Walk 92: Belgravia Linear: “Lucky or not…”

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 2.9 miles (4.67 km)

Time to walk: If you just wanted to walk the route without stopping then it would only take about 1 hour. However, this is London & we’re going to visit some areas we don’t normally see & maybe chat to some people who have stories to tell. It took us a couple of leisurely hours

Difficulty: Easy, flat & all on hard surfaces

Parking: Don’t even think about it. Catch the bus or tube

Public toilets: Cafes etc on the way

Map of the route: 

This walk is going to take us around Belgravia in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea. It’s noted for its very expensive residential properties & is one of the wealthiest districts in the world. Much of it, known as the Grosvenor Estate, is still owned by a family property company, the Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor Group. The area takes its name from one of the Duke’s subsidiary titles, Viscount Belgrave

The district lies mostly to the south west of Buckingham Palace, & is bounded by Knightsbridge to the north, Grosvenor Place & Buckingham Palace Road to the east, Pimlico Road to the south & Sloane Street to the west

Many embassies are located in the area, especially in Belgrave Square which we’ll see later. After the Second World War, some of the largest houses ceased to be used as residences, or townhouses for the country gentry & aristocracy, but the new uses were restricted to certain categories, including embassies, charity headquarters & professional institutions.  Houses in Belgravia are among the most expensive anywhere in the world, costing up to £100 million, although most are divided into individual luxury apartments & flats

Many properties are owned by wealthy foreigners who have other luxury residences worldwide & thus many Belgravia properties are unoccupied full time

Shall we go & “hob-nob” then?

Let’s Walk!

1. Todays walk starts outside the Tube Station in Sloane Square. The area forms a boundary between the two largest aristocratic estates in London, the Grosvenor Estate which is headed by the Duke of Westminster, & the Cadogan & also marks the south-west corner of the district of Belgravia

The Grosvenors came to England with William the Conqueror in 1066 & their estates grew through marriage. They began developing the fields around Mayfair in the 1720s into large residential areas, but Belgravia remained rural until the 1820s

The square. formerly known as ‘Hans Town’, was laid out in 1771 to a plan drawn up by Henry Holland Snr & Henry Holland Jnr. Both the square & Hans Town were named after Sir Hans Sloane whose estates owned the land at the time. It lies at the east end of Kings Road & at the south end of the more conventionally smart Sloane Street linking to Knightsbridge. In the early 1980s it lent its name to the “Sloane Rangers, the young under-employed, often snooty & ostentatiously well-off members of the upper classes”

2. With your back to the tube station, turn right past the Royal Court Theatre which first opened in 1888 & was important for avant-garde theatre in the 1960s & 1970s when it was also the home of the English Stage Company

The Royal Court Theatre is the writers’ theatre & is the leading force in world theatre for energetically cultivating writers – undiscovered, emerging & established

Within the past sixty years, John Osborne, Samuel Beckett, Arnold Wesker, Ann Jellicoe, Howard Brenton & David Hare have started their careers at the Court

3. Exit the square on the north east side & then turn almost immediately right into Bourne Street which is named after the Westbourne River which flows from Hampstead underneath Sloane Square before entering the Thames near Chelsea Bridge

Bourne Street is the start of us seeing the really expensive properties in this area & there’s a sign on the house on the right which dates back to a not so long ago era

4. Look to the left to see the somewhat small entrance to St Mary’s Catholic Church

It was built ‘quickly & cheaply’ in 1874, with the intention of providing ministry to the poor living in the nearby slums of Pimlico. In 1844 the Reverend Bennett described the area as being filled with with a population of poor men, women & children & urged “Come with me into the lanes & streets of this great city. Come with me & visit the dens of infamy & the haunts of vice, ignorance, filth & atheism with which it abounds”

Looking at this area today, it’s hard to imagine that it was once in such a poor state!

