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Chelsea History Festival 2022

From captivating talks to immersive events, inspiring storytellers and live sword training, see history come to life at these unmissable events

5 September 2022

Sloane Square in the 1960s
A special War Horse concert will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Sir Michael Morpurgo’s book
Sloane Street in 1912
Catch Iszi Lawrence in conversation about her latest book, Billie Swift Takes Flight

The Chelsea History Festival is returning to the historic Royal Hospital Road for the fourth year, promising an engaging week-long programme of events, featuring an incomparable line-up of experts, storytellers and performers to bring the past to life from September 17 to 25. 

Now a highlight on the neighbourhood’s cultural calendar, the Festival will once again celebrate history and examine the myriad ways in which the past continues to play a significant role in our modern lives. 

The Festival will open with a timely talk from journalist and author Anna Reid on the history of Ukraine, and throughout the week there is a range of fascinating walking tours scheduled, covering subjects from Chelsea’s rock’n’roll heritage to the spies that have called the neighbourhood home. There’s really something for anyone who’s even a little bit curious about the past – including kids.

“History is not only fascinating, popular and fun but it really matters if we want to truly understand the adventures of our forebears, our world today and our place within it,” said Justin Maciejewski, director of the National Army Museum. “Come to the Chelsea History Festival with family and friends and be entertained, enriched and inspired by our past. There truly is something for everyone.”

The full programme of events can be found at but here we’ve selected a few of the captivating events to look forward to.


Best for past-meets-present significance

Journey back over 1,000 years as journalist and author Anna Reid, former Kyiv correspondent for The Economist and The Daily Telegraph, draws on her longstanding knowledge of Ukraine for a timely talk, A History of Ukraine: Past and Present (£12) on Saturday 17 September. Then, on Wednesday 21 September at the Royal Hospital, General Sir Adrian Bradshaw, former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, will share his unique security perspective on the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and how it heralds a turning point in relations between Russia and Nato (The Crisis in Ukraine, £20).


Best for music

Celebrate the 40th anniversary of Sir Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse with this special new concert in the Royal Hospital’s Wren Chapel before it embarks on a nationwide tour in the new year. Accompanied by music from the hugely successful National Theatre production, the author will be reading an abridged version of his much-loved story of humanity and friendship. (War Horse: The Concert, 22 September, £25)

Or join a guided walk through the streets of Chelsea to discover gritty insights worthy of any music lover’s attention. You’ll explore the sites of influential boutiques like Granny Takes a Trip and Mary Quant’s Bazaar that inspired the music scene of the swinging ’60s, as well as the King’s Road hangouts where the Sex Pistols were formed, and the hotel used by the Beatles as their London base (Rock ‘n’ Roll Chelsea, 21 and 22 September, £12).


Best for time-travelling

Over the closing weekend, expert living historians will bring London’s incredible past to life on the History Street, where you’ll be immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the past. You can train in medieval combat at the Plantagenet-period Sword School before travelling down the street to meet Tudors, Georgians and 17th-century citizens of London. One minute you’ll be chatting with a Roman, the next you’ll be talking to a soldier from the Great War before snapping back to the present day to meet soldiers who are currently serving in the British Army. Great for kids of all ages. 

Situated on Burton Court, the History Street is free to visit and you can drop in throughout the weekend of 24 and 25 September.


Best for avid gardeners

Philip Miller (1691-1771) was head gardener at Chelsea Physic Garden from 1722 to 1770. Under his directorship at the Garden the number of plants cultivated in England almost doubled. On Friday 23 September, curator of the General Herbarium at the Natural History Museum Jacek Wajer will give a talk entitled Philip Miller’s Herbarium (£20), in which he will discuss Miller’s work at Chelsea Physic Garden, his herbarium collection and how it is used today.


Best for film buffs

From The Crown to Peaky Blinders, from Bridgerton to Chernobyl, from Game of Thrones to The Queen’s Gambit, historical subjects dominate the big and small screen.

Join Hannah Greig and Alex von Tunzelmann on Friday 23 September, hosts of the popular History Film Club podcast, as they talk about how and why we fictionalise our history at History on Screen: A History Film Club Special (£12), a special live recording at the Chelsea History Festival. 

And on Friday 23 September (12.30pm) or Sunday 25 September (11am), join expert tour guide Guy Fairbank for SW3 on Screen (£12) for a cinematic stroll around SW3 to see where classic dramas, cult films, hidden gems and cheesy horror flicks, including A Clockwork Orange to Skyfall, and Withnail and I were filmed.


Best for cloak-and-dagger intrigue

Behind Chelsea’s genteel environment lie some dark secrets and stories of espionage, deceit and drama. From Soviet agents, Nazi agitators and spy catchers to thriller writers, uncover the clandestine world of espionage and intelligence in the seemingly quiet streets of Chelsea on guide Guy Fairbank’s fascinating walking tour. 

Spies of Chelsea (£12), 18 September (11am), and 25 September (2pm).


Best for families

Throughout the opening weekend of Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 September, the festival will host a series of events and talks aimed at families. The History Tellers will be performing several free interactive shows that bring the past to the present through amazing stories, incredible tales, unbelievable achievements and jolly good yarns that capture the imagination – popular with children and adults alike!

Meanwhile, join Tommy Roper, a fictional character inspired by real people who served in the Second World War, as he puts his new recruits through their paces, as they train for a top-secret mission at the National Army Museum. Soldier Stories: Tommy Roper, Sunday 18 September (free).

Over the closing weekend (Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 September), Chelsea Physic Garden, the oldest botanic garden in London, will open its doors free of charge exclusively for the Chelsea History Festival. Visitors will be able to take part in activities including pond dipping, planting, and storytelling, as well as enjoy the delights of the Physic Garden Café.


Best for empowering young women

Much-loved children’s author Iszi Lawrence (comedian and BBC Radio 4’s Making History presenter) will be discussing her latest book, Billie Swift Takes Flight, the story of the Second World War starring the brilliant women pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), who battled against the odds to get the air force’s planes to the front lines.

Meanwhile, award-winning author Tom Palmer will be talking about his new book, Resist: One Girl’s Fight Back Against the Nazis, which tells the inspiring story of Audrey Hepburn’s childhood under Nazi occupation in Holland, and author Sufiya Ahmed will discuss her thrilling WW2 adventure, Rosie Raja: Churchill’s Spy, an empowering work of diverse historical fiction (all three talks are £6 per child; adults go free).

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