Belgrave Square is one of the grandest and largest 19th-century squares in London. It is the centrepiece of Belgravia, and was laid out by the property contractor Thomas Cubitt 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 of Belgrave, Cheshire is two miles (3 km) from the Grosvenor family's main country seat of Eaton Hall. Today, many embassies are based in the square.
The original scheme consisted of four terraces, each made up of eleven grand white stuccoed houses, apart from the south-east terrace, which has twelve; detached mansions in three of the corners; and a private central garden. The numbering is anticlockwise from the north: NW terrace Nos. 1 to 11; west corner mansion No. 12; SW terrace Nos. 13 to 23; south corner mansion No. 24; SE terrace Nos. 25 to 36; east corner mansion No. 37; NE terrace Nos. 38 to 48. There is also a slightly later detached house at the northern corner, No. 49, which was built by Cubitt for Sidney Herbert in 1851. The terraces were designed by George Basevi and are possibly the grandest houses ever built in London on a speculative basis. The largest of the corner mansions, Seaford House in the east corner, was designed by Philip Hardwick, and the one in the west corner 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 was occupied by leading members of the British aristocracy, along with, in later decades, an increasing number of people wealthy from other sources. Its immediate success was encapsulated by the decision of another of London's leading freeholder landlords, the Duke of Bedford, to choose No. 6 as his London home in preference to a house on his own London estate in Bloomsbury, which had lost its aristocratic cachet.
The square has been a favoured location for embassies since the nineteenth century, and houses several to this day, including the German Embassy, which occupies three houses on the west side. During the Second World War, the square was used as a tank park; after the war, most of the houses were converted into offices for charities and institutes. This is now being reversed, with leases of three houses being offered for sale and conversion to residential use by the Grosvenor Estate in 2004. The present Duke of Westminster remains the freeholder of the square.
Many of the buildings on the square are listed; the Spanish Embassy at 24 Belgrave Square, 1–11, 12, 13–23, 25–36 and 38–48 are all listed Grade I. 49 Belgrave Square, and Seaford House at 37 Belgrave Square, are listed Grade II*, and 11a is listed Grade II. In addition to the buildings, the railings and gate piers of 12, 24, and 49 are listed 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.
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 previously 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 during the Second World War, while part of the property was used as a Red Cross supply depot. No. 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, number 18 was inhabited by Sir Francis Egerton (born Leveson-Gower), the 1st Earl of Ellesmere, and his family. Owing to the rebuilding of Cleveland House (St. James's), which would be renamed Bridgewater House, the Earl of Ellesmere was also forced to house his famed "Bridgewater Collection of Pictures" at No. 18, using bedrooms, dining rooms, hallways etc. (For a description see Art-Union vol ix (1847), p. 8-12, 49-52.) During this period, the collection was closed to the public. It was reopened when the collection had been moved back to Bridgewater House in 1851.
24 Belgrave Square is in the south corner of the Square. 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. It is now the Embassy of Spain.
31 Belgrave Square was the home of The Royal Automobile Club Motor Sports Association.
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, Sefton House was remodelled for Lord Howard de Walden (Baron Seaford). It is now the home of the Royal College of Defence Studies.
49 Belgrave Square, 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 the residence of the Argentine Ambassador.
The 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. It is not open to the public.
The Square is now a centre for embassies and institutions.
- Romanian Cultural Institute section of the Embassy of Romania, 1 Belgrave Square
- Oleg Deripaska, 5 Belgrave Square
- The Embassy of Syria, 8 Belgrave Square
- The Official Residence of the Ambassador of Kuwait, 11A Belgrave Square
- The Embassy of Portugal, 11–12 Belgrave Square
- The High Commission of Ghana, 13 Belgrave Square
- The Society of Chemical Industry, 14–15 Belgrave Square
- Canning House, The Hispanic & Luso-Brazilian Council, 14-15 Belgrave Square
- The Country Land and Business Association, 16 Belgrave Square
- The Official Residence of the Austrian Ambassador, 18 Belgrave Square
- The Bruneian High Commission, 19–20 Belgrave Square
- The Embassy of Germany, (21)–23 Belgrave Square
- The Embassy of Spain, 24 Belgrave Square
- The Royal Norwegian Embassy, 25 Belgrave Square
- The Embassy of Serbia, 28 Belgrave Square
- The Saudi Cultural Bureau, 29 Belgrave Square
- The Embassy of Bahrain, 30 Belgrave Square
- Henadiy Boholyubov of Privat Group, 31 Belgrave Square
- The Official Residence of the Belgian Ambassador, 36 Belgrave Square
- The Royal College of Defence Studies, Seaford House, 37 Belgrave Square
- The Caledonian Club, corner of Belgrave Square and Halkin Street
- Italian Cultural Institute, 39 Belgrave Square
- The Trinidad and Tobago High Commission, 42 Belgrave Square
- The Turkish Embassy, 43 Belgrave Square
- The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, 44 Belgrave Square
- The Malaysian High Commission, 45 Belgrave Square
- The Official Residence of the Mexican Ambassador, 48 Belgrave Square
- Argentine Ambassador's Residence, 49 Belgrave Square
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