The walk begins and ends at Sloane Street underground station, and will take about two hours to complete.
Please be aware of your personal safety and security when walking. Use this text in conjunction with a detailed street map and use designated road crossings where possible.
This walk explores the Georgian and early Victorian garden squares of upper Chelsea and Belgravia. Along the way you will meet some of the notable characters who have lived there over the years.
All of the gardens in this walk are private, but can be enjoyed at any time of year, as there are views into the gardens from the street of most of them. Several of the squares are open to the public during Open Garden Squares Weekend. The gardens are accessible to wheelchairs, except where stated.
Outside the main entrance of Sloane Street underground station, walk straight ahead, and use the crossing to cross Holbein Place. Cross into the middle of the square at the traffic lights at the junction of Lower Sloane Street. Continue across the square and into Sloane Street, which is straight ahead. Walk down Sloane Street, taking the fourth right turn into Cadogan Place.
Cross over and walk along with the garden on your left. There is a view into the garden over the gate opposite number 84. Continue walking round with the garden on your left and stop at No. 43B.
Continue on to No. 30.
If you are visiting this garden on Open Garden Squares Weekend, be careful to check the opening times.
In 1717 Charles, second Earl of Cadogan, married Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Sir Hans Sloane, lord of the manor of Chelsea. In 1777 their son leased 100 acres of land to architect Henry Holland (1745-1806) for building development.
After the Great Fire of London in the previous century, wealthy Londoners had not wanted to return to the crowded, dangerous conditions of the old medieval City. Instead they flocked to the new estates being built in the countryside to the west of London.
These self-contained communities, based around squares, offered a different, healthier way of life. Thousands of wealthy people migrated to live in the new West End, while continuing to do business in the City, becoming in effect London's first commuters.
The building lease system, which had first been used by Lord Southampton in Bloomsbury Square, was very popular with the owners of country estates close to London. Plots were leased to builders at a low ground rent, usually for 99 years, after which the land and houses became the property of the landowner again.
Henry Holland built what he called 'Hans Town' on Lord Cadogan's land, consisting of Sloane Square, Sloane Street, Cadogan Place and Hans Place. The simple terraced houses of stock brick became immediately fashionable among the upper middle and professional classes. Charles Dickens described the area in Nicholas Nickelby as the connecting link between 'the aristocratic pavements of Belgrave Square and the barbarism of Chelsea'.
Cadogan Place was the first square to be developed by Henry Holland, together with Sloane Square. The garden is divided into two parts. The southern part, which you are walking beside now, was once known as the London Botanic Garden, and was laid out at the end of the 18th century by William Salisbury (d. 1823-9), containing a library, hothouse, greenhouse and conservatory.
No. 43B was where anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce (1759-1833) spent the final days of his life, at the home of his cousin. Wilberforce and others campaigned for almost two decades to bring an end to the British slave trade, finally succeeding in 1807. Three days before his death in 1833, he heard that the bill to abolish slavery altogether had been passed, the culmination of his life's work.
No. 30 was home in the 18th century to the highly popular Irish comedy actress Dorothy Jordan (1761-1816). She had many lovers, and for 21 years was mistress to the Duke of Clarence, who later became King William IV. Mrs Jordan had 10 children by the duke, to add to the five she already had! She was known for her wit: once when the duke suggested reducing her allowance, she sent him a note, saying ‘No money returned after the rising of the curtain!’
Cross over Pont Street and continue along the side of the northern part of Cadogan Place garden.
The northern gardens were designed in the early 19th century by leading landscape gardener Humphry Repton (1752-1818). His original layout has been eroded by 20th century alterations, but some plane trees and mulberries survive from the 19th century.
Turn left, passing the main entrance gates to the garden, and continue into Sloane Street. Go over the street at the crossing, turn left and walk along for a short way before turning right into Hans Street. Walk along here and into Hans Place. Turn right, and walk around the Place, keeping the garden on your left.
