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 Architecture of the Estate
The Early Buildings
A glance at the map or a short walk through the district will show that the Grosvenors' Mayfair estate, with its regular grid of broad streets and narrow mews, conforms in layout and structure to the characteristic development patterns of early-Georgian London. But though some few surviving buildings still remain from that period, an equally casual inspection will reveal how much of the original basic stratum has been concealed, overlaid or obliterated. Nineteenth- and twentieth-century flats, shops, office blocks and hotels have taken over upon the peripheries of the estate, while its very centre of Grosvenor Square has been so thoroughly rebuilt that only the merest traces survive from the initial development there. The four main sides of the square, to follow this example further, are now nearly all given over to modern flats, hotels, and diplomatic buildings, with the exception of two embassies that occupy the only surviving 'houses'; and even these houses (Nos. 4 and 38) are rebuildings or recastings of differing date, hardly related except in plot to the predecessors on their sites. Only along the four chief residential thoroughfares, Grosvenor, Upper Grosvenor, Brook and Upper Brook Streets and towards the bottom of South Audley Street, an outlying but always fashionable district of the estate, can the original Georgian fabric and character of the whole area be readily appreciated today.
Even here, as with the surviving houses of the square, qualifications have immediately to be made. Anywhere in these streets, what looks like a Georgian house may be only a Georgian façade; and, vice versa, what appears to be a Victorian or Edwardian rebuilding may just be a Victorian or Edwardian refronting. For throughout the smarter parts of the estate, one rich inhabitant has continually replaced another over the years; succeeding estate managers have, since the early nineteenth century, enforced a strict but variable set of demands for improvements (especially to fronts); and, latterly, there has occurred a near-universal change from single-family occupation to offices or flats. As a result, each and every house has been incessantly liable to refacing, internal alterations small and large, or complete rebuilding.
All this is a common pattern on London's older and larger leasehold estates, but it is particularly marked on the Grosvenor estate in Mayfair, for two perhaps connected reasons. One is that the district has never lost its high property values, nor since its construction fallen out of fashion; the other, that its acme of repute as an upperclass residential district was reached only quite recently, at the end of the last century and the beginning of this one. Viewed in this light, the older areas of the estate are a palimpsest, of no vast antiquity perhaps, yet subject to continual rewritings. What is remarkable is not so much that parts of the original are still decipherable, but that these should have so vividly affected, shaped and often fixed the labours of those that came after.
The method, organisation and chronology of the initial development on 'The Hundred Acres' have already been discussed in Chapter II. Something, too, has been said of the rationale of its plain and grid-like layout (Plate 1), evidently the work of the estate's first surveyor, Thomas Barlow. Ambitious in scale but aesthetically unadventurous, its chief debts were to its immediate predecessors and neighbours, Lord Scarbrough's Hanover Square development and the Cavendish-Harley estate north of Oxford Street, both of which schemes were initiated a little before development on the Grosvenor estate began in 1720. (fn. 1) The one obvious dramatic feature of Barlow's layout was, of course, Grosvenor Square— at 680 by 530 feet larger than any previous square laid out in London. In plan it had resemblances to Cavendish Square (c. 1719–24), the first London square to incorporate two roads at precise right-angles to each other running into the corners, thus making each side of the square in some degree a continuation of the grid of streets around it. (fn. 2) But in Cavendish Square this occurred in only the north-west and north-east corners, for on the south side the only road running out of the square did so from the middle, crossing Oxford Street and debouching into the north side of Hanover Square. Grosvenor Square takes the Cavendish Square principle to its logical conclusion, with two streets running into each corner, making eight altogether. But though the long north and south sides might naturally have been bisected by further streets running into the centre of the square, this was not done. The line of George Street (present-day Balderton Street) together with the passage known to have been projected from Providence Court into the middle of the north side of the square gives a hint that such a street may have been considered but abandoned. (fn. 3) If it had been cut through, the shorter frontages thus created would have lent themselves to expansive sites for individual noblemen's houses such as were encouraged in Cavendish Square. That some such scheme may seriously have been mooted is hinted at by the survival in the Grosvenor Office of a drawing (Plate 4a) showing neat plans and elevations for a large house on a corner site, bigger than anything ever built in Grosvenor Square, with a 'front to ye square' of some seventy-five feet. Though there is nothing hut its provenance to connect it with Grosvenor Square and it fails to fit any of the sites as actually developed, it may well he an early scheme for the west end of the north side, made at a time when palatial houses were possibly being contemplated. In style, this drawing with its distinctive pilasters and its aprons under the windows is much more consciously attuned to the English Baroque than anything actually built in the square, and has a flavour of the work of Thomas Archer (who did indeed have an interest on the north side of the square, though at the east end, on a site with which the drawing can have no connexion).
