The Real Knightsbridge

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Historical pictures from the book Belgravia & Knightsbridge Through Time by Brian Girling.

A HISTORY OF KNIGHTSBRIDGE & BELGRAVIA

Knightsbridge and Belgravia is one of the most expensive residential areas in the world. The district is roughly confined within the parameters of Knightsbridge Road, Sloane Street, Pimlico Road, Buckingham Palace Road, and Grosvenor Place.

Within an area of 400 acres, you will find the homes of some of the most influential people in the world, the finest fashion houses, and a wealth of independent shops and restaurants.

Much of Belgravia is still owned by the Grosvenor Estate, the company who operates on behalf of the current and 6th Duke of Westminster, Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor.

The estate is characterised by its white stucco terraces, which are as mysterious as they are impressive. Often difficult to see what is housed within their walls, some of these homes have been extended in every direction imaginable and contain hidden swimming pools and private nightclubs.

The bordering areas of Knightsbridge and Chelsea are home to many famous and expensive shops including the department store Harvey Nichols, Harrods, and fashion houses such as London based Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnik. Testimony to the area’s wealth, it is also home to banks such as Coutts, who are bankers to the Queen.

Despite its close proximity to these areas, Belgravia remains relatively, and is essentially a village set in the heart of London.

Harvey Nichols Harvey Nichols

Above Left: The famous department store Harvey Nichols was founded by Benjamin Harvey in 1831. With help from his partner James Nichols, the store prospered through the Victorian era, and opened grand new premises in 1894.

Above Right: The store was extended in the 1920′s and 1930′s along Seville Street and Sloane Street.

 

Five Fields

Before development, the site was originally known as Five Fields.

It was nothing more than a rural swampland situated between London and the village of Knightsbridge. As a main route out of the city, the area was a renowned spot for bandits, and was known for being a dangerous place for respectable people.

In 1824, Richard Grosvenor, 2nd Marquess of Westminster commissioned the development of many buildings centred around Belgrave Square and Pimlico.

The man he commissioned to develop this area was Thomas Cubitt, a builder from Norfolk.

Warner's Riding School, Eccleston Place, c. 1910 Warner's Riding School, Eccleston Place

 Above Left: Warner’s Riding School, Eccleston Place, c. 1910. As Five Fields began to be developed, establishments opened up such as Warner’s Riding School on Eccleston Place. The school taught riding skills as well as hiring and selling horses.

Above Right: The building still stands and is now a familiar sight to those arriving to the area at Victoria Coach Station.

 

Thomas Cubitt

Born in 1788, Cubitt is the name that many people today associate with the development of Belgravia. His first task was to drain the area of excess water in preparation for building. Changing the way things were traditionally done, Cubitt hired many different trades and set them to work under his management, taking on everything from building and roofing through to employing civil engineers to build roads and sewers.

Grosvenor estate surveyor, Thomas Cundy II, designed the layout of the streets. Architect George Basevi, a cousin of Disraeli, is credited with helping Cundy by designing the Italian-influenced white stucco terraces, after his travels to Europe. Following the development of Belgravia, Basevi later went on to design his most important piece of work, the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

It is Cubitt’s name that has really stood the test of time in Belgravia, with numerous mentions including the famous pub on Elizabeth Street, The Thomas Cubitt. Having also developed the east face of Buckingham Palace and personally funded and built nearly a kilometer of the Thames Embankment, along with numerous other developments, Cubitt is now widely regarded as having done more to change the face of London than any other man — ever.

Edbury Square, c. 1906 Edbury Square

Above Left: Edbury Square, c. 1906. In contrast with much of Belgravia’s planned building, Edbury Square developed as a result of London’s natural expansion. On the old road from Westminster to Chelsea village, Edbury Square is Belgravia’s smallest and oldest square, evolving around in 1820, out of Avery green by Avery Farm. 

Above Right: Edbury Square has not changed much over the years, but the old pub and cottages that surround it have now been replaced by residential buildings of varying dates. 

 

Belgrave Square

Cubitt’s greatest achievement, Belgrave Square, is the grandest and largest of the squares, and is the centrepiece of Belgravia.

The original scheme consisted of four terraces, each made up of eleven white stucco houses, with the exception of the east terrace, which was made up of twelve. Detached mansions were originally built in three corners of the square, with a large private garden in the centre.

The square took its name from one of the Duke of Westminster’s subsidiary titles, Viscount Belgrave, with the village of Belgrave in Cheshire being only two miles from the Grosvenor family’s main country residence.

Most characteristic, are the large statues and sculptures that adorn the central garden. These include statues of Christopher Columbus, Simón Bolívar, José de San Martín, Prince Henry the Navigator, and a sculpture entitled Homage to Leonardo, the Vitruvian Man, by Italian sculptor Enzo Plazzotta.

