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Property News,


In our address book

Property News,


In our address book

A rectory for the royal family’s favourite priest


Words by Leo Russell

The fascinating history of a Chester Square house once occupied by the king’s private chaplain

London transformed

The late Georgian and Victorian era saw London transformed. Landowning families built new neighbourhoods across their estates west of the City of London. Most of these neighbourhoods were centred on grand garden squares, with townhouses for the aristocratic and professional classes.

The neighbourhood of Belgravia was developed in the early nineteenth century by Richard Grosvenor, 2nd Marquess of Westminster. Its long terraces connected a series of squares: Belgravia, Eaton and Chester. Their names were inspired by the family’s historic link to the northern county of Cheshire: the village of Belgrave, the city of Chester, and the family seat of Eaton Hall. According to Nikolas Pevsner, the celebrated historian, Belgravia’s garden squares were London’s great contribution to urban architecture.

Chester Square was planned in 1828 and building work began in 1835. It was the smallest of the three squares, consisting of two gardens with white stucco terraces on either side. Although its houses are less grand than neighbouring Eaton Square, this gives the address a more secluded feel. What’s more, though many nearby properties have been divided into flats, most of the houses on Chester Square remain complete.

Celebrated residents of Chester Square

The square has been home to numerous celebrated residents. In the nineteenth century, it drew authors like Matthew Arnold and Mary Shelley. Arnold was a famous Victorian poet and critic who lived at No.2 between 1858 and 1868. Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, occupied No.24 from 1846 until her death six years later. Both houses now have blue plaques to mark the fact.

In the following century, Chester Square began attracting prominent figures from the arts. The musicians Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful lived here in the late Sixties. Then, in the early Seventies, the square was home to the actors Tony Curtis and Julie Andrews, as well as the director Blake Edwards. More recently, well-known names from business and politics have occupied the square, including Margaret Thatcher and Roman Abramovich.

Houses on Chester Square are highly desirable but do not come onto the market often. However, one of the square’s most special properties has recently gone on sale. This property’s interiors have been sensitively renovated to recover the scale and splendour of the Georgian design. Original features such as the elegant cornices and the ornate ceiling medallions have been respected through skilled craftsmanship. Meanwhile, the magnificent staircase was restored to its original Portland stone, and beautiful Regency-style fireplaces compliment the main living areas.

A unique history

At the same time, the property has been refurbished for modern requirements. For instance, a gym, sauna, steam room and spa were installed on the lower levels, along with air conditioning and integrated systems for the light and heating. Therefore, the house has all the convenience of a contemporary home, while celebrating the grandeur of the late Georgian era.

This property also has a unique history. In the Thirties, it was home to one of the most popular priests in Britain. The Reverend Canon Wallace Harold Elliott was born in 1884 and educated at Oxford. At the age of 42, he became chaplain to King George V, and two years later became a canon at St Paul’s Cathedral. Then, in 1930, he was made the vicar at St Michael’s Church, Chester Square.

St Michael’s Church was built in 1844. It was designed by Thomas Cundy, the surveyor of the Grosvenor Estate, and occupied the south-west end of the square. Cundy used Kentish ragstone in the Decorated Gothic style; the result resembles a medieval church in a country village. A war memorial chapel was later added by Giles Gilbert Scott, the architect better known for Liverpool Cathedral and the red telephone box.

'The Radio Chaplain'

Soon after Elliott moved to Chester Square, he began broadcasting on the BBC. Nicknamed the “Radio Chaplain”, his services from St Michael’s were played across the country. The church became popular, with roughly 500 people attending the Thursday evening service – when the recording was made – and 2000 packing in for the Sunday eucharist. Millions more would listen on the radio, including the royal family.

Elliott spent eight years at Chester Square. Afterwards, he returned to royal service, becoming Domestic Chaplain to King George VI during the Second World War. He was also made Precentor of the Chapels Royal – the formal name given to the churches on the monarch’s estates.

While serving at St Michael’s, Elliott lived at No.4 Chester Square. The property had been given to the Church of England as a vicarage, and remained in its possession for many years. Its sale a few years ago was the first time the house had been traded in ninety years, and its meticulous renovation was a tribute to two centuries of rich history.

Click here to view the full listing.


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