5. On reaching the crossroads, opposite on the left’s the Francis Holland Church of England School for Girls

The two schools of the organisation were founded in the 1870s by Canon Francis James Holland for the education of girls in London. He was born in London on 20 January 1828 & educated at Eton College & Trinity College, Cambridge. The Sloane Square School opened with 13 pupils on 1 March 1881

Although the entrance to the church may have looked small, you can see that from the side it’s actually quite large

6. Turn right down Graham Terrace…

…& at the Fox & Hounds, left into Passmore Street. The Fox and Hounds is a delightful small traditional London pub built back in the 1860s to serve the working people that lived in the cottages nearby. Times may have changed but the Fox & Hounds is still here & prides itself on having no TVs, no music, just lively conversation & great people

7. Continue along Passmore Street stopping towards the end at the Lumley Buildings on the right which are an example of 19th century London social housing…

The flats were  built in 1875 by the Improved Industrial Dwellings Company on land bought from the Grosvenor Estate. They were later sold to the Peabody Trust which was founded by the American Banker & philanthropist George Peabody to provide social housing for people in need. Today it looks after 19,000 properties

8. Turn left into Pimlico Road with its galleries, boutiques, galleries & very expensive shops! In our picture below is the gallery of furniture designer Viscount Linley, nephew of the Queen

Slightly further on is a delightful little wooded, triangular area called Orange Square…

Every Saturday between 9am – 1pm this is the site of the Pimlico Farmers’ Market which has a very good reputation & is always held under the watchful gaze of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

9. Mozart was brought to London by his family when he was just 8 years old, but by that time his musical talent had already been recognised across Europe

He lived for a few weeks close by to Orange Square in 1764 & gave performance to the Court. His father fell ill & Mozart was stopped from playing the piano in the house. However by the time the family returned to their original home in Soho, Mozart had already composed his first symphony

10. From the Square walk down Edbury Street, which was named after Edbury Farm which used to be here, to arrive at No.180 where the Mozart family stayed all those years ago…

Opposite are the Cundy Street Flats which are a classic example an early 1950s architectural style

As well as Mozart, Edbury Street has seen many notable residents. No.22B was the residence of James Bond creator, Ian Fleming who wrote the first Bond book, Casino Royale there. Apparently he also had the same reputation for the ladies as Bond, although with a tendency for slightly more “aggressive” preferences, There’s a story that the brother of one young lady turned up to horse-whip him but luckily he was out!

Fleming bought the property off another well known person, Sir Oswald Mosley who rose to fame in the 1920s as a Member of Parliament & fell to disgrace in 1930s as leader of the British Union of Fascists. Adolf Hitler was a guest at his second wedding

In 1963 Michael Caine & Terence Stamp shared a bachelor pad in the street & Noel Coward lived as a young man with his mother at No.11

The street also has a connection with espionage & OSS, the forerunner of the CIA had a safe house at No.18B during World War II

Well…there’s some history along here!!

11. Turn left down Eaton Terrace which dates back to the 1850s. Properties along here sell for around £10 million. The road is named after the Grosvenor family’s country seat

We heard a familiar voice behind us & turned round. It was Tom Parker Bowles, stepson of Prince Charles

12. Over the road on the corner of Chester Row is the Duke of Wellington pub which dates back to the 19th century. Known locally as the ‘Duke of Boots’, the property was originally built as a reading room for local residents, who went there to read the morning newspapers. However the locals reputedly said that they’d rather have liquid refreshment than reading matter. Guess who won?

13. Follow the road into South Eaton Place. The properties are now becoming more elegant…

…& then up Gerald Road. ‘Gerald’ is the most common name in the Grosvenor family & some people think that the Grosvenors like to make sure those who walk the streets round here remember who owns them. There’s a blue plaque on No.17

No.17 was the home of Noel Coward between 1930 & 1956 where he wrote several of his best known works. Coward was an English playwright, composer, director, actor & singer, known for his wit, flamboyance, & what Time magazine called “a sense of personal style, a combination of cheek & chic, pose & poise”

Many of his works, such as Hay Fever, Private Lives, Design for Living, Present Laughter & Blithe Spirit, have remained in the regular theatre repertoire. He composed hundreds of songs, in addition to well over a dozen musical theatre works, screenplays, poetry, several volumes of short stories & a three volume autobiography. Coward’s stage & film acting & directing career spanned six decades, during which he starred in many of his own works

14. Further along South Eaton Place is another plaque which commemorates when the building was a police station between 1846 & 1993…

The police station was visited by Ringo Starr & George Harrison in 1964 to report a theft at their nearby flat in William Mews

15. On arriving at the crossroads with Elizabeth Street cross straight over into Chester Square which has topped the list of Britain’s most expensive addresses several times over the past few years

The square opens up proper round the corner, but it was one of three original squares laid out when Belgravia was designed. If you want to buy a house here you’re looking at £50 million!!