However, if this kind of scheme was ever seriously considered, it came to nothing. It may have been the difficulties encountered with individual noble lessees in Cavendish Square that helped to persuade Barlow and the Grosvenors to stick on all four frontages to the kind of terrace housing familiar from St. James's Square and Hanover Square, and now rising along Grosvenor and Brook Streets. This decision, together with the arrangement of streets at the corners, meant that Grosvenor Square was more integrated into the surrounding estate layout than any previous square in London. But to dispel just a little the insistent rectilinearity of the scheme, the building line on all four sides of the square was set back thirty feet from that of each of the incoming streets, as on the short sides of Hanover Square. This led to extra spaciousness in the square itself, and to the creation of four distinctive L-shaped corner sites; on one of these (Nos. 9 Grosvenor Square and 88 Brook Street in the north-east corner) something of the original fabric survives. Though the square was doubtless less easy to take in as a whole than is suggested by early engravings (Plate 5a), these corner sites must have helped to give to its peripheries some much-needed solidity, and thus contributed to its 'squareness'. In the centre, the oval garden probably had some slight softening effect upon the contours of the square, though the paths were strictly formal, the planting was minimal, and the whole scheme centred upon John Nost's gilded equestrian statue of George I in the middle. The garden layout (1725) was the work of the little-known John Alston; the traditional attribution to William Kent appears to have no basis.
One other obvious feature in the planning of the estate, also shared by the Hanover Square and CavendishHarley schemes, was the exclusion of its main public place of worship from the square. In any comparable French or Italian town-planning project of this date, a church or other public institution would have been the natural point of focus, but in England this was not the custom, despite the early precedent of St. Paul's, Covent Garden. St. George's, Hanover Square (1720 5), the parish church for the Grosvenor estate and a building with which Thomas Barlow was involved, had despite its importance been sited outside Hanover Square itself, rather as St. James's, Piccadilly, had been related to St. James's Square some fifty years before. On the CavendishHarley estate, James Gibbs's Oxford Chapel (the modern St. Peter's, Vere Street) was situated well away from Cavendish Square and in no way emphasized. So too the Grosvenor Chapel was allotted an equally inconspicuous position in South Audley Street, though it did at least have the advantage of a vista along Chapel (now Aldford) Street. Nor can it have been deemed essential to the early success of development, for though it was projected from the start it was not built until 1730–2. At one stage indeed, Edward Shepherd thought of erecting a chapel in North Audley Street, again on a relatively modest site, but this came to nothing; (fn. 4) the Grosvenor Chapel, when built, became the estate's only place of established worship. Likewise, other special buildings, whether public or private, were equally slow to develop and tended to occupy peripheral sites. The layout, in fact, was designed with terrace housing alone specifically in mind, and it is the nature of this that must now be examined.
