Where Is Belgravia?
Noted for being one of the wealthiest areas in the world, the central London district of Belgravia is not actually an administrative area and has no official boundaries, which explains why it is under the administration of both the City of Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
The postcodes that define Belgravia are SW1X and SW1W, which are found south-west of Buckingham Palace with Knightsbridge (the street, not the district) to the north, Grosvenor Place and Buckingham Palace Road to the east, Pimlico Road to the south, and Sloane Street to the west.
A brief history of Belgravia
The history of Belgravia can be traced back to the 17th century when the Grosvenor family acquired the 430-acre Ebury Farm after Sir Thomas Grosvenor married the heiress Mary Davies in 1676. But it was another 150 years before the development began of Belgravia as we know it today.
Prior to a deal being clinched between Richard Grosvenor, the second Marquess of Westminster, and Thomas Cubitt, one of the great builders of the 19th century, in 1825, the area was a swamp infested at night by highwaymen, though during the day it was a pleasant place for a stroll. In 1711, Jonathan Swift recorded seeing haymakers working there, and the “sweet smell of the flowery meads”.
Cubitt started by having the clay soil that once covered the area dug out and fired into the bricks needed for the buildings. Then he had a canal dug from the River Thames so barges could bring in thousands of tonnes of earth from the digging of London’s docks, which was used to raise the levels. The land was drained and River Westbourne covered over.
Grosvenor Estate surveyor Thomas Cundy II designed the layout of the wide and elegant boulevards that link the many garden squares Belgravia is noted for, while architect George Basevi, a cousin of Disraeli, is credited with helping Cundy by designing the Italian-influenced white stucco terraces that remain today.
The area became the height of fashion almost immediately, with aristocrats like the Earl of Essex, the Duke of Bedford and tea magnate Earl Grey moving in. A further boost was provided in the 1840s when Buckingham Palace was finally completed.
After the world wars, death duties and the servant shortage forced most of the nobility out of the area and many of the houses were converted into embassies, charity headquarters and professional institutions. However, the Grosvenor Estate – which still controls Belgravia – maintained strict control of the building work to maintain architectural integrity, even specifying the exact shade of magnolia that houses have to be painted.
As a result, when the world’s super-rich began to adopt London as their international headquarters Belgravia was their preferred location, especially Belgrave Square, Eaton Square and Chester Square, the latter becoming well known as the last home of Baroness Thatcher.
Two other prime ministers lived in Belgravia – Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain – while the area has also been home to Mozart, who wrote his first symphony in 1764 at the age of 8 while staying at 180 Ebury Street, and actress Vivien Leigh, who lived and died at 53 Eaton Square.
Belgravia’s enviable position in the heart of London means transport links are plentiful. Belgravia’s nearest London underground stations are Hyde Park Corner and Knightsbridge, which are both served by the Piccadilly line, and Sloane Square which is served by the District and Circle lines. And London Victoria train and bus station – one of London’s busiest train, tube and coach interchanges – is found to the east of the district.
Numerous buses frequently travel through Belgravia offering access to the nearby West End and the City, while the area is within easy walking distance of Chelsea, Hyde Park, Knightsbridge, Pimlico and Westminster.
Motorists have fewer options. There is an NCP car park near Victoria Station at Eccleston Bridge on Belgrave Road but take care when using residents’ parking bays. The area is split between the City of Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. This means holders of parking permits issued by one local authority cannot leave their vehicles in the parts of Belgravia that fall under the jurisdiction of the other council.
Attractions in Belgravia
While Belgravia is within easy reach of some of London’s most visited tourist attractions, including Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, the Natural History Museum and the Houses of Parliament, the district also contains a number of popular sites. These include:
- Sloane Street, which runs through the heart of Belgravia from Knightsbridge Tube Station to Sloane Square, offers a luxury shopping experience with the world’s most sought-after fashion brands lined up door to door. Other noted retail destinations in Belgravia include Harvey Nichols, Anya Hindmarch and Rocco – a mecca for chocolate lovers.
- Belgravia is known for its beautiful public but secluded gardens and Ebury Square is just one example of these. Close to Victoria Station, the gardens have been a place of rest and relaxation for local people and visitors alike for many centuries. Visitors to the grounds are well sheltered from the noise of the city and from the elements by a selection of mature trees which also protect a beautiful selection of flower beds and lawns below.
- Daniel Armitage Bannerman was at the forefront of the Victorian obsession with the collecting and cataloguing of any type of animal they could find from around the world and is well known as being one of the greatest ornithologists of his age. Daniel Armitage Bannerman’s House in Belgravia is close to the Natural History Museum where he worked as a senior exhibitor.
- Continuing Belgravia’s association with the natural world, the Lindley Library contains the most comprehensive botanical library in the country. The collection of more than 50,000 books, 300 archived periodicals and more than 20,000 botanical drawings is the main archive of study for the Royal Horticultural Society.
