Glimpse the past through old images of Belgravia, in Central London, a wealthy area covering parts of the areas of both the City of Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
In Tudor times, Belgravia used to be called the Five Fields, and was grazing land for animals. Market gardens were established there too.
Gentlemen from London also used it to hold duelling feuds when the need arose.
It was a dangerous place, especially after dark, with highwaymen and robbers preying on people crossing the Westbourne at a bridge known as Bloody Bridge.
Where did Belgravia get its current name?
When Five Fields was being developed in 1820 by Richard Grosvenor, 2nd Marquess of Westminster, the area was renamed as Belgravia. The Grosvenor family’s country seat of Eaton Hall in Cheshire has a nearby village called Belgrave, and Viscount Belgrave is a subsidiary title of the Duke of Westminster.
Belgravia’s 19th Century Development
Five Fields was transformed into Belgravia under the direction of Thomas Cubitt, working for Richard Grosvenor. It took 30 years to complete the smart new estate.
Numerous grand white stucco terraces were to provide homes for the wealthy in an area to rival Mayfair, but much of the area’s land remained in the hands of the Grosvenor family, as the Gorsvenor Estate.
Belgrave Square and Eaton Square, with names reflecting the Grosvenor family’s Cheshire country seat, were to be the focus of the new area.
Police Station in 1957
The Police Station on Belgravia’s Gerald Road was in operation from 1846 to 1993, at which point it was converted into a large private residence.
In 1957, the Police Station was covered in flowering plants, thanks to an initiative by Sergeant Slee and P.C. Hart, and a newsreel recorded the curiosity. The Gerald Road Police Station had won the Westminster Gardeners Guild Cup for two years running by this point, and other trophies.
Officer P.C. Taylor was filmed tending the plants, and also speaking to an unnamed W.P.C. Another officer walks into the station, and one arrives in a long coat on a motorbike.
As wonderful as it all looks, the ‘MURDER’ poster does stand out in the background!
Floral Police Station (1957) – British Pathé on YouTube
Eaton Square 1997
Eaton Square in Belgravia was built in 1824, just after the Napoleonic Wars when the housing market was booming.
During World War II, the local Air Raid Wardens set up a communal poultry club in Eaton Square’s garden. Everyone pooled their some of their rationed food and leftovers to feed the chickens, then shared the eggs and chicken meat.
1997 saw Eaton Square named London’s most desirable place to live, and even back then the properties were selling for multiple millions of pounds.
Most of the houses had been converted to flats, so in 1997 only seven of the properties remained as a single house.
Sir Andrew LLoyd Webber’s £17 million home had been on the property market for about a year when this news item was filmed.
Morris the milkman told the cameras he’d rather live out in Richmond than be “stuck in the middle of town”.
1997 News Report on Eaton Square, The Best Address in London, 1990s Property – Kinolibrary on YouTube
Who Owns Belgravia Today?
The Grosvenor Estate still owns much of the land in Belgravia, although the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 means the estate has had to sell many freeholds to its former tenants.
The Grosvenor Estate is owned by the Grosvenor Group, which is the family property company of the Duke of Westminster.
Belgravia remained an attractive residential district for the wealthy until after World War II.
But in the middle of the 20th century, the demand for large London houses was falling. Many of the properties were converted to instititional use. Embassies, charity headquarters, professional institutions and other businesses continue to have a strong presence in Belgravia.
The early 21st century saw an influx of the super-rich to London, and a renewed interest in the large houses of Belgravia as private homes. Unfortunately, many of these homes are underutilised, as their owners have homes all over the world.