Continue walking round to No. 41.
Continue on to No. 23.
Hans Place was also developed by Henry Holland. Most of the original houses have gone, although Nos 15, 33 and 34 survive. Much of the housing was redeveloped after 1875, when the new Cadogan and Hans Place Estate Company took over the management of the estate. Although the buildings have changed, there is no evidence of alterations to the garden, and it is likely that the layout remains largely unchanged. The original railings were lost, however, taken to be melted down for armaments in WWII.
No. 41 is on the site of an earlier house where the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) and his wife Mary stayed in 1815. Mary (1797-1851), who was only 17, had eloped with her husband at the age of 16, and gave birth to their first child while living here. The baby died twelve days later. The following year, the Shelleys travelled to Switzerland, to stay with Lord Byron, where Mary began work on her Gothic horror novel, Frankenstein.
No. 23 is the site of an earlier house visited by novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817), where her brother Henry lived. Henry helped Jane to get her work published, beginning with Sense and Sensibility in 1811, which was an overnight success. Jane stayed here for almost a year from 1814 to 1815 at the height of her career. Pride and Prejudice had come out to much acclaim the previous year, and Mansfield Park was published while she was here. During her time in London, Jane was summoned to meet the Prince Regent, who was a fan of her books and asked that her next work, Emma, be dedicated to him.
Leave Hans Place from here and cross over Pont Street, using the traffic island. Turn left and then immediately right into Cadogan Square. Walk up the road and turn right when you reach the square garden, walking around it with the gardens to your left.
Continue walking to a set of gates on your left, opposite number 60, where there is a view into the square. The sculpture is Dancer with Bird by David Wynne.
Carry on along the side of the square, turning left and crossing the road towards No. 75 at the next corner.
If you are visiting this garden on Open Garden Squares Weekend, be careful to check the opening times.
Cadogan Square was built in the late 19th century by the Cadogan and Hans Place Estate Company. The houses which surround the square were one of the first major 19th-century developments to be built in red brick rather than stucco.
The square was built on the site of Henry Holland's own mansion, which originally opened on to Hans Place. The mansion had a miniature landscape park, including a 16-acre meadow, formal flowerbeds laid out in French fashion and a Gothic ice-house.
The novelist Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) lived at No. 75 from 1921 until shortly before his death. He was the author of many novels, including Clayhanger, and in his later years was the highest-paid literary journalist in England, working for the London Evening Standard. He died of typhoid, contracted as a result of drinking a glass of tap water in France, which he had done to demonstrate the purity of the nation's water supply.
Continue past the house and go straight on out of the square via Cadogan Gate, across Pavilion Road and back into Sloane Street. Turn left and walk for some way up Sloane Street, crossing Pont Street, and continuing to the zebra crossing outside Gucci. Cross here, turn left and then right into Harriet Street. Continue on into Lowndes Square, and stop by the gate into the square garden ahead of you.
Lowndes Square is also part of the Cadogan Estate, built in the 1840s. After the construction of Hans Town, building slowed as war and economic recession intervened. In the 1820s, as confidence returned, a new building boom began and a fresh swathe of squares were laid out.
The square is surrounded by 1930s railings, but the original gate piers on both sides are intact. There is reputed to be a ghost here – several people claim to have seen a white-haired old lady in an old-fashioned bath chair who sits at the kerbside and pulls terrible faces at anyone who looks at her!
Walk to your right and leave the square via Lowndes Street, then turn left into Motcomb Street. There are a number of bars and cafés here, including Rococo Chocolates at No. 5, which has a small Moroccan-style courtyard garden.
At the end of Motcomb Street, turn left into Wilton Crescent.
Cross over the road to the railed garden.
If you are visiting this garden on Open Garden Squares Weekend, be careful to check the opening times.
