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Area Guide: Knightsbridge

By on February 13, 2014

Enjoy Life with the Jet Set

Knightsbridge in many people’s minds conjures up one name: Harrods. Home to Britain’s most exclusive department store and many more exclusive shops, properties and up-market institutions. Knightsbridge is truly an international centre where wealthy people from across the globe reside, do business and spend their leisure time. Clearly buying a property in this part of London is not for those on limited means. However, buying a property here is in effect buying into the lifestyle of the international jet set and will always be a very good investment.

The district starts east of Exhibition Road, where several of London’s most famous museums are located, including the Science Museum and the side entrance of Natural History Museum. It extends as far south as Sloane Street, where Knightsbridge meets Chelsea. To the east lies Belgravia and South Kensington lies on its western border. Knightsbridge is home to some of London’s most famous squares, such as Cadogan Square, Ovington Square and Lennox Gardens and the highly exclusive Egerton Gardens. Another very famous department store, Harvey Nichols, is located on Sloane Street. The local banks cater for the rich and famous, providing private banking services rather than providing ATMs on the street. One of the branches belonging to Coutts, where the Queen reputedly does her banking, is situated on Cadogan Square. There are also branches of international banks in this area, including a number of Arabic banks, and the area is also home to many financial advisors and wealth management services for the stream of wealthy clients living in the vicinity. Knightsbridge is also home to a number of foreign embassies, including those of France, Libya and Kuwait.

Buildings of note include the Hyde Park Barracks, home of the Household Cavalry, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. There are a number of famous churches, such as the Russian Orthodox Church on Ennismore Gardens and the Brompton Oratory, which is a catholic cathedral. The Royal College of Music is based here, as is the Royal College of Organists. Other than Harrods, perhaps the most famous building is the Royal Albert Hall, the UK’s most prominent concert hall and the focus of many national events. Opposite is Queen Victoria’s tribute to her beloved husband, the Albert Memorial.

How did Knightsbridge become such a centre for the wealthy? Knightsbridge started life as a small hamlet outside the boundary of the City of London. It was nestled between the village of Chelsey, known as Chelsea today, Kensing Town or Kensington and Charing. The manor was taken under the jurisdiction of Westminster Abbey during the reign of Edward 1 in the 14th century. The name Knightsbridge refers to the crossing of the River Westbourne, which was diverted underground. It’s reported that at the crossing in 1141 Matilda of England, the daughter of Henry 1 who had a claim to the crown of England, tried to negotiate her terms with the people of London. Sadly, the local population rejected her and Matilda never assumed her rightful title.

The development of Knightsbridge as a centre for the wealthy only really happened in the 19th century, when the trade routes created by the British Empire started bringing in exotic goods from faraway places. Events such as the Great Exhibition of 1851 opened up new markets for the emerging wealthy classes. It was in that year that Charles Henry Harrod first moved into a store on Brompton Road in Knightsbridge. He had previously run several small haberdashers and grocery businesses in Southwark, but decided to move to escape the social problems of the area and capitalise on the trade and interest that the Great Exhibition had generated. Harrods traded modestly but its fortunes were turned around following a fire in December 1883 when the store was destroyed. Determined not to let his customers down, Charles Harrod ensured all his Christmas deliveries were fulfilled, making his best ever profit. The new building was bigger and attracted many famous customers, including Noel Coward, Charlie Chaplin, Oscar Wilde and members of the royal family.

Today Harrods remains as popular as ever, being as much a tourist attraction as a place to purchase the most exclusive goods and services. The retail economy of the local area continues in a similar vein. Harvey Nichols is a popular upmarket store, but other famous brands have their flagship stores on Brompton Road or in the nearby streets. Many London designers run their enterprises from here, such as shoe designers Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnik. The high-end fashion brand Prada has two stores here and there are many exclusive hair and beauty salons, antiques traders, independent boutiques offering couture clothing straight from the catwalks of Milan and Paris and a stunning range of trendy bars, clubs and restaurants.

Despite its popularity as a destination for the rich and famous, Knightsbridge is surprisingly green and leafy. This may be due to the way the land is owned. Knightsbridge has primarily three owners: the Duke of Westminster, the Wellcome Trust and Earl Cadogan. The types of architecture distinguish the tastes of the freeholders. For example, the series of red-brick Queen Anne-style properties are mainly found on the land owned by the Cadogans. However, the Duke’s family, the Grovesnors, preferred white stucco-fronted houses designed by the architect Thomas Cubitt. Both styles of homes are still among some of the most expensive property in the world. Even a parking space can cost as much as £300,000. Fourteen of the UK’s priciest streets are located in Knightsbridge, helped by foreign royalty buying exclusive apartments for millions of pounds. For example, in 2007 an Arab prince bought the world’s most costly apartment before it had even been built. The prince from Qatar spent £100 million on an off-plan apartment at One Hyde Park. His neighbours included Russian oligarchs and other Arab businessmen.