- Apsley House, which is closed until April 2015 while preparations for the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo are underway, was the London residence of the first Duke of Wellington. The property, which was designed and built by Robert Adam between 1771 and 1778, is known as Number 1 London because it was the first house encountered after passing the tollgates at the top of Knightsbridge. Today, the Duke’s former abode is home to paintings by Velazquez, van Dyke and Rubens as well as an unrivalled silver and porcelain collection.
- James Bond creator Ian Fleming’s House can also be found in Belgravia. Fleming, who lived in a flat in a converted palatial property close to Victoria Station, loved the area and it inspired his writings.
- Set in a fantastic location just two minutes’ walk from Sloane Square tube station, Cadogan Hall is home to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as a favourite London destination for international touring orchestras. The 950-seat venue also hosts a vibrant selection of contemporary, jazz, folk and world music events as well as talks, debates and conferences.
Where to eat, drink and sleep in Belgravia
From pubs with historical links to high-class restaurants, late-night cocktail bars and swish five-star hotels, Belgravia has a fantastic choice of venues – if you know where to find them. Many of the area’s Michelin-starred restaurants are still discreetly located behind plain front doors.
Some of our favourite eating and drinking venues include:
- Described as Belgravia’s most exclusive pub and dining room honouring the man responsible for building up the district, The Thomas Cubitt on Elizabeth Street offers a wide selection of drinks, a varied food menu plus private dining. Visitors wishing to use the first floor dining room need to book in advance, but the ground floor bar is operated on a first come, first served basis for tables.
- If it’s too early to enjoy an alcoholic drink, why not pop into Baker & Spice, also found on Elizabeth Street, for a daily baked croissants. As well as its fabulous cakes and pastries, the shop is also known for its inspiring range of cooked food prepared on-site.
- The modern, light interior of Pétrus was designed by the acclaimed Russell Sage Studio and provides the perfect setting for this high-class restaurant’s modern French menu that combines classic flavours with exquisite presentation. Up to six guests can sit at the Pétrus Chef’s Table for an unparalleled view of all the action in the kitchen, while a choice of 500 wines expertly guided by the head sommelier can also be sampled.
- Offering a particularly relaxing and comfortable atmosphere, Lowndes Bar & Kitchen offers excellent dining with a modern British menu. Head chef Martin Gabler has created a menu perfect to enjoy at any time of day in this international bistro restaurant that can be found on Lowndes Street.
- And if you have guests who require somewhere to stay the night, we’d recommend booking into the Belgraves Hotel on Chesham Place. With its chic interior design and architecture, the 85-room Belgraves offers guests a sense of modern comfort blended with traditional English charm.
Education in Belgravia
Belgravia has a large number of residents from outside the UK, which helps explain why the largest school in the area is the Hill House International Junior School on Hans Place. The fee paying mixed school has nearly 1,000 pupils aged between four and 13.
St Peter’s Eaton Square Church of England Primary School, which is rated Outstanding by Ofsted, can also be found in Belgravia, while Abbey College on Grosvenor Gardens is the only secondary school within the district.
Other nursery and primary schools in Belgravia include The Knightsbridge Kindergarten, Eaton Square School, which is actually located on Eccleston Square, St Barnabas Church of England Primary School, Thomas Kindergarten, Miss Daisy’s Nursery and The Belgravia Nursery School.
Embassies in Belgravia
The slower paced quality of life in Belgravia when compared with neighbouring areas of the capital is demonstrated by the 16 foreign embassies or consulates in the area and therefore also by the large number of ambassador’s residents, especially in Belgrave Square.
10 Surprising facts about Belgravia
- Queen Victoria rented number 36 Belgrave Square for her mother. This was considered to be a royal seal of approval for the square.
- Mozart wrote his first ever symphony at 180 Ebury Street when he was just eight years old. A second followed it before his and his father’s stay in England (which lasted from April 1764 to July 1765) ended.
- Chopin gave his first recital in Britain at 99 Eaton Place in 1848 after being lured across the Channel by a Scottish pupil, Jane Stirling.
- In January 2015, the average price of property in Belgravia was £1,871,882. Prices ranged from £369,000 to £17.5m, with the average price of a house being £4.1m.
- Belgrave Square was used as a tank park during World War Two.
- In the 17th century Belgravia was part of an area of open land known as the Five Fields
- Pimlico Road Farmers’ Market is held in Orange Square, Belgravia, every Saturday.
- The Belgravia Residents Association was founded in 1972 and is recognised as the official registered amenity body for Belgravia by Westminster City Council and Grosvenor Estates.
- When Chelsea FC owner and Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich submitted plans to convert two stucco-fronted properties in Lowndes Square in 2008, the Daily Mail put a value of £150m on the conversion, calling it “the most expensive private residence in Britain”.
- Grosvenor Crescent is Britain’s most expensive street, according to Lloyds Bank, followed by Eaton Square.