On & Around the Street

The Chelsea History Festival Makes A Triumphant Return

Children meet First World War soldier

Chelsea History Festival may only be in its third year, but the annual event has quickly established itself as a cultural ‘must’ in the neighbourhood and beyond. Entertaining and educating history lovers of all ages, the festival’s varied schedule covers a range of fascinating topics and time periods, from Ancient Rome to Chelsea’s rock ‘n’ roll past. 

A unique hybrid of virtual and in-person talks and activities, the 10-day festival returns later this month in partnership with three iconic local venues that will also host many of the physical events: the National Army Museum, the Royal Hospital Chelsea and the Chelsea Physic Garden

According to festival director Harry Parker, visitors to this year’s festival can expect “the largest and most varied speaker programme we’ve ever had.”

Touring The Chelsea Physic Garden

Highlights include an in-conversation event between bestselling author and historian Julie Summers and former British Vogue editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman. Kickstarting the festival on September 17, this online-only event will focus on the history of the prestigious fashion bible in its formative years under the leadership of Shulman’s predecessor, Audrey Withers, who joined Vogue in the same month that the Blitz started in earnest.

Military history is a prominent theme throughout this year’s festival, with talks and events exploring British milestones from the medieval era to Chelsea Pensioners recounting their time served in the Korean War. It will also explore important historical events on a global scale, from the rise and fall of the Sikh Empire to Hitler’s ‘American gamble’, as discussed by professor and author Brendan Simms. 

And don’t miss the in-conversation event on September 25 between historian heavyweights Professor Olivette Otele and Professor Peter Frankopan, who will discuss the challenges of telling the stories of people and places that are often overlooked.

Royal Hospital Chelsea and the National Army Museum

The festival will also have plenty of activities to entertain and educate youngsters, including creative masterclasses and interactive historical events. Brand new for 2021 is the History Village, which will take visitors of all ages back through time to learn first-hand what life was like in Roman London and the First World War. This immersive outdoor event brings history to life with living historians and the chance for little ones to dress up as knights and practise their skills at ‘Sword School’. 

“So many of the stories we tell about the past are about resilience and recovery,” Parker said of the poignant timing of this year’s festival. “It feels more important than ever to gather and reflect on the history that makes us who we are. This year we will have a new bigger headline venue to keep our audience safe and an outdoor history street packed with fun for history lovers and all the family.”

The Chelsea History Festival runs from September 17 – 26. Tickets for physical events are priced from £0 to £14, with a 25% discount when booking three or more events. Virtual events are priced at £6. See chelseahistoryfestival.com for more information.