Belgrave Square Belgrave Square

Above Left: Designed by architect George Basevi, and builders Thomas Cubitt and Seth Smith, the houses on Belgrave Square were built over a ten-year period from 1826, and were the centrepiece of the area. 

Above Right: Today, the grand buildings on Belgrave Square are home to a variety of foreign embassies. 

 

Eaton Square

As the second grandest square in Belgravia, the houses here are characteristically large. Predominantly three bay wide buildings, they are mostly four or five storeys high allowing for an attic and basement along with mews housing behind. Most of the houses are faced with white stucco, but some are faced with brick.

The square is divided up into six sections. The upper end of Kings Road runs lengthways through the centre of the square, and two smaller cross streets cut through Kings Road.

St. Peter’s Church stands at the east end of the square. Designed by Henry Hakewill and built between 1824 and 1827, the building features a six-columned Ionic portico and a clock tower, making this large Church of England a symbol of classic style.

After World War II, many of the buildings in the other squares began to be converted for commercial and institutional use, whereas the houses in Eton Square remained largely unchanged.

Today, some of these grand houses have been divided into apartments, usually split laterally, and are still of great size and command very high prices. The Duke of Westminster himself has a London home in this square. This has made Eaton Square a very fashionable address to live.

Eaton Square Eaton Square

Above Left: Eaton Square, c. 1906. Cubitt built on a grand scale here, with large white stucco houses running the length of a square almost a quarter of a mile in length. 

Above Right: The large gardens still shield the houses from much of the noise from Kings Road, which cuts through the heart of the square.

 

Chester Square

Smaller than the other two squares, Chester Square was the last of the three squares to be built and was named after the city of Chester, near the main Grosvenor country home. Despite its smaller size, it has a large planted garden just under 1.5 acres in size.

The square has been home to past residents such as the poet Matthew Arnold at No. 2, and the author of Frankenstein, Mary Shelly at No. 24. Most famously, the square is currently home to Britain’s longest standing recent Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher.

St. Michael's, Chester Square St. Michaels, Chester Square

Above Left: St. Michael’s, Chester Square, c. 1906. Designed by Thomas Cundy II in 1844, St Michael’s church is situated in Chester Square.

Above Right: In 1921, a war memorial chapel, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, was added to the church. 

 

Upper Belgrave Street

Stretching from the southeast corner of Belgrave Square to the northeast corner of Eaton Square, Upper Belgrave Street is a wide one-way residential street with grand and imposing white stucco buildings.

Whilst most of its buildings have now been divided into apartments, this street is still home to some of the most expensive properties in the world, and is very exclusive.

Famously, No.13 was built for an illegitimate child of King William IV. Alfred Lord Tennyson was also a resident, living at No.12 in 1880 and 1881.

Upper Belgrave Street p.22.bottom

Above Left: Upper Belgrave Street, c. 1906. Built around 1826 – 1835 by Thomas Cubitt, the street features grand and imposing white stucco buildings. 

Above Right: The removal of some of the upper added structures has since restored this street to its original design. 

 

Wilton Crescent

This street was named after the 2nd Earl of Wilton, second son of the 1st Marquess of Westminster, and built in 1825 by William Howard Seth-Smith.

The grand terrace buildings are built in a crescent shape, with many of the houses to the south of the crescent having white stuccoed balconies. The houses to the north of the crescent are large stone clad buildings, refaced between 1908 — 1912. Most of these houses had originally been built in the white stucco style, but later became stone clad during this renovation period.

Wilton Crescent has been home to many British politicians, ambassadors and civil servants including Louise Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, who lived at No.2 for many years. Wilton Crescent is currently home to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s son, Gamal Mubarak.

As testimony to its beautiful surroundings, Wilton Crescent was awarded a bronze medal by the London Gardens Society, in 2007.

Wilton Crescent Wilton Crescent

Above Left: Wilton Crescent by Motcomb Street, c. 1907. Wilton Crescent busy with coachmen, hansom cabs and passers by. 

Above Right: The houses on Wilton Crescent were refaced in stone from 1908. 

 

Lowndes Square

Lowndes Square lies to the west of Wilton Crescent and Belgrave Square, and closely borders the casino and upmarket shopping districts of Knightsbridge. Running parallel to Sloane Street, the square is famous for its close proximity to the areas of Knightsbridge and Chelsea, as well as Harvey Nichols department store, and Harrods.

The architect George Basevi designed many of the houses in this square, and like much of Belgravia it is characterised by grand terraces and white stucco buildings.

Lowndes Square p.74.bottom

Above Left: Lowndes Square by Harriet Street, c. 1905.

Above Right: Lowndes Square by Harriet Street. 

Lowndes Square Lowndes Square

Above Left: Lowndes Street, c. 1905.

Above Right: Lowndes Street.