Country houses for sale

Knightsbridge life: From a hotbed of taverns and thieves to one of the poshest parts of London

Today, Knightsbridge is home and host to the glamorous, but it wasn't always quite that way, finds Carla Passino.

An immaculately coiffed guest sashays out of the massive doors of the Mandarin Oriental, past the top-hatted, red-coated doorman, revealing a glimpse of the marbled hall inside. Reopened about a year ago after being ravaged by a fire in June 2018, this turreted Edwardian icon is the pinnacle of centuries of Knightsbridge’s hospitality – but its gilded grandeur is a far cry from the timbered inns that peppered the area in the past. After all, this was one of London’s most infamous suburbs, where robberies and assassination attempts were the order of nearly every day.

A beautiful view of Hyde Park in London at springtime.

A beautiful view of Hyde Park in London at springtime.

For centuries, Knightsbridge’s only remarkable landmark was the stone bridge that gave it its name. Nonetheless, the bridge and the road that passed by it, linking London to Kensington and Brentford, brought in roaring, if rather shady, trade for inns of ill repute. No tavern was more notorious than the Swan Inn, which, in its early incarnation, stood in that part of Knightsbridge that is now taken up by the swanky glass-and-copper pavilions designed by Richard Rogers for One Hyde Park.

Where aerodynamic cars now defy gravity by hanging off a wall at the McLaren dealership’s window, thieves, traitors and murderers once gathered to plan their next misdeed. Among other occasions, it was here that two Jacobite conspirators met in the late 17th century to plot one of the many failed attempts to assassinate William III: they had planned to ambush him on his way back from Kensington, but were discovered and duly executed.

Wellington Court, for sale through Sotheby’s International Realty for £8.95 million. Situated in an elegant block with 24-hour porterage, this 2,179sq ft, four-bedroom apartment has many fine features, including grand fireplaces, ornate ceilings, a stained glass window – and direct views of Hyde Park from the magnificent reception and dining area.

Wellington Court, for sale through Sotheby’s International Realty for £8.95 million. Situated in an elegant block with 24-hour porterage, this 2,179sq ft, four-bedroom apartment has many fine features, including grand fireplaces, ornate ceilings, a stained glass window – and direct views of Hyde Park from the magnificent reception and dining area.

Travellers who ventured through Knightsbridge didn’t only have to contend with the local low life, either – the road itself, unpaved and dimly lit, was equally as treacherous. It’s hard to imagine anything more different from the glossy lengths of Knightsbridge and Brompton Road.

The gentrification that turned Knightsbridge into a place that, in the words of Tim Hassell, managing director of Draker lettings agents, ‘screams luxury from every rooftop’, began at the turn of the 19th century. The magnificent Kingston House, where the bigamous Duchess of Kingston-upon-Hull lived for a time before being put on trial (and fleeing to Continental Europe with a good chunk of the late Duke’s wealth), was built in what is now Princes Gate in 1775.

Members of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment parade on their horses during the Major General's inspection at Hyde Park in central London, on March 28, 2012 which they must pass to take part in state ceremonial activites in 2012. Soldiers from the iconic Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment will escort the Queen during her diamond jubilee procession on June 5 as well as other ceremonial duties during the London 2012 Olympic Games. AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images)

Members of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment parade on their horses during the Major General’s inspection at Hyde Park in central London.

At about the same time, Hyde Park’s Rotten Row, which William III had created to convey himself safely to St James’s Palace, became the place where the cream of Society paraded by horse, phaeton and curricle during the Season. The arrival of the Horse Guards in 1795 must have also helped uphold law and order, although the guardsmen were later considered the prime reason Knightsbridge was rife with drinking establishments, rowdy music halls and women of dubious morals.

R7T305 London, UK - September 13, 2018: Neighborhood district of Knightsbridge brick architecture, road, cars in street traffic on sunny day

However, the real game-changer for the area was the development frenzy of the Regency and Victorian era. The first houses in peaceful Montpelier Square, sheltered from the bustle of Brompton Road, were built in the mid 1820s and they are still sublime in their stuccoed simplicity. Meanwhile, a wall had been built along Ennismore Street to separate residents of the Rutland Estate from the area behind Brompton Road, which, at the time, was rather less salubrious.

