Like many people of a certain age, my great aunt got to the point where she wanted to move to a quiet village, away from the hustle and bustle of her flat in Bloomsbury. She wanted a slower pace of life but still wanted to be close to her friends, neighbours and local shopkeepers. The village she chose? Knightsbridge.
This was the 1950s and her move was not as crazy as it first appears (OK, maybe a little). Knightsbridge was a far cry from the metropolitan centre it is now. It was a sedate and distinctly suburban area that was also considered to be the more affordable option compared to Belgravia or Mayfair. Most of the people who lived there were British and, like my aunt, were mature in years. This was not a welcoming place for young families, let alone the world’s rich and famous.
My aunt would scarcely recognise the place now, of course. In her day, the Cadogan Estate – which was and still is the principal landowner in the area – was run by the Seventh Earl Cadogan. While well respected, he had some rather interesting ideas. Many of the buildings and homes had fallen into disrepair during the war so the estate wanted to replace them with glass and concrete tower blocks and shopping centres. Fortunately, the plans were turned down by the planning authorities and it is only the Jumeirah Tower Hotel that stands testament to these wild ideas.
By the time the eighth earl took over the estate, things began to be run on much more professional lines. The Cadogan Estate also set about making Sloane Street an international shopping destination that aimed to rival Bond Street in Mayfair. The estate worked hard to achieve an ambitious retail mix of designer brands and services and now boasts Louis Vuitton and Chanel, among others. Nightclubs, luxury hotels and some of the capital’s most fashionable restaurants began to call Knightsbridge home and foodies are spoilt for choice with One-o-One, Zuma and locals’ favourite, San Lorenzo, in the area.
Slowly, the area gained parity with Belgravia and Mayfair and some might even argue that it exceeded these areas in some respects. When Bahraini-owned Crown Dilmun decided to create one of the world’s first developments for the super rich, it chose a former Harrod’s depository in Trevor Square and built apartments that truly set a new standard. Within a few short years, The Knightsbridge development was one of the first to introduce the services of a five-star hotel to residential apartments but it was One Hyde Park, by Candy & Candy, that really raised the bar, not just for London but for the world. With prices apparently reaching an astonishing £7,000 per square foot, this is luxury on an unrivalled scale.
Which is not to say that some of the period homes are to be sniffed at. My aunt would be reassured to see Cadogan Place, Montpelier Square and Egerton Gardens still boasting grand homes while smaller streets such as Cheval Place and Trevor Square hold their own charms. The neighbourhood feel that so appealed to my aunt is still there, even if you have to search that little bit harder for it. Motcomb Street, on the Knightsbridge-Belgravia border, has a distinct café culture and Brompton Cross still has a lovely mix of restaurants and independent shops. Knightsbridge has definitely gone up in the world since my aunt lived there butits appeal has not faded.
Robert Bailey is an independent buying agent operating in prime central London. For more info: 020 7352 0899; robertbaileyproperty.com