On the left’s St Michael’s Church

The church was completed in 1844 & designed by Thomas Cundy

16. Walk round the corner into the main square itself which is very impressive. If you fancy a rest on a seat in the beautiful garden in the middle, forget it as it’s locked & for residents use only

Chester Square is named after the city of Chester, near to which Eaton Hall, the ancestral home of the Grosvenor family, is situated. Blue plaques abound here & famous residents that live / have lived here include Roman Abramovich, Russian oligarch, second richest person in the United Kingdom & owner of Chelsea FCMatthew Arnold, poet & critic; Tony Curtis, actor, had a house here when he was filming The PersuadersBlake Edwards & Julie Andrews, film director & his actress wife, lived here for a few years in the early 1970s after their departure from Hollywood; Mick Jagger & Marianne Faithfull, pop musicians; Nigella Lawson, celebrity chef & food writer; Yehudi Menuhin, American born violinist & conductor; Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein

Walk along the square to find No.73 where Margaret Thatcher, former British Conservative Prime Minister, lived until shortly before her death in 2013 when she moved to the Ritz for health reasons

17. Carry on to exit far side of the square & turn left into Lower Belgrave Street…

Over the road’s the Plumber’s Arms which dates back to the 1820s. During the Victorian era, the pub was so well thought of by locals, that it was even known to be frequented by the English aristocracy. During these times, there was a rigid class distinction… butlers & tradesmen drank at one bar, whilst grooms & footmen drank at the other

However, the pub has a darker tale..it’s where Lady Lucan burst into on the evening of 7th November 1974 covered in blood &, fearing for her own life, announced “Help me, help me…I’ve just escaped from being murdered. He’s in the house. He’s murdered the nanny!”

The killer she was referring to was her estranged husband, Lord Lucan who had indeed killed the nanny just up the road at No.46 Lower Belgrave Street. Lucan had recently moved out & was living in a flat nearby & was involved in a bitter custody battle over his children

He infamously went on the run & became Britain’s most famous fugitive. Over the following decades there were numerous supposed sightings all over the world, but he was never found.

18. Walk along to No.46 where the murder occurred, which is on the same side of the road as the pub…

As we took the above picture the door opened & a man came down the steps. We looked closely but it wasn’t him…

19. Ahead across the road’s the Church of St Peter which was built between 1824 & 1827 during the first development of Eaton Square. This building burnt down & was rebuilt in 1837. On 20 October 1987 an anti Catholic arsonist set fire to the east end, in the mistaken belief that the building was a Roman Catholic chapel. Within hours the church was engulfed. By the next day the fire was out, but only the Georgian shell of the building remained. It was roofless, with most of its furnishings destroyed

The church needed total rebuilding & work began at Easter 1990 & was completed in 1991. It retained the grand Georgian portico, but beyond that the interior is described by visitors as clean, bright & modern. On 19 October 1991 The Times newspaper wrote “St Peter’s must now rank as one of the most beautiful churches in London”

20. Facing the church turn round &…welcome to one of London’s most prestigious addresses…Eaton Square which is named after the Grosvenor’s country house, Eaton Hall in Cheshire. Most, but not all, of the freeholds still belong to the Grosvenor Group, & the present Duke of Westminster has his own London home in the square

In 2016 it was named as the “Most Expensive Place to Buy Property in Britain” with some houses exchanging hands for in excess of £50 million, although most are now divided into apartments.  Walk round the square in any direction you wish (we went clockwise) & look out for all the blue plaques

What’s interesting is that every so often you come across a smartly dressed person in a red waistcoat. We approached one & found that they were employed by the Estate to be at the call of all the residents. As a perk of the job they get a flat & therefore an address in Eaton Square!

As well as looking after the people they also look after their cars!

Obviously they wouldn’t tell us who lived there but current & past residents include..

