The Development of the Estate 1720-1785
Layout

Sponsor

English Heritage

Publication

Author

F. H. W. Sheppard (General Editor)

Year published

1977

Supporting documents

Pages

12-13

Citation Show another format:

'The Development of the Estate 1720-1785: Layout', Survey of London: volume 39: The Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair, Part 1 (General History) (1977), pp. 12-13. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=41825 Date accessed: 22 October 2014.


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The Layout

There was nothing remarkable about the terrain of The Hundred Acres either to pose difficulties or create opportunities for Barlow in devising his layout. The ground sloped gently from a high point in the north-west corner to the valley of the Tyburn in the east, the lowest level being in the south-east corner. The only topographical feature of any note was the remnant of one of the fortifications erected during the Civil War and known by the eighteenth century as Oliver's Mount. (ref. 99) Probably by then little more than a raised earthwork, it was, however, sufficiently recognisable to give its name to Mount Field and subsequently to Mount Street, Mount Row and the Mount Coffee House, and the development which began in 1720 was often referred to initially as 'the new buildings about Oliver's Mount'. So completely was it obliterated in the course of building that its exact location is difficult to pinpoint, but the evidence of a map of 1717 and some vague references in documents suggest that it stood near the junction of Mount Row and Carpenter Street, where a public house called Oliver's Mount was established. (ref. 100)

Barlow's layout of the Mayfair estate is an exercise in disciplined, straightforward town planning—a grid of wide, straight streets with a grand place in the centre— which makes no concession at all to the irregular boundaries of the land. The positioning of the main east-west streets, and consequently of the square which lies between them, links up with the layout of the Hanover Square area. Brook Street and Upper Brook Street are direct continuations of that part of Brook Street which joins the south side of Hanover Square, while Grosvenor Street and Upper Grosvenor Street are aligned with the axis of St. George's Church (which had, however, not been built although its site had been determined upon when the Grosvenor estate layout scheme was made). In Brook Street Sir Richard Grosvenor had to take leases of land in Conduit Mead, which lay between his estate and the Hanover Square estate, and enter into agreements with builders there—in one instance allowing a builder to have land on his estate on especially favourable terms— in order to prevent them building across the proposed line of Brook Street and thus blocking up this important line of communication with older established parts of the West End. (ref. 101) The reason for the positioning of Grosvenor Street is less obvious. Barlow knew that the street could not be extended as far as St. George's Church in order to provide a monumental 'vista-stopper', for the course of the narrow Maddox Street, which was to skirt the north side of the church, had been decided by 1718, and frontages to the street west of its intersection with St. George Street were being developed by the following year. (ref. 102) It is possible, though highly unlikely, that Barlow foresaw that the steeple of the church (the design of which had not even been decided) would provide an effective terminal point to the view down Grosvenor Street from the west, but, more prosaically, it may be that he simply chose a convenient position for the street parallel with Brook Street. From the wording of his own building agreement of August 1720 Barlow originally anticipated that Grosvenor Street would be extended as a sixty-foot-wide road as far as New Bond Street, (ref. 16) but in the event the street narrows at the eastern boundary of the estate. This awkward transition is effected by bringing forward the frontage of No. 80 Grosvenor Street where Barlow originally built the Mount Coffee House.

There are several references in documents to a grand plan in which the layout was expressed, (ref. 103) but this does not appear to have survived. A small sketch plan is folded loosely in a notebook in which Robert Andrews kept a brief record of agreements and leases: (ref. 104) several comments are written on it and it may have been a working copy of the grand plan. It is somewhat misleading, however, as a record of the intended layout, for it seems that some streets were added to the sketch plan at a date later than the original drawing. The best record of the layout as originally planned is the map of the whole of the Grosvenors' London property drawn in 1723 by John Mackay, (ref. 105) which shows Mayfair as set out for building (Plate 1). This part of the map has the measurement of foot frontages inscribed, suggesting that it may have been taken from Barlow's grand plan, and at the foot of the map the area is described as 'Grosvenor Buildings or the Fields Commonly called Oliver's Mount Fields; being Partly built and a Square And Eleven Principal Streets designed As per Plan . … Few mews are shown, except in the area developed by Barlow himself, and the sites of these were probably worked out in the course of development. The evidence of this map suggests that alterations in the layout were made as building proceeded, particularly in the western part of the area. More streets were formed than originally intended, including Green Street, and the site of the projected chapel was altered. That some of these changes were variations from the initial scheme is confirmed by documentary evidence. (ref. 106)

The extent of The Hundred Acres enabled Barlow to plan on a lavish scale. Grosvenor Square itself measures 680 feet 530 feet between the building lines and covers over eight acres, its spaciousness increased by setting the houses in the square thirty feet back from the frontages of the streets leading into it (a device also used in Hanover Square, but not in Cavendish Square). The main eastwest streets—Grosvenor Street and Upper Grosvenor Street, Brook Street and Upper Brook Street—were intended to be sixty feet wide and most of the remaining streets fifty feet. Even the mews were spacious, an impression now enhanced by the relatively recent widening of their entrances, which were originally left deliberately narrow to make the stable yards less obtrusive. Long, straight, unbroken lines of terrace frontage, so favoured by the early Georgians, abound, and would have been even more extensive if the original layout scheme had been scrupulously followed.

References

99. Norman G. Brett-James, The Growth of Stuart London, 1935, pp. 274–5, 281.
100. P.R.O., MPH 1/258; C11 2430 38: G.L.R.O.(M), L.V.(W) 68 33: G.O., plan of Oliver's Mount public house, c. 1816.
101. G.O., building agreements, bundle 5, 8 June 1722; chest B, bundle 6, 10 July, 26 Oct. 1723.
102. Johnson, 'Note...', ut supra, pp. 13, 15: M.L.R. 1719 5 267–8.
16. G.O., early deeds, nos. 26 7: Menna Prestwich, Cranfield, Politics and Profits under the Early Stuarts, 1966, pp. 258–9.
103. E.g. GBA 30: GLB 1/9.
104. E.H.P., item 1193, lease and plan book.
105. G.O., John Mackay's map of the Grosvenor estate, 1723.
106. GBA 26: G.O., chest B, bundle 6, 10 July 1723.