Montpelier Square (Westminster)
Montpelier Square is a well preserved early C19th garden square with a perimeter hedge and modern railings, shrubs and good trees, and an interesting serpentine path layout. The development was named from Montpelier in France, a name that was intended to evoke images of its fashionable and healthy situation. The small square of some 42 terraced houses surrounds the private communal garden.
- Site location:
- Montpelier Square, Knightsbridge
- SW7 1JY
- Type of site:
- Garden Square
- Listed structures:
- LBII: Terrace c.1830 on south side nos. 8-16; early-mid C19th houses on north side nos. 27-43, on east side nos. 1-7; on west side nos. 17-25; 7 C19th cast iron lamp standards
- Site ownership:
- Site management:
- Residents' Committee
- Open to public?
- Opening times:
- private, residents only
- Special conditions:
- Public transport:
- Tube: Knightsbridge (Piccadilly)
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/05/2009
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news.
- Grid ref:
- Size in hectares:
- On EH National Register :
- EH grade:
- Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:
- Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:
Local Authority Data
The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.
- On Local List:
- In Conservation Area:
- Conservation Area name:
- Tree Preservation Order:
- Nature Conservation Area:
- Green Belt:
- Metropolitan Open Land:
- Special Policy Area:
- Yes - Area of protected family Housing
- Other LA designation:
The square and adjacent streets known collectively as 'the Montpeliers' were laid out from the mid-1820s, although the whole estate was not fully completed until the mid 1850s. Montpelier Square was planned to have three similar terraces each of nine houses with a longer terrace to the north but work stopped when the building boom of the 1820s collapsed and the main builder, William Absolom Darby, became bankrupt in 1828. For this reason the south side was the only terrace completed as originally intended. The north side was originally called Montpelier Terrace. The land had once been part of the estate owned by the Moreau family that was broken up in 1759. In 1824 what became the Montpelier estate, a parcel of 7.5 acres of undeveloped land behind Brompton Row, was purchased by John Robins, who sold it shortly thereafter to John Betts of Brompton Row and Thomas Weatherley Marriott, an ironmonger of High Row, Knightsbridge, who was the power behind the development of the estate. Marriott and Betts laid out streets and a square, set up brickworks, and began to let plots on building leases. It is not known if they also designed the internal layout of Montpelier Square.
The name of the new estate had been adopted by November 1824, when a building plan was presented to the Westminster Commissioners of Sewers on their behalf by a Chelsea builder, Samuel Symons. Whether spelt with a single or double 'l', 'Montpelier' was already becoming something of a cliché as a name for new developments, intended to evoke Montpelier in France and images of fashionable salubrity, for example, in contemporary or near-contemporary developments in Brighton, Cheltenham and Harrogate. In the London area, one of the earliest instances of its use was at Montpelier Row, Twickenham, in the early 1720s. Greenwood’s map of 1830 shows the garden as a green square labelled Montpelier Square but gives no detail; Stanford’s map of 1862 shows a green square surrounded by hedges/trees but otherwise little detail. In 1867 the communal garden of Montpelier Square was vested by the Metropolitan Board of Works in a residents' committee, under the Gardens in Towns Protection Act of 1863.
The first map to show the garden in detail is the 1869 OS map, which depicts a curvilinear perimeter path with a central diagonal path running north-east to south-west. The layout of paths remains essentially the same today as those of 1869 although the central path is no longer extant. The 1869 map also showed mature trees both on the perimeter and in the centre, and while mature perimeter trees particularly London planes remain today (2009), there are no longer central trees. The 1916 OS map depicts a small building, probably a garden shed in the south-west corner. A photograph dated 1951 shows that the boundary railings had been removed and only a temporary fence is shown. In the 1980s new railings replaced those razed during the war. The perimeter path today has beds of mixed planting on either side, and the planting consists mainly of herbaceous plants and evergreen shrubs including ferns, holly, hazel, fatsia japonica and mahonia. Some beds are constructed of raised crazy paving stone slabs. All the paths are of gravel and have Victorian ceramic ropework edging. The central area is laid to lawn, part surrounded by hedges, and there are timber seats by the paths, facing into the centre. In addition to mature London plane trees, three on the south side, one on the north side and two on the west side, there is also a horse chestnut on the south side and a bay tree and cherry on the west side, with a lime tree on the north-east corner. Features within the garden include a ‘crazy paved’ area with timber seats and planters in the north-east part; a circular area of newly planted box hedges in the south-east, and in the south-west corner another crazy paved area with an urn surrounded by box hedging.
It appears that early residents were largely of the middle classes, but the square acquired for a time something of a bad reputation, such that residents in the 1870s petitioned to change the name in order to escape the taint the name was bringing, which they deemed depressed the value of the property. By the 1880s Montpelier Square was rising as a fashionable address and in the mid-1930s was described by one writer as 'the best residential square in the district'. It was the fictional home of John Galsworthy's Soames Forsyte in 1886, and Sir Philip Gibbs set his novel 'The Reckless Lady' (1924) here. Among past residents of note were the antiquarian Revd Mackenzie Walcott; the wood engraver and illustrator Frederick William Fairholt lodged at No. 9 with Mary Rimbault and her 3 wood-engraver sons and their sister; the household later moved to No. 22 where Fairholt died in 1866. Actor Walter Lacey lived with his actress-wife at No. 38 from 1852-60; and in 1851 the architect Matthew Digby Wyatt lived at No. 40, at which time he was engaged on the Great Exhibition. No. 20 was for a time in 1856 a meeting place for the circle around William Morris, including Edward Burne-Jones, William Fulford, Macdonald and Wilfred Heeley who owned the house, the venue for their discussions of the short-lived 'Oxford and Cambridge Magazine'. Author Robert S Hitchens lived at No. 8 in 1891, probably best known for his novel 'The Green Carnation' (1894)) and the same house was later the home of the well-known Hungarian writer Arthur Koestler and his 3rd wife Cynthia, who remarked on first seeing Montpelier Square in the early 1950s on a winter morning 'It struck me as the most beautiful square I had ever seen' (Arthur and Cynthia Koestler, 'Stranger on the Square', ed Harold Harris, 1984, p151). They lived here until they both committed suicide in 1983, when Koestler was critically ill. At No. 31 actress Leslie Caron lived here in the 1960s, mentioned in an article in Time magazine in April 1966 that made famous the phase the 'Swinging Sixties'.
E Beresford Chancellor 'The History of the Squares of London: Topographical and Historical', London 1907 pp.290-91. Metropolitan Board of Works Minutes, 28 June 1867, p.822 (London Metropolitan Archives); 'Montpelier Square Area: Montpelier Square', Survey of London: volume 45: Knightsbridge (2000), pp. 107, 109-116.
LPGT Volunteer Research by Carrie Cowan, 2009