No. 1: Lord Boothby – parliamentarian & political commentator
No. 2: Diana Mitford, The Hon. Lady Mosley
No. 7: Sean Connery – actor aka James Bond
No. 36: Ruth Roche, Baroness Fermoy – long-time confidante of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother & maternal grandmother of Diana, the Princess of Wales
No. 37: Neville Chamberlain – British Prime Minister
No. 42: Peter Thorneycroft – British Chancellor of the Exchequer
No. 44: Prince Metternich – Austrian statesman
No. 45: George Tryon – British Admiral who died in the sinking of HMS Victoria in 1893
No. 54: Vivien Leigh – Oscar-winning actress; Luise Rainer – Oscar-winning actress
No. 68: Barry GibbBee Gees
No. 72: Sir Robert Helpmann – actor, dancer & choreographer, mostly remembered for his role in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
No. 75: Rex Harrison – Oscar-winning actor
No. 80: George Peabody – American banker & philanthropist
No. 82: Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands in 1940
No. 86: Lord Halifax – British Foreign Secretary
No. 93: Stanley Baldwin – British Prime Minister
No. 100: Hugh Grosvenor, 7th Duke of Westminster – freeholder of most of the square & most of the surrounding district
No. 112: Admiral of the Fleet Sir Henry Codrington; Leo Amery – politician & minister in Churchill’s wartime cabinet; & his son Julian Amery, Baron Amery of Lustleigh, Conservative MP
No. 114: Harry Stuart Goodhart-Rendel – architect
No. 106: The Embassy of Bolivia
No. 115: Admiral of the Fleet Sir George Seymour
No. 57 Lower Belgrave St (corner of Eaton Sq.) Roman Abramovich – Russian billionaire & the main owner of Chelsea Football Club
Princess Katherine of Greece and Denmark
Sir James Monro – Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police
Sarah, Duchess of York, from 2014; Andrew Lloyd Webber & Roger Moore aka James Bond

21. Exit the square on the far right side down Lyall Street…

…& turn right through the arch in the picture ahead into Eaton Mews North. Look above the arch for the symbol of a wheatsheaf

The wheatsheaf emblem is one that can be seen throughout the Grosvenor Estate & remembers a rare defeat for the family around 1390 when they fought a battle with the Scrope family over the use of a coat of arms. Both families had a similar design on their shields & each argued that theirs was there first. Many witnesses were called to the subsequent hearing including Geoffrey Chaucer & John of Gaunt

King Richard II ruled in favour of the Scropes & the Grosvenors had to adopt a new coat of arms which was the wheatsheaf

22. Eaton Mews North is, as are all the other mews around here, a delight. These mews were where the wealthy residents used to house their servants & horses…

About halfway down the mews turn left through the arch to enter Eaton Place…

23. Remember the television series “Upstairs Downstairs”? The Bellamy family & their servants supposedly lived at No.165 Eaton Place. Walk to the left & across the road is No.65 which was used for the exterior shots

What the producers did was paint a No.1 in front of the 65 for the tv

24. Walk back the other way towards Belgrave Place. Stop outside N0.36 for a moment. This was where in 1922 Field Marshall Henry Wilson was assassinated by the IRA

Turn left along Belgrave Place & continue to reach the vast Belgrave Square

Belgrave Square is one of the grandest & largest 19th century squares in London. It’s the centrepiece of Belgravia & was laid out by the property contractor Thomas Cubitt for the 2nd Earl Grosvenor, later the 1st Marquess of Westminster, in the 1820s. The square takes its name from one of the Duke of Westminster’s subsidiary titles, Viscount Belgrave. The village of Belgrave, Cheshire is two miles from the Grosvenor family’s main country seat of Eaton Hall

An interesting fact is that during World War II it was used as a tank park, but today, many embassies are based in the square

25. Walk anti clockwise round the square. On the right’s the Norwegian Embassy…

Have a look at the wall which contains some magnificent Coade stone carved figures. We’ve come across Coade stone on other London walks. These were originally part of the Norwegian-Danish embassy in Wellclose Square in Stepney & date back to 1796

26. Countries flags are everywhere & obviously security here is extremely tight…

Cross over the road to see a statue of Christopher Columbus

The statue was a gift from Spain to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America

27. Continue anti-clockwise round the square…

The next statue we come to is of Simon Bolivar, who was credited as being the liberator of South America. If you fancy a bit of Beatles history then walk down Chapel Street to No.24 which was where their manager, Brian Epstein lived from 1964 until his death in this house in 1967. It was also where the group gave their press conference for the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album

28. Further round is another impressive statue, this one of Sir Robert Grosvenor…

Have a look at the stone his foot rests on. It say 197 miles to Chester, the family seat. Today the current Duke’s wealth is estimated at in excess of £7 billion making him the richest Briton

29. To the left of the statue down Wilton Crescent you can just see a blue plaque on the left. This commemorates that it was once the home of Lord & Lady Mountbatten