In the 1720's and 1730's it was not as yet feasible for a landlord to impose absolutely regular frontages upon the London speculative building lessees of the day. But if only because the Grosvenor estate was by far the biggest single area of high-class domestic building at the time, attempts were made here and there, notably in the square, to combine individual house fronts into the kind of disciplined architectural composition beloved of the Palladians. This has to be seen in perspective. Palladian ideals being as yet new in the 1720's, Barlow and the master builders who dominated the estate development still practised an architecture in the tradition of speculative building going back to the era of Nicholas Barbon fifty years before, but tempered by modest innovations from the school of Wren. Further, in conjunction with the short-lived period of the English Baroque, there appears to have been a reaction against uniformity of town-house fronts, especially for houses of the larger sort, and this was still reflected in the estate development. In Grosvenor Square, the only part of the area for which there is good evidence as to the original appearance of the houses, the variations were considerable. Some of them were due to the leasing history of the various plots, some to stylistic uncertainty following the onslaught of Palladianism, but some may have been the outcome of a conscious desire for variety. Almost certainly, the surrounding streets looked more uniform and more disciplined, but this would have been in the interests of economy rather than classicism. Nevertheless, the Palladian movement did have much influence on the estate. Colen Campbell, Roger Morris, William Benson, Thomas Ripley and Edward Shepherd, five important figures in the implementation of Palladian ideals, all had a hand in the development. Their precise involvement is specified elsewhere (see pages 20 2), but here something must he said of its nature and results.
It was upon Grosvenor Square that the new movement naturally concentrated its powers. Here Colen Campbell contributed in 1725 an intriguing but unexecuted design for the cast side, known only from an engraving showing a front elevation and ground-floor plan of the whole composition (Plate 4b). The elevation presents a striking antithesis to speculative building traditions of the time: an absolutely even and symmetrical range dressed in the whole Palladian finery, with stone arches to the ground floor, first-floor balconies, an engaged order to the upper storeys, elaborate window dressings and balustrading with crowning statues masking the roof. The backs of the houses are shown on the plan as very curtailed but absolutely regular, while no allowance is made for the corner sites, so this was probably something of an ideal solution. Nevertheless John Simmons, the developer of the square's east side (Plates 5, 8a), did manage within the limits of a plain brick architecture to maintain the symmetry and regularity suggested by Campbell; he raised a central pediment and emphasized the ends, thus distinguishing the range from the rest of the square and other parts of the estate, and setting an important precedent for London street architecture.
Campbell was very likely involved in the two long sides of Grosvenor Square as well. A similar design of his for a block of three houses, perhaps for the south side, was again not followed, but on the north side the story is more intriguing. Though lavish in the scale of its houses, this side as built ended up as an irregular and frankly clumsy range because of the inclusion among its façades of two Palladian compositions with attached orders and pediments and, between them, a third less 'correct' interloper adorned with pilasters (Plate 5). Had these buildings balanced each other, all would have been well, but this they failed to do, thereby exciting the derision of acerbic critics such as James Ralph. (fn. 5) Close to the west end of the side Edward Shepherd's massive composition occupied three houses (Nos. 18–20, to follow modern numbering); near the middle, the pilastered part extended over two (Nos. 15 and 16), while to the right of centre there was just John Aislabie's elegantly pedimented house at No. 12 (fig. 2a), conspicuous amidst a run of otherwise orthodox fronts. Individually, Shepherd's development and the Aislabie house were of high merit, and since Colen Campbell had been patronised by Aislabie at Waverley Abbey and Studley Royal and was an associate of Shepherd's, he could have had some hand in either of these ambitious buildings. That a 'regular range' had at first been designed by Shepherd for the whole of the north side is claimed by Robert Morris, (fn. 6) and it would have been natural for Shepherd, though clearly the architect for his development, at least to consult Campbell. It may be no coincidence that the window surrounds on Campbell's surviving own house, the modest No. 76 Brook Street (fig. 2e), on a plot made available to him by Shepherd, appear to be similar in shape, character and material to the 'plaister' ones specified for Shepherd's Grosvenor Square houses.
So despite the participation of two experienced undertakers, Simmons and Shepherd, and the enthusiasm of Campbell, the pioneering Palladian, the attempt to build uniform classical frontages in the square met with very limited success. It was even harder where plots were parcelled out among different builders in smaller divisions. Outside the square, one such effort to impose a uniform frontage on a number of builders in Upper Brook Street as late as 1742 soon met with opposition and failed (see page 31). Normally, the different lessees and sub-lessees were building on plots of limited frontage with little or no restriction as to proportion and style, and so there was naturally opportunity for plenty of variation from house to house. Width of plot, height and number of storeys, proportions of windows, quality and type of brickwork on the front: all these features varied according to the position and status of the house in question (Plate 8b, 8c, 8e). The simple overall layout meant that these small tendencies to indiscipline were enlivening rather than disruptive, whereas an elaborate composition in town planning might have been wrecked by them.
