London – Knightsbridge

Few people think of connecting the name of Knightsbridge with anything less modern than the big departmental shops, the Barracks or the cosy houses on the fringe of Mayfair and Belgravia.

Yet there was a town of Knightsbrigg in the fourteenth century, in Edward the Third’s day, when the Black Prince and his knights must often have crossed the Westbourne stream by the bridge built just where the Albert Gate now stands. Mr. Davis in his History of Knightsbridge gives as the origin of the name the story that “in ancient time certain knights had occasion to go from London to wage war for some holy purpose. Light in heart if heavy in arms, they passed through this district on their way to receive the blessing awarded to the faithful by the Bishop of London at Fulham. For some cause or other, however, a quarrel ensued between two of the band, and a combat was determined upon to decide the dispute. They fought on the bridge which spanned the stream of the Westbourne, while from its banks the struggle was watched by their partisans. Both fell, if the legend may be trusted; and the place was ever after called Knightsbridge in remembrance of their fatal feud.”

Walking down the Brompton Road from the Knightsbridge Tube station it is difficult to realise that not a hundred and fifty years ago “the stream ran open, the streets were unpaved and unlighted, and a Maypole was still on the village green.”

Yes, a few hundred years ago, on that very triangle of green grass you see today outside Mr. Tattersall’s big gateway, diagonally facing the Knightsbridge Tube station, men and maidens danced round the maypole on the Knightsbridge village green.

I have a special weakness for that three-cornered grass plot. People pass it every day and look scornfully at it-if they look at all. No one knows that it is all that is left of a piece of Merrie England. Little by little it has been pared away. The last maypole was taken down at the end of the eighteenth century, and the watchhouse and pound that Addison mentions in the Spectator disappeared about a quarter of a century later. The little bit of green has watched the evolution of the tiny chapel of the Elizabethan lazar-house that once existed near by into the stately and uninteresting Holy Trinity Church, and the gradual rise of the immense departmental shops to take the place of the village silk mercers of yesterday.

There is a tradition that part of the green was once used as a burial ground in the time of the Great Plague, but since there is no record of this gruesome fact, I refuse to believe it.