Upper Grosvenor Street
Introduction

Sponsor

English Heritage

Publication

Author

F. H. W. Sheppard (General Editor)

Year published

1980

Supporting documents

Pages

222-224

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'Upper Grosvenor Street: Introduction', Survey of London: volume 40: The Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair, Part 2 (The Buildings) (1980), pp. 222-224. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42142 Date accessed: 20 October 2014.


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CHAPTER XII

Upper Grosvenor Street

Situated between Grosvenor Square and Park Lane and for many years the address of the Grosvenors' own London mansion, Upper Grosvenor Street was long one of the best streets even within Mayfair, although Upper Brook Street was in some ways closely comparable to it. In 1918, indeed, the Grosvenor Board stated in its minutes that 'the street was looked upon as one of the finest residential properties on the estate or in Mayfair'. (ref. 1) The head of the Grosvenor family himself, however, was evidently less committed to the conservative implications of this view, (ref. 2) and in a few years much of the street was consumed or overshadowed by the present Grosvenor House.

The extent to which the original fabric of the houses in the street has survived is not, however, very much less than in Upper Brook Street. Of the fifty-one houses first built here, fifteen still exist at least vestigially, and of these perhaps ten have outwardly something of their original appearance, either with a later stucco facing or, at six houses, with substantially the brick fronts that were originally standard. All have probably been heightened by a storey or more. At six (Nos. 7, 9, 15, 16, 18, 44) original internal features are known to have survived. Of the rest, five, at Nos. 1–5, have disappeared without successors, where a wide pavement extends before the flank front of the American Embassy. The outward aspect of the remainder is notable for the comparatively scanty representation of the nineteenth century (chiefly to be seen at Nos. 6, 10, 11, and No. 93 Park Lane), and the correspondingly extensive show made by refrontings or rebuildings in this century: apart from the long northern flank front of Grosvenor House itself, which swallowed up some dozen house sites in the 1920's, and the return fronts of other blocks facing Park Street, which account for four more, there are thirteen house sites which exhibit twentieth-century fronts. Of these, only four augment Grosvenor House's contribution of inter-war neo-Georgian, while nine date (like the return fronts of the Park Street blocks) from the years between 1905 and 1914. It is perhaps to that period (which also gave a stone front to the demolished No. 1) that the street owes such distinctive character as it possesses.

Until the last fifty of its 250 years the history of Upper Grosvenor Street has been overwhelmingly that of private houses inhabited by the rich, and this a little more consistently even than in Upper Brook Street, where a nearer proximity to the less attractive north-west corner of the estate cast a doubt over its progress from which Upper Grosvenor Street was free. The presence from an early date of the noble and sometime royal mansion, initially Lord Chetwynd's, which became Grosvenor House seems to have fortified the firm social tone of this street.

As in Upper Brook Street, however, the prosperous future was not anticipated to such a degree or in such a way as to lead to a development that differed (save Lord Chetwynd's house itself) from the estate's norm. Laid out under five (or perhaps six) building agreements made in c. 1724–8, the street was built-up in houses under leases, or sub-leases, granted between 1727 and 1735 to some twenty-one building tradesmen who represented all the main crafts except the smith's and plasterer's. There is no suggestion in the leasing particulars of a peculiarly grand clientèle in prospect: as in Upper Brook Street the average frontage was of twenty-six or twenty-seven feet—about the same respectable width, that is, as in Grosvenor Street and Brook Street, and with the same prudently large variety in the actual width of plots, ranging from sixteen to forty (or, at No. 32, fifty-seven) feet.

The prudence was probably justified at the time, for the houses seem to have taken rather longer to dispose of to their first residents than those in the slightly earlier-developed Grosvenor and Brook Streets. An average of over three years elapsed between the completion of the carcases and the first occupation of the houses, which filled up between 1729 and 1741. But unlike in Upper Brook Street the completion of the street was not unduly delayed, and having come the first residents were disposed to stay for a reasonable length of time. On average (and excluding two tenants of public houses at the corners of Blackburne's Mews and Park Lane) they kept their houses for over eight years.

