Belgrave, a residential suburb in the Dandenong Ranges, is 36 km east of central Melbourne. It was named after Mount Belgrave, a house built by an early settler family, the Bensons, in the 1870s. The family had been connected with Belgrave chapel in Leeds, Yorkshire.
Until the 1900s Belgrave was considered to be part of Upper Ferntree Gully, and the railway station was known as Monbulk from 1900 to 1904. Land sales began in 1879 but were tentative: farms had to be hewn out of heavily timbered slopes. A village centre began at today’s Tecoma where a mission hall was established and a school opened in 1901. By World War I Belgrave had a store, a post office, a sawmiller and a dozen or so farmers and nurserymen. By 1920 it had become a resort destination with seven guest houses and four cafes/coffee palaces. There were also a chemist, a confectioner, an estate agent and two stores. A progress association reformed in 1918.
Railway access to Belgrave began in 1900 with a narrow gauge track from Ferntree Gully, navigating the hills to Gembrook. The narrow gauge service continued until 1958, with a four year delay until electric standard gauge began between Ferntree Gully and Belgrave in 1962.
In the 1920s town amenities came to Belgrave, including a Union church (1921), a soldiers’ memorial hall (1923), a maternity centre (1922, Tecoma) and a bowling green (1929). The Anglican church (1923) had as its first vicar the Reverend C.H. Clark, the father of Manning Clark. The following decade brought icing on the cake: Cameo cinema (1935), Olympic size swimming pool (1939) and an auto camp (caravan park).
Belgrave had about 1000 people in the 1920s and the expanding settlement was given new place names, Belgrave Heights and Belgrave South. The school (1907) at Belgrave South, along with the Tecoma and Selby schools, enrol all of Belgrave’s State school children.
Belgrave was promoted as the Queen township of the Dandenongs and as ‘Belgrave the beautiful’. To its north there was the Monbulk Forest (now Sherbrooke Forest and Dandenong National Park) and there were golf links south of the town. Its popularity continued into the postwar years and the Where to Go guide (1948) listed a number of guest houses.
Railway electrification in 1962 signified urbanisation. A Catholic primary school and college opened in 1963, the curving main street’s limited space was filled with shops and household pets became feral predators of native wildlife. Belgrave became best known as the starting point of the Puffing Billy railway.
Belgrave continues to have tree covered slopes and occasional bushfire alarms. It has several recreation reserves, a community health centre and a library. Its census populations have been:
Helen Coulson, Story of the Dandenongs, Melbourne, 1968
A.P. Winzenried, The hills of home, 1988
Reflections of the past: a photographic history of Belgrave, Upwey, Tecoma and Upper Ferntree Gully, 3 volumes, Belgrave, 1998-2005
Belgrave Heights and Belgrave South entries