Belgrave Square is a large, grandiose architecture 19th-century garden square in London. It is the centrepiece of Belgravia and its architecture resembles the original scheme of property contractor Thomas Cubitt who engaged George Basevi for all of the terraces for the 2nd Earl Grosvenor, later the 1st Marquess of Westminster, in the 1820s. Most of the houses were occupied by 1840. The square takes its name from one of the Duke of Westminster's subsidiary titles, Viscount Belgrave. The village and former manor house of Belgrave, Cheshire were among the rural landholdings associated with the main home and gardens of the senior branch of the family, Eaton Hall. Today, many embassies occupy buildings on all four sides.
The square is perfectly 650 feet (200 m) across, inclusive of small porch projections. It essentially four terraces, each of eleven grand white stuccoed houses save for cream-coloured projecting corner houses, apart from the south-east terrace, divided into twelve; detached mansions are in three corners; and a private central garden.
Numbering is anticlockwise from the north: NW terrace, №s1 to 11; west corner mansion, №12; SW terrace, №s13 to 23; south corner mansion, №24; SE terrace. №s25 to 36; east corner mansion, №37; NE terrace №s38 to 48. Slightly later north corner mansion №49 was drawn up by Cubitt (not to be confused with his son George, another architect, ennobled as Lord Ashcombe) for Sidney Herbert in 1851.
The terraces were designed by George Basevi — their level of praise such as listed building category is more common among noble families own 'town house' London houses rather than the speculative building leases which saw their creation.
The largest corner mansion, №37 (Seaford House), was designed by Philip Hardwick. №12 was designed by Robert Smirke. The square features statues of Christopher Columbus, Simón Bolívar, José de San Martín, Prince Henry the Navigator and the 1st Marquess of Westminster, a bust of George Basevi, and a sculpture entitled Homage to Leonardo by Italian sculptor Enzo Plazzotta.
From its construction until the Second World War the square saw building rentals and longer leases by the upper echelons of capitalists seeking further influence, status or socialising in the capital. Such success was immediate. This was encapsulated by the decision of another of London's leading freeholders and estate planners, the Duke of Bedford, to choose №6 as London accommodation rather than any house on his own Bloomsbury, which had lost its aristocratic cachet.
The square has hosted embassies since its first century, which has increased, including the German Embassy, which occupies three houses on the west sides. During World War II, the square was used as a tank park; afterwards most of the houses were converted into offices for charities and institutes. The 21st century has seen more domestic leases, such as three by the Grosvenor Estate in 2004. The present Duke of Westminster co-administers and enjoys a stake in billion-pound family trusts as the lease-encumbered freeholder i.e. reversioner, entitled to the ground rents and lease renewal premiums, of the family estate, which is largely intact, stretching from the Thames to Marble Arch and the remainder of Oxford Street but which omits Victoria Station, St James's and Buckingham Palace.
The buildings on the square are listed. In this highest category are:
- the Spanish Embassy at №24,
- №s38–48 are listed Grade I.
- №11a is listed Grade II.
1 Belgrave Square was the official residence of the Ambassadors of Romania from 1936 to 2005. The building has continued to host events for the Embassy since 2006, and is also headquarters of the Romanian Cultural Institute in London.
2 Belgrave Square was first leased (c. 1829) to a wealthy brewer, James Goding. Later residents included James Hamilton, 2nd Duke of Abercorn, Edward Balfour and Nathaniel Clayton. In the 20th century, the house was purchased by the British soldier and politician Ernest George Pretyman and his wife, Lady Beatrice, daughter of George Bridgeman, 4th Earl of Bradford. In 1935, after Pretyman’s death, it was sold to Grace, Lady Dance. On 12 May 1953, it was reopened by the Duke of Gloucester as the base of the Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Council, which remained until it moved to 14-15 Belgrave Square in 2013.
5 Belgrave Square was the home of Sir George Murray, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, until he died there in 1846; Chips Channon from 1935 to 1958; and later housed the Institute of Directors, followed by the British Plastics Federation.
11 Belgrave Square serves as the Embassy of Portugal.
16 Belgrave Square was the home for many years of geographer and geologist Sir Roderick Impey Murchison and his wife, geologist Charlotte Murchison; it was later home to Charles Henry Crompton-Roberts.
