Sloane Street was developed by Henry Holland for the 1st Earl Cadogan (1728-1807). Charles ‘Sloane’ 1st Earl Cadogan sold development lease to Henry Holland in 1777. Over the next few years Holland (architect, builder and son in law of ‘Capability Brown’)developed nearly 100 acres of Chelsea. He laid out the street plan for Sloane Street, Sloane Square and Hans Place as well as many other streets, designing the layout of much of what we see around us today. The development was named ‘Hans Town’. Nearly all of Holland’s original elegant Georgian houses have been swept away by later developments; however No. 123 Sloane Street is one of the few surviving examples. It was a house such as this that Jane Austen would have recognized. In 1811 she lived with her brother Henry at No.64 whilst pouring over the proofs of Sense and Sensibility. For a period of some 50 years Hans Town was a very fashionable place to live. Correspondingly, Knightsbridge became a magnet for shopping; laying the early foundations for the future growth of large stores.
Harvey Nichols can trace its history back to Benjamin Harvey’s shop of 1831 on the corner of Knightsbridge and Sloane Street – in exactly the same place Harvey Nichols is today. Much expanded since then, the frontage seen today was constructed in the 1880’s.
The latter part of the 19th century saw much development in Knightsbridge and the locality of Sloane Street. An increasingly busy shopping centre serving the fashionable local residents, Sloane Street boasted a variety of drapers, tailors, hosiers and milliners.
Fine hotels also sprang up, such as The Cadogan Hotel in 1887. Lillie Langtry, famous actress and close friend of King Edward VII, lived next door to the hotel. When the hotel expanded incorporating Lillie’s former home, she still stayed in her old bedroom (Room 109). The Cadogan Hotel at No. 75 Sloane Street was also the site of Oscar Wilde’s arrest in 1895, immortalized in John Betjeman’s poem.
Sloane Street has always been upmarket. However the seeds of its journey, culminating in the exclusive, leading luxury stores we see today, were sown in the 1960’s. The nearby Kings Road of ‘swinging 60’s fame’ saw the influx of some high-end trend setting stores. This continued over the subsequent years; however Sloane Street really came into its own in the mid-1990s. No longer was Sloane Street anything approaching a normal high street. Recovery from the early ‘90’s recession saw an explosion of luxury designer brands and flagship stores.
Sloane Street today is home to the world’s leading fashion houses, attracting a truly global clientele. The street continues to evolve and in 2013 welcomed the first UK standalone boutique for Tom Ford and a new Ermengildo Zegna boutique whilst Alberta Ferretti, Christian Dior, Valentino and Saint Laurent have all carried out major store refurbishments.
Before 1777 there was no Sloane Street or Sloane Square. A traveller wanting to get from Knightsbridge to the Kings Road, a distance of about ¾ of a mile (as the crow flies) would have to trudge across a patchwork of fields. And that’s if they dared to go at all. The route would take them dangerously close to the infamous Five Fields area to the east, just across the Westbourne stream.
Five Fields, a marshy no-mans-land, was home to brigands and highwaymen. At that time, on the eastern side of what is now Sloane Square was “Blandel” or “Bloody” Bridge, so called because of the numerous robberies and murders committed on the spot.
The Westbourne stream forms the ancient boundary between the lands of Chelsea, under the stewardship of the Cadogan Estate to the west and the Grosvenor Estate to the east. The stream still exists, although now runs underground.