Survey of London: Volume 39, the Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair, Part 1 (General History). Originally published by London County Council, London, 1977.
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The Development of the Estate 1720–1785
'I passed an amazing Scene of new Foundations, not of Houses only, but as I might say of new Cities. New Towns, new Squares, and fine Buildings, the like of which no City, no Town, nay, no Place in the World can shew; nor is it possible to judge where or when, they will make an end or stop of Building … . All the Way through this new Scene I saw the World full of Bricklayers and Labourers; who seem to have little else to do, but like Gardeners, to dig a Hole, put in a few Bricks, and presently there goes up a House.' So wrote Daniel Defoe in Applebee's Weekly Journal in 1725. (fn. 1) He was describing the amount of building work then going on in west London. Periodic bursts of activity in house building had been common in the western suburbs of London since the Restoration, but Defoe described the latest phase which followed the Hanoverian succession as 'a kind of Prodigy'. (fn. 2) Within a dozen years builders had moved from Hanover Square through the City of London's Conduit Mead estate well into the Grosvenor estate and even north of Oxford Street, in the vicinity of Cavendish Square. More deeds were registered in the Middlesex Land Register in 1725 than in any other year until 1765 - an indication of the feverish level reached by building speculation at that time. On the Grosvenor estate, where development began in 1720, only a handful of houses were occupied before 1725, but in that year the parish ratebooks show many more houses filling up and the new streets on the estate were formally named, an occasion marked by a 'very splendid Entertainment' given by Sir Richard Grosvenor. (fn. 3)
The relative stability which followed the Peace of Utrecht and the crushing of the Jacobite rebellion provided a favourable climate in which building developments could be undertaken, and there seems to have been plenty of capital available for mortgages even during the years of the South Sea Bubble, but it is difficult to find adequate demographic reasons why there should have been so many houses built in the decade after 1715. As far as we know the population of London was not rising substantially at this time, (fn. 4) but the inexorable movement of fashion westwards, partly out of the fear of disease in the more crowded parts of the capital, may have provided much of the impetus. Defoe remarked on the contrast between the depopulation of the older parts of the metropolis and the creation of new faubourgs in the west. 'The City does not increase, but only the Situation of it is a going to be removed, and the Inhabitants are quitting the old Noble Streets and Squares where they used to live, and are removing into the Fields for fear of Infection; so that, as the People are run away into the Country, the Houses seem to be running away too.' (fn. 5)
Against this background the decision of the Grosvenor family in 1720 to lay out The Hundred Acres in Mayfair for building is not a particularly remarkable one. The extent of the building scheme—stretching as far west as Park Lane may have been a bold gesture, but the timing of the enterprise must have been largely dictated by the fact that builders had already reached the eastern boundary of the estate in their development of the adjoining Conduit Mead property in the vicinity of New Bond Street, and the men who initially carried through the operation on the Grosvenor lands were almost without exception those who were still working on the neighbouring estate. (fn. 6)