Three of these first residents were building tradesmen who had been involved in the creation of the street—Benjamin Timbrell at No. 12, Lawrence Neale at No. 24 and William Hale at No. 26. All were comparatively longterm residents, but it is quite consistent with fashionable London in the 1730's that the presence of these (no doubt substantial) master workmen did not deter the aristocracy. Some fifteen of the first occupants were titled, and ten are known to have been M.P.'s. Unlike in Upper Brook Street few were women, and the lodging-house element seems to have been lacking.

Given the varied width of frontages and the many builders involved it is not surprising that the first houses, while generally conforming in their brick fronts to a height of three storeys above street level plus a garret storey, differed greatly in their internal arrangement—or so is suggested by the score or more of surviving plans drawn in the years around 1800 by the estate surveyor. The types approximated, however, to those in Upper Brook Street. As there, a popular plan for the wider sites was that of the famous house at No. 44 Grosvenor Square with the ground floor divided by cross walls into four compartments of about equal size, one of those at the front being devoted to a spacious entrance-cum-staircase hall, and that behind it being divided into a secondary staircase compartment and a small rear room. This type is known to have existed at Nos. 14, 15, 19, 21 and 39 (and probably also at 18 and 20), most of them being associated with the carpenter Lawrence Neale, who is the most frequently encountered of the builders in Upper Grosvenor Street. Another rather noticeable type, which existed at Nos. 44, 45, 47 and 48, and probably 31, gave full-width rooms at front and back. The extravagance of an entrance compartment occupying all the front of the ground floor does not, however, seem to have been exploited, as it might have been by the later Palladians, to place the front door centrally.

Of the original doorcases only those (of wood) at Nos. 44 (Plate 62d) and 48 appear to survive. The testimony of a commentator in 1755 is that there were 'hardly two Doors alike in the whole Street', (ref. 3) in which they seem to have reflected a general lack of close uniformity between the houses.

By the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries a feature which was, again, paralleled in Upper Brook Street was the ground-floor passage at one side of the garden, connecting the house with the mews building, particularly when the builder had contrived the desired location of the kitchen there. Six of the plans show such a passage and at least one other house had one.

Apart from the two publicans there is little sign of retail trade in the street in its early days. In 1790 the householders in trade numbered three, an apothecary, a greengrocer, and a licensed victualler, all at the north-east end, at Nos. 3, 5 and 6. (ref. 4) Two years later all but a few householders were listed in Boyle's Court Guide, and by about 1835, as in Upper Brook Street, all the tradesmen had gone. The Victorian physician or surgeon was less evident here than in that street; in 1871 there were three, (ref. 5) but the Marquess of Westminster decided in 1873 that they should in time go the same way as the tradesmen, and by the next year only one remained. (ref. 6) The Marquess himself was seated, as the Grosvenors had been since 1808, at Grosvenor House, where from 1843 a noble if rather sombre colonnaded screen (Plate 20c in vol. XXXIX) gave dignity to the western end of the street, and he and his successor were to remain there until 1916. The replacement of this great mansion by the present Grosvenor House in 1927–8 was promptly matched by the appearance in the street of businesses, which are first shown in the Post Office Directory, at two sites, in 1928. By 1935 only three of the nine houses facing Grosvenor House, which had all been privately occupied in 1927, were still shown in private hands, and by 1939 only two. In that year, however, the eastern half of the street, between Park Street and Grosvenor Square, was still very largely occupied by private householders, interspersed with flats. Of the five houses which are listed in the directories as in the hands of tradesmen (in fact, clothes-makers) all but one were still confined to the range facing the new Grosvenor House.