New developments are hard to come by in Knightsbridge as land development is strictly controlled. Firstly, land is in short supply and there are several conservation areas which control the type and amount of development. Most properties on offer will be apartments in converted mansion houses. The conversions are invariably stunning. Many have basement extensions with private indoor pools, private gyms, cinemas and even nightclubs, and they are fitted out with the very best in designer gadgetry.

The average price of flats for sale in Knightsbridge is £2.8 million. The average price of flats to rent in Knightsbridge is £12,000 per calendar month. Even the smallest of properties will be six-figure sum, but Knightsbridge doesn’t offer much in the way of small property, even in a one-bedroom flat. A two-bed flat in a converted mansion house in Cadogan Square would cost around £2.75 million. A three-bed maisonette in a similar building on Eaton Place would cost around £7.75 million. Prices for two- and three-bedroom properties range from £2.2 million to more than £10 million, depending on their features, the condition of the location and the name of the street. Clearly, some flats for sale in Knightsbridge fetch bigger sums simply because of the prestige of living at such an address.

In many ways, trying to quote an average price for particular types of flats for sale in Knightsbridge is difficult because so much depends on that prestige factor. While the traditional Victorian mansion houses which so typify the architecture in this part of London will always be popular, such as those in Cadagon Square, Eaton Place and Lowndes Place that fetch prices from £2 million to £10 million, depending on their size and features, the most expensive prices are reserved for the most exclusive of properties. At One Hyde Park, for example, even a one-bed flat will cost at least £6.5 million.

It is possible, though, to find flats for sale in Knightsbridge for under £1 million. A modest one-bed flat can be found tucked away in four- or five-storey terraces near Beaufort Gardens for around £750,000. A two-bed 1930s block on Halkin Place would cost around £900,000, and some of the squares such as Lennox Gardens have smaller, less expensive properties for around £800,000. However, some of the cheaper properties may have short leases, which could explain the lower prices.

Flats to rent in Knightsbridge also require considerable funding and it is unusual to find a property in the district for less than £2000 per week. However, cheaper homes do come up for rent. For as little as £1500 per week, you can rent a one-bed apartment in a great location close to the famous shops and restaurants of the district. Flats to rent in Knightsbridge appear in the most wonderful of locations. A spacious period two-bed flat in Eaton Place would cost around £2000 per week to rent, fitted with the latest kitchen appliances and designer drapery. For houses, a budget of at least £15 million is needed.

Brompton Road itself is worth a look for flats to rent in Knightsbridge. Despite the fact that it’s very busy, portered apartments several floors above the shops offer stunning views of London. Some come with their own roof gardens and balconies. A three-bed apartment close to Harrods in a new-build block would cost around £3220 per week. When looking for flats to rent in Knightsbridge, properties in the historic square such as Rutland Gate are worth considering too. A three-bed flat with a balcony would cost around £3275 per week or £10,929 per calendar month.

Daily life in Knightsbridge is never dull, with easy access to fantastic shopping and nightlife. Knightsbridge is also blessed by its close proximity to Hyde Park, the largest of the Royal Parks, and all that goes on there. The park has become a national centre for major events and concerts. During the London 2012 Olympics, a big screen was set up in the park and often it reappears there for other national events such as big rock concerts and the Proms. The famous Serpentine Lake is probably the UK’s favourite lake for open-water swimming and the park stages its own half marathon.

Overlooking Hyde Park is the headquarters of the Royal Thames Yacht Club, based at 60 Knightsbridge, which is Britain’s oldest continually running yacht club. It not only provides great sailing and racing experiences, but it has a lively social scene too. Not far away is the River Thames itself at Chelsea, with wonderful walks and river cruises available.

Other popular social institutions include Knightsbridge Fencing Club, Holland Park Tennis Club and the Knightsbridge Festival Choir, which performs three times a year at St Paul’s church.

The majority of schools in Knightsbridge are independent schools, though the local authority, the City of Westminster, does offer a number of state schools further away. Knightsbridge School is a popular prep school for 3 to 13 year olds for both girls and boys. The Hill House International School on Hans Place is an interesting choice, offering boarding opportunities for its pupils in Switzerland. Other options include Sussex House School in Cadogan Square and St Phillips on Wetherby Place.

Healthcare options include the Royal Marsden Hospital, which is a cancer-care specialist centre, and the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, which has the nearest accident and emergency unit and a popular maternity unit. However, there are several private options within easy reach, including the exclusive Portland Hospital and the Princess Grace Hospital close to Harley Street.

Knightsbridge is no ordinary place to live, offering a quality of life like no other neighbourhood in the UK. Living here will involve rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous. While buying property here will be expensive, it will be a good investment that is guaranteed to rise in value because people will always want to live and be seen in Knightsbridge.

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