Wilton Crescent was laid out in 1827 as part of the new Grosvenor Estate, built on the lands of the Duke of Westminster. The buildings on the north side were refaced with stone in the early 1900s, making them look different from the stuccoed terraces which are a characteristic feature of the rest of the estate.
On the left, No. 2 was home from 1959 to 1968 to Lord and Lady Mountbatten of Burma, who were the last Viceroy and Vicerine of India and together oversaw the end of British rule in 1947. Lady Mountbatten (1901-1960), whose life had been dedicated to public service, did not live long after they came to this address. Worn out by work with the St John Ambulance Brigade, Save The Children and some hundred other organisations, she died in 1960. She was buried off Portsmouth with full naval honours, escorted by a warship, sent by India's first prime minister, Nehru.
Retrace your steps and walk along Wilton Terrace into Belgrave Square. Cross towards the square garden using the zebra crossing, turn left and stop at the statue of Henry the Navigator.
Turn left and begin to walk around the inner pavement of the square, with the garden on your right. Stop at the next set of gates, which gives a partial view into the centre of the garden.
Continue to the corner of the square.
The Grosvenor Estate, begun in the 1820s, was the most prestigious development so far attempted in London and the 10-acre Belgrave Square was its centrepiece.
The Grosvenor family, who later became the Dukes of Westminster, acquired the land in 1677 when Sir Thomas Grosvenor married Mary Davies, heiress to some 1000 acres of boggy farmland west of London. The area was originally known as the Five Fields, feared in the 18th century as a place ‘where robbers lie in wait’.
The Grosvenors had already developed some of their land in nearby Mayfair, and in the early 1800s turned their attention to the Five Fields, after the king brought in top architect John Nash to remodel the nearby Buckingham House with the aim of making it the main royal residence.
Lord Grosvenor saw the potential, and in 1820 commissioned plans for the new estate. Building leases were sold to developers, the main one being Thomas Cubitt. He drained the marshy fields using spoil from his excavation of St Katherine's Dock, near the Tower of London, to raise the land.
Thomas Cubitt (1788-1855) was the leading developer of the early 19th century. He was the first large-scale commercial builder, employing his own workforce including dozens of brick-makers, masons, plasterers and painters. He also had a professional staff of architects and surveyors, as well as his own legal and letting departments.
Between 1820 and 1835, Cubitt built the houses and laid out the gardens of most of the estate. He realised that a lavishly planted garden was a major selling point for wealthy buyers, and established his own nursery specifically for the purpose.
Belgrave Square was established in 1825, with George Basevi as architect. It was named after the village of Belgrave in Leicestershire, part of the Grosvenor family estates.
Now largely occupied by embassies and other organisations, the grand, stuccoed residences of the square were once home to wealthy families who flocked to live close to Buckingham Palace.
Prince Henry the Navigator is one of four statues of historical figures which surround the square, reflecting its international nature. He was a Portuguese prince whose sailors travelled widely to uncharted parts of the ocean, discovering the island of Madeira and exploring the West African coast.
The four-and-a-half-acre garden was laid out in 1826, and was designed for privacy, surrounded by a dense belt of shrubbery and with outer and inner paths separated by more shrub planting. The centre of the garden features classical-style shelters and wooden pergolas. You can see the children's playground from here, and there are also tennis courts. During the Second World War, the gardens were covered in clinker, and used as a compound for army vehicles.
At the north corner there is a statue of General Don José de San Martin, an Argentinian national hero who was important in gaining the independence of Argentina, Chile and Peru from Spain.
Continue walking along the NE and SE sides of Belgrave Square as far as the fourth (south) corner.
On the right, through a gap in the planting, opposite Nos 39 and 40, is a view of another statue, Plazotta's Homage to Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man.
The next statue on the right is of Simon Bolivar, a revolutionary leader who liberated South America from Spanish rule.
Looking across the road, No. 34 was home to Field Marshall Viscount Gort (1886-1946), commander-in-chief at Dunkirk, who lived here from 1920 to 1926. A lifelong soldier, he displayed great bravery in WWI, and rose to become the youngest ever Chief of the Imperial Staff.
