The district known today as Belgravia is situated in the London Borough of Westminster and lies south of Hyde Park and due west of Buckingham Palace. The 400 acres of land that makes up the area was inherited by the wealthy Grosvenor family and eventually named Belgravia after Belgrave, a village on their family estate in Leicestershire. Once known as Five Fields, this rural area posited between London and the village of Knightsbridge was just swampy, waterlogged marshland and considered a difficult and dangerous area for respectable people to visit. The area today bears little resemblance to this bygone era as Belgravia is now home to some of the most expensive properties in the world, with its location now coveted and prized internationally by the super-wealthy.
It was in the early 19th century when the Grosvenor family began developing the area enlisting the aid of architect Thomas Cubitt whose first mission was to drain the land of excess water to enable solid foundations to be laid before any building could begin. The time was ripe for expansion and it has been said that Cubitt did more to change the face of London than any other man. Grosvenor estate surveyor Thomas Cundy II designed the lay-out of the streets while the terraces were the brain-child of George Basevi, a cousin of Disraeli, who also went on to design the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Very much influenced by the Italian style, houses were covered in stucco and then painted. The plaster was then distressed or rusticated to make it look like painted blocks of stone. Belgravia today is still very much characterised by its grand majestic terraces of white stucco houses, especially so around Belgrave Square, the largest residential square in London.
Some of the larger houses in the area were turned into embassies or charity headquarters following World War II, however, in recent years many of them have been re-converted to residential use. As well as the grand townhouses made famous in the 1970′s by the television drama Upstairs Downstairs, there is also a delightful mix of purpose-built apartment blocks and converted houses which are camouflaged with facades giving the impression the property is still a single residence. Today, behind the white stucco fronts and redbrick exteriors of Belgravia, developers as well as owner occupiers are making use of the latest technology and digging down and building outwards and upwards in order to create more space. There are a large number of plots being dug out to create sub-basements, with clients prepared to pay to create a home that pushes all the boundaries of luxury and technology.
Despite being in the heart of London, Belgravia is a relatively quiet area, and with its slower paced quality of life it forms a stark contrast to the busier neighbouring areas with their hotels, office blocks and entertainment venues. With properties in the area amongst the most expensive in the world, often costing up to and over £15 million, it isn’t surprising that the residents of Belgravia should include such an impressive mix of the rich and famous, not to mention business magnates, entrepreneurs, oil tycoons and even the odd Russian oligarch.