Sunday, October 06, 2013

Where the Toffs Live

My regular readers will know that I almost never spend time in posh areas of London unless there's some history to be learned or art to see. In my ten previous visits, I had never set foot in Belgravia, though I'd seen it on tv (the Bellamy family of Upstairs, Downstairs lived at 165 Eaton Place). So, what better way to explore Belgravia's grand Georgian squares and pretty little mewses than with a City of Westminster guide. My friend Jenny has recently qualified as a Westminster guide, and she offered to take me on a personalised walking tour, one that she's working up for the punters. 

We met up in Grosvenor Gardens, across the street from Victoria Station, and then quickly left the traffic and chaos around the station for the serene residential squares of Belgravia.  Jenny pointed out that many of the toffs who live here go off to their country homes at the weekend, which explains why we saw very few people about. Mercs and Range Rovers were parked up and down the streets, and not a Ford Escort or Vauxhall in sight. Grosvenor is a name that came up many times on our walk, for Belgravia was originally (and much still is) the Grosvenor Estate, owned by the Duke of Westminster, who is obscenely rich. On our walk, we passed the former home of Margaret Thatcher (under renovation at the moment), dozens of blue plaques denoting homes of the great and the good (and the wealthy), and the scene of an unsolved murder. We also ducked down little mewses, where the stables for the homes had been. The grooms and other servants lived in the mewses, in what are now darling (and expensive) little houses and flats. I'm not going to go into all that I learned on my walk -- if you want to find out more about the area, you'll just have to book a place on one of Jenny's walks.

The tour ended at The Grenadier, one of the many little pubs that are tucked away in the mewses. It's reputed to be one of the most haunted pubs of London, though I have no first-hand ghost sighting to confirm that. We had a great pub lunch there (carrot soup for me and veggie burger for Jenny), which was very reasonably priced, especially with the £5 coupon I'd printed from the website

After lunch, we went our separate ways. I headed to Sloane Square; my destination was the Saatchi Gallery. In front of the gallery, there was a Saturday farmers' market going on in Duke of York Square -- I was thrilled to find the Pieminister there. I bought myself a Heidi pie (veg and goat cheese) to take home for later in the week. It's my all-time fave pie, and I like to eat at least one per London visit. 

You might remember that last year, Maggie and I stopped into the Saatchi Gallery after our long Fulham to Chelsea walk. The only thing we saw then was Richard Wilson's sump oil installation. This visit, I had ample time to roam the galleries from top to bottom. The main exhibition currently on is Paper -- various two- and three-dimensional works made on or with paper, by young British artists. Galleries are great because they're free, they generally show new -- and often edgy -- work, and they usually let you take photographs. I took scads of snaps of people as they photographed the art with their phones and iPads. I think I was channeling Tony Ray-Jones a bit. 

On my way back Spooner's flat, I got off the bus at Westbourne Park station so that I could take a little stroll through Meanwhile Gardens and check on my yarn bombs. I didn't bring any new knitted pieces with me this year, but I had left small pieces in the gardens on two previous visits. My 2011 pieces are still there, both looking faded and one starting to unravel. Of my bird and three flowers from 2012, only two flowers remain, droopy and overgrown with vines. It's like visiting old friends, but I'm sad to see that they've gone downhill since we were last together. I'll make a concerted effort to bring some bright, new woolly works on my next trip over.

30p for the loo at Victoria Station
£10 for soup and ale at the Grenadier
£3.95 for Heidi pie (up from £3.50 last year)
17,002 steps (6.44 miles)


  1. I'm in pain at all the walking you're doing. Used to love the walking tour, but can't do it any more. So I settle for the open top hop on/off bus tours. Preferably those with live guides. Your friend Jenny's walking tour sounds fab!

  2. Ps. You need to catch an episode of Made in Chelsea to go with you Toff tour ;-)