A Brief History: From Robbers To Royalty in Belgrave Square
As you drive through West London, you might mistake Belgrave Square for a roundabout. The cars and black cabs on this wide road use it as a turning point to get to Mayfair, Knightsbridge or Belgravia, but on closer inspection it is in fact a green oasis with a rich history.
The masterminds behind it, of course, are the Grosvenors. Back in 1825, the 2nd Earl of Grosvenor wanted to take on a prestigious development across what was then swampy turf. King George V had recently brought in architect John Nash to remodel the nearby Buckingham House with the aim of making it the main royal residence, so it seemed a good idea to follow suit.
This part of the Grosvenor’s estate was originally known as Five Fields and was often avoided by gentry for fear of robbers or footpads as they were known then. Highwaymen would lie in wait among this remote part of land, waiting for wealthy people in their carriages and any stealable treasures.
As the Grosvenors set about gentrifying the area, they began selling building leases to developers – Thomas Cubitt being one of them. He was the first large-scale commercial developer and employed his own workforce of brickmakers, masons, plasterers, painters and architects. Together they designed and built houses and gardens across most of the estate that is now Belgravia.
Belgrave Square was the 10-acre centrepiece designed by architect George Basevi, cousin of Benjamin Disraeli who would later become Prime Minister. The square was named after the village of Belgrave in Leicestershire, part of the Grosvenor family estates.
Before any work could begin, the boggy farmland had to be drained using recently extracted spoil from St Katherine’s Dock, near the Tower of London, to raise the land. And then the building began on four grand white stuccoed terraces, all overlooking the private central garden of Belgrave Square.
Now, there is a mix of rare residential properties alongside embassies, from Trinidad and Tobago to Belgium. A lucky few have keyholder status to the private gardens, which is also home to a tennis court and playpark – with no highwaymen to be seen.