Along the estate's chief streets and in most of the square, the effect was quite different from the monotonous regularity of later Georgian thoroughfares like Baker Street or Gower Street. Instead, the finished appearance must have consisted of variations upon the well-tried but ever fertile theme of flat, stock-brick fronts, of unpredictable width and slightly irregular height (fig. 2). Where two or more houses were undertaken together, there was sometimes no architectural break between them; more frequently, it was the practice to draw attention to the division by means of projecting brick piers or 'pilaster strips', a favourite device along the estate's main streets and one probably borrowed from the Hanover Square development. These curious strips, which can still be seen in places in Grosvenor Street, gave definition to the individual houses. Where adjacent plots were developed by a single builder, the strips would usually span the party wall. Elsewhere they were less formally organized, belonging sometimes to one house, sometimes to another (Plate 8c), and a few of the widest plots included two strips, to the deprivation of their narrower neighbours. Sometimes these strips were plain, sometimes rusticated like quoins. In the square itself, proper stone quoins were common (Plate 8a), but this seems to have been infrequent elsewhere, though there are surviving examples at No. 16 Grosvenor Street and Nos. 35–36 Upper Brook Street (Plate 6b; fig. 2f). At the ends of these unevenly divided but otherwise flat-fronted ranges, it became a charming habit to give the return frontages to some of the corner houses delightful bay windows or other features to the upper storeys, carried out on piers or pillars and sometimes projecting right over the pavement. Though the only examples that survive are those at Nos. 9 and 71 South Audley Street (Plate 6d), these upper-storey projections (which may frequently have been early additions) were not uncommon, and were also to sprout here and there along the main frontages.
As for the fronts themselves, these were of anything between two and five windows' width. The windows generally were still segment-headed, with their wooden frames set well back in accordance with the Building Act of 1709, and their surrounds dressed liberally with red cutters and rubbers to set off the grey-brown of the stock bricks. Indeed many of the original fronts were probably quite colourful, to make up for the lack of stonework. Stone dressings were common only in the square and other special places; elsewhere, bold plaster cornices and wooden doorcases ruled the day. In height, there was rough uniformity along the main streets, but little attempt to make storey levels coincide. Three storeys above ground sufficed for Georgian wants, with a further one in the attic, usually with dormers perching over the cornice and set within a roof of double pitch, or more rarely treated as a fourth full storey flush with the front. The whole house would be raised upon a basement storey, its front area protected by stout iron railings (a feature often specified in the building agreements) and frequently containing an ornamental lead cistern.
Though none of these terrace fronts along the main streets remains absolutely unscathed, two sets of houses designed as pairs, Nos. 44 and 45 Upper Grosvenor Street and Nos. 35 and 36 Upper Brook Street, are good but rather different types of survivors (Plate 6a, 6b; fig. 2f). Both pairs were built in two tones of brickwork; but in Upper Grosvenor Street the houses (c. 1727–31) have the segmental window heads and wooden doorcases typical of early development, whereas the later Upper Brook Street houses (c. 1737–42) adopt the embellishments by then familiar from the square, of string courses between the storeys, stone quoins, keystones, and rusticated door surrounds. All four of these houses have had balconies added and windows lengthened at first-floor level, and the Upper Grosvenor Street houses have been heightened. Similar changes have been made at Nos. 70 and 76 Brook Street, 51 Grosvenor Street, 10 and 13 South Audley Street, and 48 Upper Grosvenor Street, all terrace houses whose fronts still have much of their old character, without more than the most superficial admixture of stucco (fig. 2b–f).