Long tenure by the rich meant that this was a street where alterations made to the houses tended successively to obliterate each other. Little or nothing is known of embellishments in the 1760's or 1770's, elsewhere so productive of 'improvement'. A refronting and interior of the 1790's partly survives at No. 18, and Soane made substantial alterations in 1803–4 at the now-demolished No. 14. The 1820's were an active period here, which saw seemingly complete rebuildings at Nos. 4–6, 22, 25, 28, 37A and 47, as well as substantial work at Nos. 1, 15, 29 and 46. But of this only that at No. 6 is still visible to the passerby. The stucco-fronted rebuilding of Nos. 10–11 in the 1840's remains. These renovations and renewals made the street less susceptible to the white brick and Portland cement so favoured elsewhere by the second Marquess and Thomas Cundy II in the 1850's and 1860's: of the three orfour refrontings under their aegis only that at No. 15 survives. Nor is the red-brick 'Queen Anne' zeal of the first Duke better represented. The five houses rebuilt or altered between 1874 and 1880 have all been rebuilt or refronted in turn and the one front surviving from his day, No. 16, stuccoed in 1881, is totally uncharacteristic. Meanwhile the nineteenth century generally saw the houses heightened by a storey or two and built out at the back—often for a new dining-room or billiard-room, occasionally supplemented in this century by the more energetic racquets court.

The uncharacteristic stucco of No. 16, whatever its explanation, went on to survive the most important development under the second Duke—the almost complete replacement, soon after he succeeded to the title in 1899, of the existing fronts of houses on the north side of the street facing Grosvenor House (Plate 60a). At No. 23 an existing brick front was stuccoed in 1901–2 and another existing stuccoed front at No. 18 escaped through the outbreak of war in 1914. But what is chiefly noteworthy is the series of expensive refrontings or rebuildings exacted from lessees that produced finely worked ashlar façades at No. 17 (1906–7), Nos. 20 and 21 (1908–9), No. 14 (1908–11), No. 19 (1909–10) and No. 22 (1910). This was accompanied by a setting-back of the frontage by several feet. Further east, Nos. 37 and 38, on the return front of a block in Park Street which was also visible from Grosvenor House, were given a stone front in 1911–12 (Plate 46a in vol. XXXIX). No. 1 was stone fronted in the same year, and a big stone composition put up at Nos. 41–43 in 1912–14. The first of these stone-fronted houses, at No. 17, had a beguiling if odd elevation, with an Arts and Crafts flavouring, by the estate surveyor's own firm of Balfour and Turner (Plate 44d in vol. XXXIX), but its successors were all in something closer to conventional classicism, even if loose or exuberant like Nos. 19 and 21 (Plate 60c, 60d). Some were built as speculations by lessees, some under lease to the intending occupant. It is perhaps worth noting, although it is rather a commonplace of the estate, that the architects of these striking fronts are not those most obviously conspicuous in the profession before the war of 1914–18, and some are the comparatively obscure designers associated with building firms. The interiors survive, with more or less alteration, at Nos. 17, 19–21, 22 and 41–43, and other pre-1914 interior decoration at Nos. 11, 15, 18 and 47. Generally they show a neo-Georgian manner, that continued after the 1914–18 war—for example, at No. 48—but at least two houses, the stucco-fronted Nos. 16 and 23, have 'Jacobethan' features perhaps of about 1902.

The neo-Georgian brick-and-stone exterior was exhibited in a rather idiosyncratic form at No. 47 in 1905, but the inter-war examples in the flats at Grosvenor House, Nos. 39–40 and No. 46 are unremarkable. Interior work of the inter-war period exists at Nos. 17, 20, 44–45, 47 and 48.

As in Upper Brook Street, the external changes since 1939 have not been substantial. Even inside the houses radical reconstructions have been few, however great the transformation wrought by small pervasive alterations consequent on the replacement of the private householder by offices and the inter-war flats. Three houses (Nos. 44, 45 and 48), however, remain in private occupation, to whose number the house at No. 19 is being added by reconversion (1978–9).

References

1. GBM 44/408.
2. Ibid., 44/460.
3. London in Miniature, [printed for C. Corbett], 1755, p. 196.
4. G.L.R.O.(M), TC/St. G. 1.
5. P.O.D.
6. GBM 18/11: P.O.D.