Until the 18th century, Belgravia was just open scrubland by the Westbourne river (now built over). It was known as Five Fields, because it would cut into five areas by footpaths.
It was frequented by highwaymen – a bridge over Westbourne was known as Bloody Bridge because of the number of attacks there. Nearby was the Duke of Buckingham’s house. This was later acquired by George III and became Buckingham Palace, although Queen Victoria was the first monarch to move into it.
The close presence of the palace lead to the development of the surrounding area. The land was owned by the Grosvenor family and they named it Belgravia after the village of Belgrave near Leicester on their ancestral estate. In the 1820s Lord Grosvenor entered into an agreement with Thomas Cubitt, the famous Victorian developer, under which Cubitt more or less single-handedly created the stucco faced streets which exist today.
Belgravia is the home of huge stucco fronted houses. The area operates as its own separate enclave to a very considerable degree, and most of it is still owned – or at least the ground rents are owned – by the Grosvenor Estate. The Grosvenor Estate rigorously applies uniform standards – cream coloured stucco buildings must be repainted in the official colour. They also tend to ensure that shops and restaurants are clustered together, mainly in Elizabeth Street and Motcombe Street. Belgrave Square is the centrepiece of Thomas Cubitt’s Belgravia. The buildings there are so huge that they are now almost exclusively used as embassies and there are few family houses. Wilton Crescent runs from the northern corner, and many more of the properties there are residential, but mainly flats. Kinnerton Street contains houses on a rather smaller scale, and there are a number of mews and yards off it with flats and cottages.
From a residential point of view, Eaton Square is the centre of Belgravia. It is more like a series of terraces than a square because Kings Road runs down the middle. But the terraces are built so far back from the road that it doesn’t detract from the beautiful cream buildings. Nearly every property is converted into flats. Chester Square has some of the most attractive houses in the whole area, although they were originally assumed to be less prestigious than Eaton Square. South of Chester Square is definitely a step down as you head towards Buckingham Palace Road and Victoria Station. Apart from the main squares, there are other terraces of very similar quality houses, such as Eaton Terrace and South Eaton Place. Eaton Place between Belgrave Square and Eaton Square is a location for more grand houses.
When Belgravia was constructed, there were no railways and trams, and every household depended on its own horses and carriages. So mews were built behind the huge squares where horses and carriages were housed. One of the attractions of Belgravia today is the considerable number of mews street with little cottages, often with cobbled streets. There are many mews streets between Belgravia square and Eaton Square. Belgavia stops short of Sloane Street. Lowndes Square at the top is regarded as part of Knightsbridge, and the Cadogan Estate is part of Chelsea.