Photographs of the lost Grosvenor Square houses confirm the slightly different picture there already suggested. The houses whose fronts survived best until the square's recent rebuilding were No. 1 on the east, Nos. 12, 14 and 17 on the north, No. 25 on the west, and Nos. 37, 44 and 46 on the south. But of this group, if those on the north and east side bear out the greater formality intimated in early engravings, the south side ones show the extent to which a pre-Palladian brick architecture continued even in the square. No. 44, one of a row of similar houses here, was particularly attractively organised, with the red dressings flanking the windows carried up without break between the floors to cornice level; this emphasized the pilaster strips at either end and gave the whole building a strong vertical accent, augmented by treating the attic as a full storey flush with the front (Plate 7).
The smaller residential houses of the estate have nearly all been demolished (Plate 8e). But the survivors show that they differed in scale and plan rather than in front from their superiors. A well-preserved group at Nos. 70–78 (even) Park Street, originally quite a respectable row of small houses and including an almost untouched façade at No. 72, gives an idea of the appearance of some of the secondary streets, a sequence of modest fronts in two tones of brick (Plate 8b). Further down the social scale, the disappearance has been total. Simplicity must have been the rule, since in many districts tenements with only a single room per floor were crammed into a riddle of back alleys, as in Brown's Court, Green Street, one of the few places of this kind for which we have a reliable plan (see fig. 1 on page 32).
In general, most of the lesser houses on the estate followed the common London terrace plan. It is well known that in the late seventeenth century there evolved a standard arrangement for the smaller London terrace house, consisting of two rooms per floor, a dog-leg staircase rising alongside the back room and, often enough, an additional small rear parlour or closet facing the yard. This plan appears, for instance, throughout Nos. 70–78 (even) Park Street and in many places along the main streets where frontages were narrow (fig. 3a), but it could also be used outside a strictly residential context. At this period there were no special plans for shops, taverns or even small manufactories, and this established arrangement quickly proved itself both adaptable and economic. As a result the standard plan became the norm in streets of mixed character like Mount Street and Duke Street, where for over a century it steadily continued to perform the varied functions laid upon it.
But though this plan suited small houses, it would not do for the smarter parts of the estate, which abounded in generous frontages and deep plots leading right through to stables some 150 feet or more away. A separate servants' staircase was hard to include in the standard arrangement, and the areas of circulation and main stairs themselves tended to he cramped. Alternatives of several kinds were evolving for larger houses at the time the estate was being developed; consequently the individuality of the firstclass Grosvenor estate house was more strikingly expressed in its plan than in its elevation (fig. 3).
Where a secondary staircase was felt to he de rigueur, the most fashionable plan, much employed on the recently built Burlington estate, (fn. 7) was to have a 'great stair' starting from the front compartment of the house inside the entrance hall and turning back towards the street, from which it was lit (fig. 3f). This staircase rose only to the first-floor reception rooms; the upper storeys were served by separate stairs (usually with a toplight high above) which was situated behind the great stair in the central or back compartment of the house and climbed most or all of the way from basement to attic. Houses of this kind were built throughout the square and surrounding streets where the plots were of thirty-foot frontage or over, allowing at least four windows towards the street, sometimes five, and therefore giving enough space for ample front rooms on ground and first floors beside the great stair. Examples with parts or more of the main stairs surviving can still be seen at Nos. 67 Brook Street, 34 and 59 Grosvenor Street (Plate 9b, 9d), and 14 and 74 South Audley Street, and plans remain of many other lost ones, e.g. at No. 43 Grosvenor Street (fig. 3f). It must have been a particularly common type in the square, but there documentation of the original plans is sadly scant.
