The College Archives
Belgrave Square was built in the 1820s and 1830s and quickly became
known as a desirable area to live. Novelists and playwrights have
always thought so; the following are some examples:
Charles Dickens mentions Belgrave Square twice: In
Nicholas Nickleby (1838-9) he refers to Cadogan Place as
'the one slight bond that joins two extremes; it is the connecting
link between the aristocratic pavements of Belgrave Square and the
barbarism of Chelsea'. Its inhabitants, he says, do not 'claim to
be on precisely the same footing as the high folks of Belgrave
Square and Grosvenor Place'
In Reprinted Pieces (1858) a collection of the
stories and essays first published in the weekly periodical
Household Words, Dickens dreams of a deserted city where
'In Belgrave Square I met the last man - an ostler - sitting on a
post in a ragged red waistcoat, eating straw and mildewing
Anthony Trollope clearly liked the area: to begin with, in
The Warden (1855) it is 'august': 'A noble old man, my
august inhabitants of Belgrave Square and such like vicinity - a
very noble old man'
Then, in Dr Thorne (1858) he says it is fashionable:
'The Duke of Omnium was, as we have said, a bachelor. Not the less
on that account did he on certain rare gala days entertain the
beauty of the county at his magnificant rural seat, or the female
fashion of London in Belgrave Square'.
But it is difficult to decide what he means in Framley
Parsonage (1861) when he writes: 'Oh, yes; he is a Lazarus
now, so of course we are bound to speak well of him; but I should
like to see him tried. I don't doubt but what he'd have a house in
Belgrave Square, and become noted for his little dinners before the
first year of his trial was over'.
WS Gilbert is more critical. In Iolanthe (1882) he
reminds the audience: 'Hearts just as pure and fair May beat in
Belgrave Square As in the lowly air Of Seven Dials'
And Oscar Wilde is cynical: In The Importance of Being
Ernest (1895) he writes: 'Jack: 'I own a house in Belgrave
Lady Bracknell '....what number in Belgrave Square?'
Lady Bracknell (shaking her head): 'The unfashionable side. I
thought there was something. However, that could easily be
Examples can also be found in 20th century novels of Belgrave
Square as an area where the wealthy lived.
A couple described by Nancy Mitford in Highland Fling
were 'in many ways extremely economical. Unlike the type of young
married couple who think it essential to have a house in the
vicinity of Belgrave Square and a footman, they preferred to live
in a tiny flat with no servants except an old woman and a
Nicholas, the narrator in Anthony Powell's A Dance to the
Music of Time (1962) finds that one evening he is asked to two
dances 'And both of them in Belgrave Square' where the one he
choses to go to is 'densely packed with girls and young men …even
on the way up the stairs'.
And the poverty stricken heroine in Charlotte Bingham's
Belgravia (1983) flees from her very rich would be
seducer's 'house in Belgrave Square back to Mary 's, with the
knowledge that it was at such times, when life was at its most
real, that she most disliked it'.
Then, not in fiction but in reality, Christobel Bielenberg in
The Past is Myself (1968) records an evening in wartime
Germany where she meets an old acquaintance 'in the best of form,
as British as the flag…We might have been back in Belgrave
More alarmingly, in Why Herbert Killed His Mother
(circa 1934) by Winifred Holtby, when Herbert Wilkins 'on his way
to his future father-in-law's house in Belgrave Square' read in the
evening papers that he 'has been revealed by his mother, Mrs
Wilkins, to be Herbert, the Wonder Baby' he 'did not proceed to
Belgrave Square' but went to his mother's house and strangled
In a more recent novel, Piers Paul Read's Alice in
Exile (2001) which is set in the years just before the First
World War, it is on the way to a society ball in Belgrave Square
that Alice's titled fiance begins to hint that he no longer wants
to marry her.