Hans place knightsbridge knight frank

Hans Place, for let through Knight Frank for £1,850 per week. This 1,194sq ft interior-designed flat is set on the second floor of a period building overlooking Hans Place; a lift will whisk residents home. The flat comes furnished and has an airy reception room, a contemporary kitchen and two to three bedrooms (one can be used as a study).

A German bomb tore it down on September 25, 1940, and, when the City of Westminster set out to rebuild it in 1948, the locals, who had presumably grown quite tired of having to walk for miles to get from Rutland Gate to Brompton Road, requested a passage-way be kept open. Known as The Hole in the Wall, it now links perhaps the prettiest streets in Knightsbridge: the western end of Rutland Street, with its sequence of cottages brightened by colourful external shutters; the cobbled Ennismore Mews, where converted coach houses with miniature wrought-iron balconies hide under the shadow of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral Church; and the southern portion of Ennismore Gardens Mews, whose sorbet-hued buildings overlook the grounds of Holy Trinity Brompton.

Kinnerton Street, Belgravia, City of Westminster, London.

Beyond them soars the neo-Classical dome of the Brompton Oratory, a bulwark of traditional Catholicism. Even after it gentrified, Knightsbridge didn’t lack peculiar characters – chief among all being (the possibly mythical) Mrs Dowell.

A tobacconist who ran a shop next to what today is the Berkeley Hotel’s sleek glass entrance, she ‘was so exceedingly partial’ to the Duke of Wellington, who had settled at nearby Apsley House in 1817, that, wrote Henry George Davis in Memorials of the Hamlet of Knightsbridge, ‘she was continually inventing some new plan whereby to express her regard’. This included plying him with ‘patties, cakes, and other delicacies’ that she left with his servants.

Pont Street Mews, for sale through Strutt and Parker for £5.2 million. This 22ft-wide house is conveniently placed in a pretty mews immediately behind Harrods. The immaculate interiors, which span 2,438sq ft, include three bedrooms, an open-plan kitchen, a dining and reception room, a gym and a media room. There is also private, off-street parking.

Pont Street Mews, for sale through Strutt and Parker for £5.2 million. This 22ft-wide house is conveniently placed in a pretty mews immediately behind Harrods. The immaculate interiors, which span 2,438sq ft, include three bedrooms, an open-plan kitchen, a dining and reception room, a gym and a media room. There is also private, off-street parking.

Although the Duke never paid her any attention, she wasn’t deterred – and, who knows, perhaps her ghost still trundles every day to Apsley House, to place spectral cakes on the Meissen dessert plates and gaze longingly at her hero’s imposing bust.


Knightsbridge highlights

Prêt-à-Portea at The Berkeley

The afternoon tea  for any fashionista

Wilton Place, www.the-berkeley.co.uk

Rachel Vosper

London’s best candle maker can create a bespoke blend of scents to suit individual tastes

69, Kinnerton Street, www.rachelvosper.com

Divertimenti

A cook’s dream, it stocks anything from Yaxell’s handmade Japanese knives to whimsical Solimene ceramics

227–229, Brompton Road, www.divertimenti.co.uk


What you need to know

Residents love the food, from Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner to Gordon Ramsay’s Pétrus, Knightsbridge is a Who’s Who of the culinary world. Plus, there are Indian tapas at Amaya, contemporary Japanese at Zuma and a New-York take on Italian cuisine at The Bulgari Hotel’s Sette.

Residents like the cluster of some of the world’s best shops, such as Christian Louboutin, Feathers and the big Sloane Street fashion houses. Knightsbridge is one of only two areas officially recognised as international retail centres in the London Plan (the other is the West End).

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Mackerel, radish and herb dressing. #PetrusRestaurant

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Residents could do without the small number of (usually young) luxury-car drivers racing around the local streets at night. The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea has called for the installation of sound cameras to identify and fine the perpetrators.