Although this was the most distinctive and fully evolved type of plan for the larger terrace house, there were plenty of other options available. One was the central toplit staircase arrangement, whereby the entrance hall was left clear and the great stair, lit by a skylight high above, rose immediately behind to first-floor level, with the secondary staircase again behind that and sometimes relegated right to the very back of the house beyond a large reception room. The advantage of this disposition, which survives at No. 33 Grosvenor Street and can be clearly seen on plans of various demolished houses, for instance Nos. 43 and 45 Brook Street (fig. 3g, h), was to allow a large room facing the front at first-floor level, which compensated for loss of living space on the ground floor below. This plan was relatively novel when it first appeared on the Grosvenor estate, but was to grow in popularity throughout the eighteenth century; the lengthy rear wings often incorporated in such arrangements were commonly used as private suites, for the master of the house on the ground floor, for the mistress on the floor above. In its full form, the central toplit plan was again at its best for houses of four or five windows' width, but it could also be used in a curtailed version for those of three windows' width; in houses of this kind the need for a separate servants' staircase was beginning to be increasingly felt. A remarkable variant survives at No. 44 and originally existed also at No. 45 Upper Grosvenor Street (fig. 3d), both threebay houses, where the back stairs are in parallel to the main staircase, which is toplit from a low dome in the centre; this creates a fine effect but necessarily curtails the size of the rooms at front and back. In other houses of three windows' width, for instance No. 16 Upper Grosvenor Street (fig. 3b), the presence of a conventional dog-leg staircase did not inhibit the inclusion of a secondary one, placed behind the rear wing closet and accessible only through the back room on each floor. For houses on the estate without back stairs, a central staircase was also a common variant from the conventional type of plan, as it long had been. In various houses of lesser width of frontage like Nos. 10 and 73 South Audley Street and No. 38 Upper Brook Street (before alteration) the toplit stairs were thrust between front and back rooms with small closets or passages behind (fig. 3c). This was basically an old-fashioned arrangement, especially when the staircase was of the dog-leg variety, but it survived well into the 1730's and beyond.
Happily, there is good proof to show how heterogeneous the plans of the houses along the main streets really were. There survives at the Grosvenor Office a large body of ground-floor plans of individual houses, showing their state round about the beginning of the nineteenth century; these were made by William Porden and his assistants for the purposes of leasing, at the time that the estate management was being put upon a more professional footing. By this date many of the houses had already been altered, and as the drawings were done at different times they vary in detail and accuracy. But when used judiciously together with a survey made by Robert Taylor and George Shakespear in 1778–9 showing in detail the triangle within Davies Street, Grosvenor Street, and South Molton Lane/Avery Row (fig. 4), they demonstrate the variety of possible arrangement. For instance, the relative frequency of the three main plan types is given by the crude statistic that of some 120 fully enclosed terrace houses along Brook, Upper Brook, Grosvenor and Upper Grosvenor Streets for which the arrangement is known, 51 were of the conventional staircase type, 35 had their chief staircase in the front compartment, and 33 had some form of main central stairs. More sense can be made of these figures in terms of plot widths and the presence of secondary stairs. In Grosvenor Square, where frontages habitually exceeded thirty-five feet in breadth and had more than three windows, few if any houses had the conventional staircase arrangement, and none is known to have been without back stairs. In the surrounding streets, the houses of three windows' width and approximately twenty-five feet in frontage are the unpredictable ones. If they had back stairs, usually they adopted some form of main central staircase, but if they omitted back stairs, either the conventional type or a central staircase was possible. To sum up, a central staircase could be found in all kinds of houses, while a front compartment staircase tended to be reserved for those of wide frontage and a conventional dog-leg staircase for narrow ones of three bays or less.
