Gimme Shelters – Belgravia

Updated: Oct 31, 2018

SI SPENCER, JULY 2017


A short series exploring the surrounds of London’s surviving Cab Shelters, established in 1875 to provide sober and secure resting places for London’s hansom cab drivers and still in use by cabbies today.
Part 2 –Grosvenor Gardens to Pont Street

It’s hard to associate the phrase ‘Murder-Mile’ with the more affluent parts of a metropolis, but if ever there was a more incongruous juxtaposition between slaughter and wealth, it’s surely in this small stretch of one of the wealthiest parts of the Capital. Cadogan Place has seen at least two cases of typical male overreactions to the rejection of their beloveds; a butler slashed the throat of the housemaid after being rejected in 1839, while a besotted and deluded student murdered a young bridal model xxxxxxx in 1956. In 1970 in Wilton Crescent, Baron Bernstein’s butler was bludgeoned to death in his basement by his bisexual lover, while in wealthy Chester Square, the then-exiled King of Greece entered his rented property to discover his housekeeper dead against the door. Her brains had been blown out by her serial bigamist lover when she discovered his murky past.


Because… you know…. men.


Chester Square is one of the wealthiest addresses in London and has boasted a chequered variety of former residents; Mary Shelley, spy Guy Burgess, Margaret Thatcher and the exiled Queen of Holland during WWII. In November 1974, it was also a Chester Square address where a mysterious figure rang repeatedly on a doorbell at 10 o’clock at night. Receiving no answer the ‘mystery caller’ went away, leaving bloodied hand and footprints on the door and step. That visitor turned out to be ‘Lucky’ Lord Lucan of nearby Lower Belgrave Street.


For those rare souls unfamiliar with the Lucan case, it’s a long, long story riddled with conspiracy and conjecture that couldn’t possibly be summed up in a piece this short. Scores of books and documentaries and dramas have been written and made in an effort to unravel and explain the detailed nuances and intricacies of this complex case but essentially it goes like this.


‘Toff gambles family fortune, gaslights wife for her loot, fails, gets nawsed off, tries to kill her but does in the nanny instead, then disappears. Never found’


So not that long a story after all.


Lucan’s history is inextricably bound to two of the local drinking establishments – The Star and The Plumbers Arms in Belgrave Mews and Lower Belgrave St. It was in the Star that a seemingly happier Lucan would hold court and drink. Lucan almost certainly loved the down-market criminality of the Star – the Great Train Robbers drank here and in the bar, legendary jewel thief Peter Scott once openly declared his intention to rob the actress Sophia Loren of her jewels during her stay in London. He carried off the heist but allegedly made more money on the black market selling her underwear than he did her rocks.


Because… you know…. men.


The Plumbers Arms has a far less cheery history because it was here that Lucan’s wife Veronica Duncan rushed into the bar soaked in the blood of her nanny on the night ‘the mystery assailant’ murdered the hired help. And by ‘mystery assailant’, I mean ‘Lord Lucan’. It was Lucan. Let’s not faff about. It was Lucan. Any kind of pretence that it was anyone else is about as convincing as Shaggy claiming ‘It wasn’t him’.


One last drinking establishment in the area deserves a mention – in a modern day reworking of the aristocracy attempting to slum it with the supposed ‘hoi-polloi’, The Grenadier in Wilton Mews most recently got a reputation for being the ‘typical English pub’ where Madonna and then spouse Guy Ritchie used to hang out, probably holding competitions to see who could be the least convincing working-class-Londoner-down-the-boozer. Ignoring that blip however, the Grenadier has the reputation for being one of the most haunted pubs in London (by which I guess they mean number of sightings rather than actual numbers of ghosts).

Image credit: davidgtmcmahon

Legend has it that the upstairs rooms were once an informal mess for the Grenadiers and that one night, a hapless Guardsman had been caught cheating at cards. The subsequent beating he received from his compadres was so severe that he lost his life and is now bound to the tavern forever. As a passing gesture to help him pay off his debt, locals have for decades pinned currencies from all over the world to the ceiling – the unfortunate spook must have been fiddling the deck pretty hard however because despite the fortune amassed, his spirit still pesters the staff and locals.

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