Belgrave Square, the centrepiece of late Georgian London’s smartest and most fashionable development, was laid out from 1825 onwards by a consortium of Swiss born bankers (one of whom was a Governor of the Bank of England), the builder Thomas Cubitt and the architect George Basevi. From the beginning, tenants from the very highest social order were sought and no expense was spared in wooing them either in the layout of the square (which covers 10 acres) or in the construction of the flanking terraces. The north and east sides were built first, followed later by the slightly more exuberant west and south sides, once it became clear that the new square would prove financially rewarding to the ground landlord, Earl Grosvenor (later the 1st Marquess of Westminster) whose family still retains the freehold. The square takes its name from one of the Earl’s subsidiary titles, which in turn derives from a small village in Leicestershire. 175 years on, all four terraces remain as built, so that the square continues to look much as it did as when it was first completed back in the late 1830s.
The houses are large and stuccoed, with four storeys and with just enough variation in window shapes, porch detailing and attic treatment to avoid the charge of monotony. (The slightly larger houses at the four corners, by different architects, also differ, but because of the size of the square can never be seen together at the same time).
With minor exceptions, the internal room arrangements and decorations are much the same from one house to another, making No. 39 a representative example of its type. It has a large single first floor room for entertaining, a grand entrance hall and staircase for receiving guests, and ample space above and below for the required army of servants.
In the Victorian period the house was the town house of the Earl of Albermarle. Like most of the others in the square (now occupied by Embassies, cultural institutions or professional societies) its use as a private residence ended about the time of the Second World War.
Basevi, the house’s architect, was a highly competent late Georgian designer, trained in the office of Sir John Soane and best remembered today for being Disraeli’s cousin and the designer of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. He met his death falling from the tower of Ely Cathedral in 1845. Belgrave Square was one of his very first commissions.