diamond geezer

 Saturday, January 30, 2010

The River Westbourne
10) Belgravia

London doesn't get much more exclusive than Belgravia. An enclave of luxury mansions and mews houses owned by the rich and internationally loaded. An embassy-packed precinct where the local corner shop is Harvey Nicks. Somewhere TfL don't bother routing buses because nobody would want to catch one. And yet 200 years ago this was a swampy wasteland known as the Five Fields, inhabited only by sheep, farmers and the occasional ne'er-do-well, on the banks of an unloved river.

Everything changed in the 1820s when landowner Richard Grosvenor, 2nd Marquess of Westminster, hired Thomas Cubitt to build an extensive aristocratic estate. The stinky Westbourne had to go, entombed in pipework as the Ranelagh Sewer, which immediately improved both above-ground ambience and property-sales potential. A fashionable suburb soon erupted, and Belgravia's never looked back.

Tracing the Westbourne's former path is incredibly easy here, so long as you have a map. Kensington and Westminster have long been officially divided by this ancient stream, and the border between the two London boroughs still follows almost exactly the same meandering path to this day. Along the edge of Lowndes Square (which in reality is a long thin oblongy non-square, and very posh). Fording across the gyratory flowerbed in Lowndes Street [photo] (a nucleus for uber-upmarket boutiques and eateries, plus possibly the most ostentatious Waitrose in the country). Along Chesham Place [photo] (past umpteen expensively-brief personalised numberplates). And round the corner into West Eaton Place (through a canyon of towering white stucco terraces) [photo]. Keep the Westminster street nameplates on your left, and the Kensington & Chelsea street nameplates on your right, and you'll not go far wrong.
Following the Westbourne: Lowndes Square, Lowndes Street, Chesham Place, Chesham Street, Cadogan Lane, West Eaton Place, Eaton Terrace.

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