Belgravia lays claim to some of the grandest architecture, most elegant sweeping streets and finest landscaped garden squares in central London. Belgrave Square, Eaton Square, Chester Square, Wilton Crescent and Lowndes Square are where countless Saudi princes and Russian oligarchs rub shoulders with hedgefund billionaires, international bankers and embassy officials.
Belgravia is a place of unimaginable wealth and bears little relation to the rest of London’s property market. Roman Abramovich, the Russian billionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club, is converting two adjacent houses in Lowndes Square into one spacious mansion with deep basements that, when finished, will be worth a spectacular £150 million. It is the habit of homeowners here to buy the house next door to ensure they have the right neighbours.
According to Simon Umfreville of agents Chesterton Humberts, the Candy Brothers development One Hyde Park has set a new benchmark for price per square foot in Belgravia and Knightsbridge. "They say flats in their development are fetching up to £6,000 a square foot. This kind of price will only be equalled by the handful of houses in Belgrave Square which come with their own mews house." These prices are five to 10 times more expensive than a new-build mansion in a wealthy London commuter town.
Belgravia has all the ingredients to attract the world’s super-rich: its superb central location; its continuous architecture in wide and spacious squares; green spaces; well-maintained streets; proximity to top designer shops, and interesting local independent shops.
And just to add to the character, there are charming, secret lanes and narrow streets with ancient mews cottages, where homes can be bought on short leases for less than £1 million, and some with freehold for £1.5 million.
For this little haven they can thank the Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor Estate, Belgravia’s long-standing landlord. Our property history blogger Melanie Backe-Hansen has written an interesting history of Belgravia (see www.homesandproperty.co.uk/blogs). In it she traces Belgravia back to the Grosvenor family’s acquisition of the 430-acre Ebury Farm in the 17th century, after Sir Thomas Grosvenor married the heiress Mary Davies in 1676. But it was another 150 years before the development began of Belgravia as we know it today. In 1825 a deal was clinched between Lord Grosvenor and the builder Thomas Cubitt, and for a while Belgravia was dubbed "Cubittopolis".
Leasehold reform has meant that many freeholds on the Grosvenor Estate have been bought by individual buyers. However, the estate still exerts control of the external appearance of the terraces and squares through a special "scheme of management", and in Eaton Square the estate only grants leases of under 20 years, which cannot be enfranchised. Nigel Hughes of Grosvenor Estate says the advantage of having a landlord like Grosvenor, and a strong team alert to its householders’ requirements, is that it can take the long view. "Belgravia is a very special place, but it is changing. There was a time when owners didn’t go out to shop, they sent their servants instead. Now they go themselves and they want attractive local shops on their doorstep, which is why we are investing in our local shopping in Motcomb Street, Elizabeth Street - where, in conjunction with Westminster city council, we have invested around £2 million - and Pimlico Road."
Properties: Belgravia is famous for its grand, cream-painted stucco terraces with their porticos and first-floor balconies, many of which have now been converted into grand flats, often across several buildings.
The area attracts: The world’s super-rich. Most buyers are international.
Staying power: Many homes are trophy homes belonging to jetsetters with property all over the world.
Postcodes: Belgravia is in SW1, a postcode that also includes Pimlico, Victoria and Westminster.
Best roads: The squares: Eaton, Belgrave, Chester, Lowndes, and Wilton Crescent.
What’s new: There is little scope for new development; the Grosvenor Estate is converting a number of properties in Grosvenor Crescent into 15 flats, which will be sold later this year on long leases. Berkeley Homes has planning permission to demolish Johnson House on the corner of Cundy Street and Ebury Street, replacing it with 71 new flats in two blocks. The developer will pay for £300,000 of improvements to Ebury Square, Belgravia’s least-known garden square. Qatari Diar submitted an outline planning application for the giant 13-acre Chelsea Barracks site in December.
Up and coming: Belgravia has long ago up and come - although house prices are cheaper around Ebury Street, where there are still a number of one- and two-star hotels, boarding houses and Peabody flats. Here the houses are smaller and the atmosphere is less monumental, more villagey; Kinnerton Street, off Motcomb Street, is full of village atmosphere, lanes and cobbled mews where cottages can be found for £1.5 million, and less if on short leases.
Schools: St Peter’s Eaton Square is a small Church of England primary school with a big following, and an "outstanding" rating from Ofsted. Holy Trinity CofE in Sedding Street is judged "good"; St Barnabas CofE in St Barnabas Street is also "good".
Central London has many top pre-prep and prep schools. The nearest are Hill House (co-ed) from ages four to 13 in Hans Place, Knightsbridge, and Eaton House in Eaton Terrace, a boys’ pre-prep school for ages four to eight. The best-performing state secondary school is Grey Coat Hospital, a girls’ comprehensive rated outstanding by Ofsted. The top private school is Westminster, which takes boys at 13 and girls from 16.
Shops and restaurants: The Grosvenor Estate has worked hard to improve Belgravia’s shopping, with an impressive cathedral-like Waitrose, useful local stores and charming independent retailers in Motcomb Street, Elizabeth Street and Pimlico Road.
Look out for Patricia Roberts for handknits and Egg for beautiful flowing robes, both in Kinnerton Street, along with the Judith Blacklock Flower School; Rococo for chocolates, Annick Goutal for perfumes and Christian Louboutin for his famous red-sole stiletto shoes, all in Motcomb Street. Philip Treacy for hats, Les Senteurs for perfumes, Tomtom for cigars, Mungo & Maud for the pampered pooch, Jereboams for wine, Poilâne for sourdough bread and Donna Ida for designer jeans are in Elizabeth Street.
In Pimlico Road there is a mix of top decorators, such as Nicholas Haslam, Joanna Wood and Jane Churchill, and antique shops with a smattering of top clothes designers such as Tomasz Starzewski. Lord Linley’s furniture shop is there, too.
There are lots of cafés: Ottolenghi in Motcomb Street, Baker & Spice in Elizabeth Street and Daylesford Organic in Pimlico Road. There is a farmers’ market every Saturday morning in Orange Square. Top restaurants are: Marcus Wareing and Koffmann’s at The Berkeley in Knightsbridge, Zafferano Italian restaurant and Mosimann’s private dining club in West Halkin Street.
* MORE ON THE BOROUGH OF KENSINGTON & CHELSEA:
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Open space: Hyde Park is on the doorstep, and residents of the garden squares get a key to private communal gardens.
Leisure and the arts: The nearest council swimming pool is the Queen Mother Leisure Centre in Vauxhall Bridge Road. The Royal Court Theatre is in Sloane Square, and there are cinemas in the King’s Road and Fulham Road.
Travel: Belgravia is in Zone 1 and has four Tube stations: Hyde Park Corner and Knightsbridge on the Piccadilly line; Victoria on the District, Circle and Victoria lines, and Sloane Square on the District and Circle lines. An annual travelcard for Zones 1 and 2 is £1,104.
Council: Westminster (Conservative), Band D council tax is £687.62.
Pictures by Barry Phillips