In houses of the largest size, the characteristics of the terrace house plan might be virtually lost and much of the spaciousness of the nobleman's free-standing town house could be obtained, despite enclosure. In examples like No. 47 Brook Street (with a frontage of forty feet but, curiously, only three windows towards the street) or No. 19 Grosvenor Square (five windows wide with a sixty-foot frontage), the entrance was in the centre of the façade, and the plan resolved itself into a series of separate but equal compartments en suite, with toplit stairs where required (fig. 31). Despite the efforts of Simmons and Shepherd to create symmetrical compositions, this grandest of all the house types was the distinct exception, even in Grosvenor Square. Thus Isaac Ware, propagandizing in his Complete Body of Architecture on behalf of a Palladian programme for symmetrically planned town houses, found cause to complain of 'one very striking instance of placing the door out of the centre. This errs both in proportion and situation, and must be named as a caution to the young builder. The house is in Grosvenor Square; the edifice is large and conspicuous, but one is puzzled to find which is the way into it. It appears a house without a door, and when the eye is cast upon the little entrance at one side, one scarce knows how to suppose it is the door to that house; it seems to belong to the next.' (fn. 8)
An analysis of the plan types and plot widths offers no logical answer to the question of why small and large houses were so closely intermingled along the four main streets. In Grosvenor Street there was some tendency for the grander houses to be sited nearer the square, and there were few plots in Upper Brook Street and Upper Grosvenor Street with the width of frontage sometimes found in Brook and Grosvenor Streets, but to both these rules there are exceptions. The size of houses erected in any one area depended upon the inclinations, capacities and ambitions of the developers, especially when they were taking large plots, and not upon any clear conception on the part of Thomas Barlow or any other officer of the estate. To take one instance visible on the 1778–9 survey plan mentioned above (fig. 4), the north side of Brook Street between Davies Street and South Molton Lane was taken in 1720 by Henry Avery and Robert Pollard as one lot. Fifteen small houses, nearly all of conventional plan and probably of quite uniform appearance, were built here, though scarcely anything of them survives today. Yet immediately opposite on a strip of similar length along the south side of Brook Street, the land was divided between several undertakers; here only eleven houses were built, but these were of greater size and varying plan. The rich and the not-so-rich were therefore staring each other in the face, a situation which had polarized by the 1780's, when the majority of the houses on the north side were occupied by tradesmen. In 1805, when William Porden was asked to consider the conversion of one of the south side houses into a hotel, he reported that the good houses here were neither so fashionable nor so profitable as they ought to have been, because of the proximity of lesser ones. (fn. 9) There was a similar contrast (though less sharp) in Grosvenor Street east of Davies Street, where most of the houses on the north side were smaller than those on the south. Why the better class of house in the eastern parts of both these streets occupied the south sides we do not know. In Upper Brook and Upper Grosvenor Streets, nearly all the houses had frontages of between twenty and thirty-five feet and there was much less unevenness between the sides.
Despite the remains of much original work here and there, a clear idea of how the interiors of these houses first appeared or how they functioned is hard to come by. In view of later attempts, often successful, to convey a 'period' authenticity in their redecoration, the nature of the original schemes cannot easily be seen objectively. The evidence of memoirs and correspondence is scanty, building accounts rarely survive and are even less frequently helpful; early inventories, however, are not so uncommon, and have been much depended upon for what follows.
From our review of its planning, it is plain that the early Georgian first-class terrace house on the Grosvenor estate was rarely a composition of great formality. One reflection of this is the nomenclature of rooms, which were most often designated not by their function but by their position or sometimes by their embellishment. On the ground floor were the parlours, usually 'fore parlour' and 'back parlour', the normal focus of private family activity. At first-floor level the front room, especially if it was at the head of a 'great stair', might be the grandest room of the house in which guests were received and entertained. More remarkably, the 'eating room' was often also at this level. It was certainly so at Handel's house, just off the estate at No. 25 Brook Street; (fn. 10) inventories of 1757 and 1772 show dining-rooms at first-floor level at Nos. 9 and 6 Grosvenor Square respectively; (fn. 11) and in 1756 Isaac Ware takes it for granted that the dining-room of an ordinary house would naturally come over the hall. (fn. 12) Still, by the mid century, dining-rooms were sometimes at ground level, more often at the front. Thus at No. 29 Grosvenor Square, a schedule of 1746 mentions one on the first floor, but by 1757 it has descended to ground level. (fn. 13) In the best houses, this change meant the reorganization of the ground-floor parlour so as to make a capacious room with a recess or sometimes a screen of pillars marking off the serving area, thus often curtailing the back room behind (figs, 3h, 4). By 1800 many of the houses on the estate had been altered in this way, but it is a moot point whether in some the change did not take place shortly after completion; at No. 50 Grosvenor Square, a surviving set of what appear to be very early plans already shows this arrangement. (fn. 14)
A dining-room on the first floor must have meant a long trek from the kitchen; this was most frequently in the basement along with the other 'offices' and normally faced the front area. But in at least one of the larger Grosvenor Street houses (on the site of the present Nos. 71–72), it had already been relegated from the start to a position 'away from the house', (fn. 15) and a similar arrangement, found at No. 16 Grosvenor Street in about 1763, was probably also original. (fn. 16) Such a long separation of kitchen and dining-room was inconvenient to gentry as well as to servants, who must have had to cross some of the important public spaces with hot dishes and dirty plates. But it seems not to have troubled the Georgian builders, or the inhabitants of their houses, still content to live at close quarters and without complete privacy.