Admiral of the Fleet Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma was a British naval officer & statesman, an uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, & second cousin once removed of Elizabeth II. During the Second World War, he was Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command. He was the last Viceroy of India & the first Governor General of independent India

From 1954 until 1959 he was First Sea Lord, a position that had been held by his father, Prince Louis of Battenberg, some forty years earlier. Thereafter he served as Chief of the Defence Staff until 1965, making him the longest serving professional head of the British Armed Forces to date. During this period Mountbatten also served as Chairman of the NATO Military Committee for a year

In 1979, Mountbatten, his grandson Nicholas, & two others were killed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), which had placed a bomb in his fishing boat, Shadow V, in Mullaghmore, County Sligo, Ireland

30. Continue round the square & exit down West Halkin Street…

On the right’s the “spire of the Belfry” which was originally a Presbyterian church that dates back to 1830…

Today though it’s home to one of the world’s top chef’s restaurants…‘Mosimann’s’

Looking at the website we couldn’t work out if you can just eat here or not – maybe it’s just a private dining club? Anyway far too pretentious for us!

31. Opposite on the crossroads is a branch of England’s oldest privately owned family bank that has served the well to do people of London since the 1670s. C Hoare & Co’s only other branch is in Fleet Street

Turn right along Lowndes Street & then right again up Mootcomb Street…

This is another lovely street with some really exclusive shops. The rather grand pillared building on the left’s the Pantechnicon building which was built in 1830

The Grosvenors are transforming this into a major upmarket arcade

32. Turn left along the more sedate Kinnerton Street which leads to an area that seems miles from where we’ve been before on this walk with more of a village feel to it

There’s some cracking hidden pubs along here. Firstly the Nag’s Head..

…which just happens to sell our favourite Adnams Ales, but just so you’re aware mobiles are banned; the walls are cluttered with everything from cartoons to baseball reports, garden tools to vintage penny-slots. This is a real pub & is well worth visiting!!

Next up’s the more stylish Wilton Arms known simply as “the village pub” which dates back to 1826…

33. Exit out onto Wilton Place & look for the blue plaque at No.8 where Lillie Langtry once lived

Bear left long Wilton Crescent…

…& then right down Wilton Row which again is a fabulous little street

34. Just round the corner is probably the best watering hole of all…The Grenadier which is considered one of the most charming & poshest pubs in London

The Grenadier was originally built in 1720 as the officers’ mess for the senior infantry regiment of the British army, the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards & was located in a courtyard of their barracks. It was opened to the public in 1818 as The Guardsman & was subsequently renamed in honour of the Grenadier Guards’ actions in the Battle of Waterloo

Being secluded in a wealthy district of London, it was frequented by the Duke of Wellington & King George IV, & continues to attract an elite clientele such as Madonna & Prince William. It’s also said to be haunted by the ghost of a subaltern who was beaten to death for cheating at cards

35. Open the wooden gate on the right hand side of the pub & walk up the side into Old Barrack Yard

This was a barracks for the Foot Guards & dates back to 1758 & today seems a mile away from the hustle & bustle that’s going on in nearby Knightsbridge. One of our readers, Peter Heald has told us that Old Barrack Yard, London, is where some iconic scenes from ‘A Christmas Carol’ (the 1951 Alistair Sim version) were filmed. In particular, the end scene where Scrooge carries Tiny Tim under the arch

36. Pass through the arch & we’re immediately back in the busy city…

Turn right & walk towards Hyde Park Corner…

In its centre is the Wellington Arch (or Constitution Arch), designed by Decimus Burton & planned as a northern gate to the grounds of Buckingham Palace. It was laid out as a gate into the Green Park, & was originally sited directly opposite Burton’s Ionic Screen (also known as the Hyde Park Corner Screen), which still provides a gate into Hyde Park. Originally, the Arch was topped with an equestrian statue of the Duke by Matthew Cotes Wyatt

The Arch was moved south because of traffic congestion & realigned to the axis of Constitution Hill in 1883

At the corner is Hyde Park Corner Tube Station where our walk ends

So that’s our stroll around “hidden” Belgravia & what an insight it was. This is another of those London walks where you think you know everything, but don’t

What we enjoyed most though was the “village” feel of some of the hidden backstreets &, if you only do one thing, visit The Grenadier

Go Walk!