17 Belgrave Square was the base of the Royal College of Psychiatrists until the College relocated in October 2013, and was home to two MPs, Sir Ralph Howard and Pandeli Ralli. Leontine, Lady Sassoon was in residence from 1929 to 1952. She is said to have held parties for soldiers in World War II, while part of the property was used as a Red Cross supply depot. №17 was taken over by the Institute of Metals in 1956; the College arrived in 1974.
18 Belgrave Square has been the home of the Austrian Embassy since 1866. It is the only building of those used by the Austro-Hungarian Empire's Foreign Service that is still used today by diplomats of the Republic of Austria.
Between 1846 and 1851 it was inhabited by Sir Francis Egerton (born Leveson-Gower), the 1st Earl of Ellesmere, and his family. Owing to the rebuilding of Cleveland House in St. James's, which would be renamed Bridgewater House, the Earl was also forced to house his famed "Bridgewater Collection of Pictures" at here, using bedrooms, dining rooms, hallways etc. The collection reopened to the public once moved back to Bridgewater House in 1851.
24 Belgrave Square is now the Embassy of Spain. In the early part of the 20th century, it was known as Downshire House and was the London home of Lord and Lady Pirrie. Lord Pirrie was the chairman of Harland and Wolff, a leading shipbuilding firm located in Belfast, Ireland. One evening in July 1907, the Pirries hosted J. Bruce Ismay and his wife Florence for dinner. Ismay was the managing director of the White Star Line, one of the top shipping companies of the North Atlantic. Harland and Wolff constructed all White Star vessels. White Star's main rival was the Cunard Line. The Cunard Line's newest ships, the Mauretania and Lusitania, the largest ships in the world, had just entered service. Pirrie and Ismay discussed the new ships during the dinner, and how to counter the competition of these new ships. Their discussions led to them planning that night the construction of three ships, larger than any in the world. The names of these ships would be RMS Olympic, RMS Titanic and RMS Britannic.
25 Belgrave Square has been the Embassy of Norway since 1949.
31 Belgrave Square was the home of The Royal Automobile Club Motor Sports Association and the Speedway Control Board.
32 Belgrave Square was an overseas home of Heidi Horten.
34 Belgrave Square was the embassy of the German Democratic Republic until German reunification in 1990.
37 Belgrave Square, now known as Seaford House, was built in 1842 by Philip Hardwick for the Earl of Sefton. In 1902, the house was remodelled for Lord Howard de Walden (who was also Baron Seaford). It is now the home of the Royal College of Defence Studies.
49 Belgrave Square, also known Herbert House, was the home of Sidney Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Lea, and then Charles Gordon-Lennox, 6th Duke of Richmond. It is currently home of the Argentine Ambassador.
The private communal garden is 2 hectares (4.9 acres) in size and contains mature plane, chestnut and lime trees, and various shrubs. Its gravel walks were laid in 1854, with privet hedges planted around its perimeter. Wooden pergolas and shelters stand within, and it features a tennis court. The garden is listed Grade II on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.
The Square is primarily a centre for embassies and institutions.
- Romanian Cultural Institute section of the Embassy of Romania, at №1
- Oleg Deripaska, at №5
- The Embassy of Syria, at №8
- The Official Residence of the Ambassador of Kuwait, at №11A
- The Embassy of Portugal, at №s11-12
- The High Commission of Ghana, at №13
- The Society of Chemical Industry, at №s14–15
- Canning House, The Hispanic & Luso-Brazilian Council, at №s14-15
- The Country Land and Business Association, at №16
- The Official Residence of the Austrian Ambassador, at №18
- The Bruneian High Commission, at №s19–20
- The Embassy of Germany, at №s(21)–23
- The Embassy of Spain, at №24
- The Royal Norwegian Embassy, at №25
- The Embassy of Serbia, at №28
- The Saudi Cultural Bureau, at №29
- The Embassy of Bahrain, at №30
- Henadiy Boholyubov of Privat Group, at №31
- The British-German Association, at №34
- The Official Residence of the Belgian Ambassador, at №36
- The Royal College of Defence Studies, Seaford House, at №37
- The Caledonian Club, corner of Belgrave Square and Halkin Street
- Italian Cultural Institute at №39
- The Trinidad and Tobago High Commission at №42
- The Turkish Embassy at №43
- The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising at №44
- The Malaysian High Commission at №45
- The Official Residence of the Mexican Ambassador at №48
- Argentine Ambassador's Residence, at №49
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