London Off The Tourist Map: No.3 – Belgravia


Who now lives in Belgravia, long the home of dodgy Russians and old-school Tories? Near Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace Gardens, the upscale streets of Belgravia are defined by elegant townhouse residences, foreign embassies and fancy hotels. But it was once well dodgy. Known as Five Fields, it was a place to cross at your peril, as highwaymen and footpads operated there (much as now, I suppose).

The ward houses a Thames tributary, the Westbourne, which was crossed by Bloody Bridge, so called because it was frequented by robbers and was unsafe to cross at night. In 1728, a man’s body was discovered by the bridge with half his face and five fingers removed. In 1749, a muffin man was robbed and left blind. Five Fields’ distance from London also made it a popular spot for duels. Cool.

Belgravia was mostly owned by the Duke of Westminster, from whom it takes its name (Belgrave). He was forced to sell off many of its freeholds in 1967. It has some fantastic squares and gardens, including Belgrave Square, Eaton Square, Chester Square and Lowndes Square. The area features heavily in the novels of Anthony Trollope, and has a bohemian (in this instance meaning ‘rich’) atmosphere which means it doubled for a number of period pieces including ‘Brideshead Revisited’, ‘Downton Abbey’ and ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’.

It’s one of the most expensive places to live in the world - Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich was busy knocking through several of the houses there to build a shonky great mega-mansion, but his plans will be scuppered if/when property assets are seized to get back at Putin. Our dithering PM is apparently horrified  by the exploitation of London as a haven for seriously dirty Russian money. Transparency International estimates that Russians account for £729m of the £4.4bn acquired in UK property via what it regards as ‘suspicious wealth’.

Belgravia feels like a film set. It’s pompous and boring, rather like the UK establishment, but being able to afford to live there is a sign that you are now part of that establishment. The National Crime Agency is investigating a list of wealthy Belgravia residents to assess if they’ve used the UK to launder their doughnuts. The problem is that anyone can lie about his source of wealth and produce a document that shows a fortune based on, say, playing the stock market.

Is there any reason to visit this peculiar, soulless part of super-rich London? No, not really, unless you’re an architectural student or like seeing really clean streets. Nothing to see here, do as the security guard says and move along. Pretty, though.


8 comments on “London Off The Tourist Map: No.3 – Belgravia”

  1. mary evans says:

    This isn’t a comment about Belgravia but about Hall of Mirrors. Excellent as ever. But I glad that someone else has heard of Fruity Metcalfe, one of the few Brits who were at the Duke of Windsor’s wedding. I wondered if he would also figure in a country house wedding, but no. The death of Donald Burke , waving or drowning ? as in Grandcourt?
    Will you go back in time again, Chips Cannon ?
    Thank you for the wonderful books.

  2. Brooke says:

    Congratulations on nomination for “Wild Chamber.” New photo on @Peculiar much better.
    Close friends, UK natives, are returning to London after 20 years in US (taxes! and lack of decent healthcare support). I was wondering what to give them and decided to copy your picture posts of London. Wish you would compile travel book so I wouldn’t have to do these damn workarounds.

  3. Debra Matheney says:

    What nomination? What did I miss?

    Finished Hall of Mirrors. Could not wait for US edition. Really enjoyed it. Knew most of the tunes and found myself singing them in my head at the start of nearly every chapter.

    Belgravia is a real snooze. I was disappointed by the area precisely because it figures in so much literature and shows.

  4. admin says:

    Sorry, Brooke, I’ll get around to a travel book one day but first – actually I have book news but I’ll blog it later. And yes, I’m nom’d for ‘Wild Chamber’ Cromefest. I’ve won it twice before…maybe third time? (blasé)

  5. Peter Dixon says:

    Was the murdered muffin man on his way back from Drury Lane?

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Peter’s question is not trivial since that could explain the rhyme.

  7. Jan says:

    There’s a bit more to Belgravia than you are giving it credit for Sir Chris.

    Just south of the coach station there’s Cundy street which retained the roots of its name from the Ancient profession prevalent in the area at one time. Don’t be persuaded it was named after some obscure Dukedom!

    It was in a ground floor flat in Cundy street that Camilla was living when she first got together with Prince Charles. That would make for an interesting blue plaque. “Chazza got his idea that becoming a Tampax was his future ambition HERE. Ground floor second bedroom”

    Actually Cubitt the guy who built much of Belgravia was an ancestor of Camillas . Am coming up to town @ start of May will travel through Victoria Coach station will try and send u a couple of pics from the Belgravia area if I remember.

    Interesting that Victoria station ice actually built on old canal basin site. Wasn’t Ebury bridge after which the road was named the bridge over the canal? Not 100% on that. As in much of S London rail was built on top of filled in canal. Massive refuse base on Thames not too far from the station again taking advantage of space cleared for older canal(s)… or there was a decade ago. Probably luxury flats now.

  8. Jan says:

    Think the canal took its water from the Westbourne.

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