At the south corner of the square there is a statue of Christopher Columbus, whose voyages across the Atlantic to the Americas opened up a new era of European exploration and colonisation.
Cross the road using the zebra crossing and leave the square via Belgrave Place. At the junction with Eaton Place, look over to No 36.
On reaching Eaton Square, turn right and walk along to No. 93.
Go a little further along to No. 86.
Continue along the terrace, cross Lyall Street and walk to No. 80.
At 36 Eaton Place Sir Henry Wilson (1864-1922) was shot dead on his doorstep by Irish republicans. Born into a landed Irish family, Sir Henry was a high-ranking soldier and Irish MP, who believed that Sinn Fein and the IRA should only be crushed by force.
Looking a little further along, 99 Eaton Place is where the Polish composer, Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849) gave concerts during a stay in London in 1848. Like many others, Chopin had taken refuge here from the uprisings in much of Europe, during what was known as ‘the year of revolutions’.
Eaton Square's gardens were laid out between 1827 and 1853 by Thomas Cubitt and later another builder, W.H. Seth Smith. It was named after the Duke of Westminster's country house, Eaton Hall, in Cheshire.
The long, narrow square is divided by cross-cutting roads into six rectangular gardens, which are filled with mature trees and colourful roses. The site originally contained market gardens. Due to the slow progress of building around the square, the northern part of the garden, which you are looking at now, remained a nursery, belonging to the firm of McKenzie, until 1842.
No. 93 was home to Stanley Baldwin (1867-1947), who was Prime Minister three times in the 1920s and 1930s. His time in office coincided with both the General Strike and the abdication of Edward VIII. Baldwin began the policy of appeasement towards fascist dictators in Europe, which was continued by another resident of Eaton Square, Neville Chamberlain, whom we will meet later on.
No. 86 was the home of Edward Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax (1881-1959), who was Viceroy of India in the 1920s and 30s, during Gandhi's campaign of civil disobedience. Before the war, Halifax as Foreign Secretary had been part of Neville Chamberlain's attempts to negotiate with Adolf Hitler, but he eventually recognised that this was not going to work and that war was inevitable. In the 1940s he became ambassador to the US, where he played a vital role in securing American support for the British war effort.
The grand porticoed terrace including No. 80 was where George Peabody (1795-1869), an American merchant banker and philanthropist, died. Renowned for his lavish entertaining, Peabody was nevertheless very concerned at the plight of London's poor and established a network of housing schemes which are still in use today, with the intention to ‘ameliorate the condition of the poor and needy of this great metropolis’.
At the end of the terrace, turn left and walk towards Eaton Gate. Some of the square's very old plane trees can be seen in the garden on your left. Cross at the traffic lights and continue on around the south side of Eaton Square, keeping the garden on your left.
Walk to number 54.
Continue along, crossing Elizabeth Street, to the set of garden gates opposite No. 43.
Continue along to No. 37.
At the next corner, turn right into Eccleston Street and walk towards Chester Square. You will pass entrances to Eaton Mews South on either side of the street.
No. 50 was home to actress Vivien Leigh (1913-1967), best known for her Oscar-winning performance as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. She was married to stage and screen star Laurence Olivier, and they had a stormy relationship. Their marriage ended in 1960, and Leigh died here of tuberculosis while still only in her 50s.
Looking into the garden opposite No. 43, you can see an area set out with a sunken pool, raised beds and pergola. This covers an air raid shelter, which was installed in the square during the Second World War.
At number 44, Austrian statesman Prince Metternich (1773-1859), lived with his family in 1848. The family, like Chopin, had taken flight from the popular uprisings that were occurring across Europe in ‘the year of revolutions’, and took refuge in Eaton Square from May to September.
