came out on top. Twice in my piece I made it clear that I did not dispute this but as I examined all the contenders, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there was another strong alternative.

      Mr. Von Tagen III makes a number of points in which he dismisses Wellington Square, casts serious doubt on Carlyle Square and introduces Markham Square as a serious contender; his comments, assertions and timings deserve a considered examination, so here goes:

      1. Google’s calculation of times to drive from Chelsea to Regent’s Park are of limited significance, as traffic conditions today are much different from those in the ’50s and ’60s
      2. The fact that the fountain in Wellington Square is not mentioned in IF’s books, in my opinion, is not significant. I must confess I have never noticed it.
      3. I am unclear why Mr. Von Tagen III dismisses the “Plane trees”. When IF was as specific as this about something, he generally meant it.
      4. It is true that one can drive from Carlyle Square to Regent’s Park by turning right into Old Church Street and then right again into the Fulham Road, but if you do you are faced with a number of right turns against the traffic, a profusion of potentially delaying traffic lights, a winding road with major junctions at South Kensington and Knightsbridge and a delaying left turn into the park at the top of Sloane Street. In contrast by turning left into Old Church Street, with the traffic, and again into the King’s Road you have a straight drive to Sloane Square, a simple left into Sloane Street, straight up, across the lights at the top and into the park – much quicker and more straightforward.
      5. I’m not sure where the acquisition date for Bond’s flat comes into this discussion. IF’s suggestion in “YOLT” that Bond was 17 in 1941 is surely nonsense (a cynical move to prolong Bond’s shelf-life) as that would have made him 27 at the time of “Casino Royale”
      6. Does Fleming say that the flat/square is “close to Sloane Square”? If so I’d missed it.
      7. Now then, Markham Square. I’m surprised that this unlikely contender has been thrown into the ring. Apart from being, roughly, square, having trees and Regency style houses, it has little else going for it. It is big, airy, open ended and, frankly, has none of the character, style and intimacy that Fleming’s description of the “small Plane tree’d Regency Square, off the King’s Road” conjures up for me.

      Nevertheless it is good to widen the discussion. I think Wellington Square will continue to top the list but I will continue to harbour an affection for Carlyle Square.

      David Salter.

  2. The Sitwell Brothers, Osbert and Sacheverell (Sachie) lived in Caryle Square in the early Twenties.

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