Politician Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940) lived at No. 37 from 1923 to 1935. While in this house, he was Minister for Health, and responsible for considerable social reform, which included abolishing the Poor Law and transferring welfare responsibilities to local councils. He then became Chancellor of the Exchequer, steering the British economy successfully through the years of world-wide recession. His reputation suffered when he became Prime Minister, and pursued his much-criticised policy of appeasement with Hitler's Nazi Germany, claiming that he had secured ‘peace in our time’ shortly before the Second World War broke out.
The mews was a particular feature of grand Victorian housing, introduced to London for the first time on the Grosvenor Estate. The mews provided somewhere for servants to live and kept stables and services close to the big houses, while remaining hidden from view and providing a discreet way for the ‘night-soil’ men to remove rubbish.
On reaching Chester Square, turn left and walk to No. 2.
Retrace your steps, go back over Eccleston Street and continue walking along the north terrace of Chester Square, stopping at the gate into the square garden opposite No 19.
Continue along to No. 24.
Continue on to No. 38.
Continue out of the square via Chester Row, passing St Michael's Church on your left. Cross Elizabeth Street and continue along Chester Row, crossing South Eaton Place and Eaton Terrace. At the end of Chester Row, cross Bourne Street into Whittaker Street. Turn right at the end into Holbein Place, and follow the road round, turning right to bring you back to Sloane Street underground station, where the walk ends.
Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), poet, writer and schools inspector, lived at No. 2 from 1858 to 1868. While at this address, he wrote Culture and Anarchy, which attacked Victorian values. Three of his five children were born here, but Arnold was deeply saddened by the death of two of his sons during this time: Thomas, aged 16, and Basil, who was just two.
The houses and gardens of Chester Square were planned in 1828 as part of Cubitt's development of the Grosvenor Estate, but building did not start until 1835. The houses were designed by Cubitt and the rectangular garden laid out in 1835 in imitation of Eaton Square. Notice the wheatsheaf on the garden entrance sign. This is the insignia of the Grosvenor Estate, a reference to the family's agricultural roots.
At No. 24 we meet Mary Shelley again, who lived here from 1846 until her death in 1851. Mary had been left a widow at the age of 24 when Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned in a storm off the coast of Italy. To add to the tragic circumstances of her life, she had given birth to three more children, of whom all but one had died. Mary continued to write, producing a further five novels as well as poetry, but remained alone, rejecting several proposals of marriage. She suffered intense headaches for the last few years of her life, and died, it was discovered, of a brain tumour.
The top floor flat of No. 38 was home to Guy Burgess (1911-1963), one of the ‘Cambridge spies’, from 1935 to 1940. Burgess, who defected to the USSR in 1951, concealed his communist sympathies by decorating his flat in patriotic red, white and blue.
This walk was produced by the London Parks & Gardens Trust, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage.
With thanks to the Blue Plaques team at English Heritage.
Care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of information on this page, which is offered in good faith. No responsibility can be accepted for changes that may have occurred since going to press.
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|Blue Plaques team||English Heritage|
|The Register of Parks and Gardens||English Heritage|
|London Inventory of Historic Green Spaces||London Parks & Gardens Trust|
|The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography|
|Open Garden Squares Weekend event guide||London Parks & Gardens Trust|
|A short history of London's garden squares||London Parks & Gardens Trust|
|London 2000 years of a city and its people,||Barker and Jackson (1994)|
|Secret London||Andrew Duncan (1998)|
|Walking London||Andrew Duncan (1991)|
|Who's Who in British History||Juliet Gardiner (ed) (2000)|
|The London Compendium||Ed Glinert (2003)|
|A Literary Guide to London||Ed Glinert (2000)|
|Walking Haunted London||Richard Jones (1999)|
|London A Social History||Roy Porter (1994)|
|The London Blue Plaque Guide||Nick Rennison (1999)|
|Track the Plaque||Derek Sumeray (2003)|
|Walking Literary London||Roger Tagholm (2001)|