The houses were certainly very fully occupied at certain seasons. In 1763 Lady Molesworth's reputedly 'small' house at No. 49 Upper Brook Street burnt down one night (a peril to which early Georgian town houses, with their stud partition walls, their wooden stairs, and their stretches of panelling, were prone). Horace Walpole says that seven inhabitants perished, another account claims ten, but certainly several escaped. This means that there were probably some fifteen people in the main house, though admittedly at a time when there were visitors, since Lady Molesworth 'to make room had taken her eldest daughter, of 17, to lie with her' in the front room on the second floor (a casual, crowded arrangement which would have been avoided at a later period). (fn. 17) Again, when in 1726 Sir Thomas Hanmer moved into his new house at No. 52 Grosvenor Street, one of the district's largest, it appears that he had at least fourteen servants (mostly male) in and around the house, besides his wife and family. But if these houses were intensively used, that was not the case all the year round. Hanmer's accounts show him, with fair regularity, living in Grosvenor Street between November and May and moving to the countryside for the rest of the year. (fn. 18) From the architectural point of view this seasonal migration meant that for some five months of the year the houses were merely looked after by servants, and therefore there was ample time and scope for the decorative improvements that were so frequently demanded, right from the early days of the estate's history.
There must always have been a wide variety in the degree and elaboration of internal finishing in these early houses. One useful hint for interpreting their original quality is the mix of panelling and plaster. The basic material was of course panelling, and on moving into her new house in Grosvenor Street (on the site of Nos. 71–72) in the early 1720's Lady Hertford was pleased to report 'that (except the garrets) there is not a corner unwainscotted'. (fn. 15) But though panelled interiors were practical, they were not in any way special. Many quite modest houses, for instance Nos. 7 and 8 Upper Brook Street or Nos. 70 and 74 Park Street, retain much panelling, while some of the more luxuriously appointed ones such as Nos. 71, 73 and 74 South Audley Street have, and probably always had, little (Plate 10a): prosaically enough, an early inventory of No. 45 Grosvenor Square records in the garden a wainscotted 'Boghouse'. (fn. 19) In tact deal panelling without any mouldings ('square work') could be cheaply run up and was regularly used in attics and up to dado level in basements. It could be framed directly on to internal brickwork, or be attached to studs to make thin partition walls not bearing any load. On the main floors, it would be more or less elaborated, with at the simplest a 'quarter-round' or 'ovolo' moulding (often carved with egg and dart) framing the panels, which were set back from the stiles and characteristically rose high in proportion to their breadth. One better than this was the raised and fielded panelling that formed the wainscotting of the parlours in the best houses. These were the two basic types of good panelling, which though subject to variation are nevertheless distinguishable from later imitations. The cornices in panelled rooms of high quality would include a run of egg and dart or of modillions; on bedroom floors, wooden box cornices seem to have been the norm.
However this wainscotting was originally treated, it is clear that at least in the best houses it was primarily regarded as a background to other things. Most of it was made from imported deal, which was very nearly always painted, and sometimes grained to look like oak. The tone of the painting remains a difficulty but light colours seem to have been the commoner. Ware must have been thinking of white or cream when he spoke in 1756 of panelling 'painted in the usual way' as lighter than stucco, (fn. 20) and in 1769 the building agreement for Lord Bateman's house in Park Lane (later Somerset House) specified that the main rooms should be left a dead white but the bedroom floor and attics a stone colour, presumably as a basis before the upholsterer moved in. (fn. 21) Later in the century, shades of green were popular for panelling and by 1800 stronger tones were frequent. But whatever its tone, the panelling served chiefly as a background for broad, brightly coloured areas of fabric, with mirrors ('pier glasses') frequently interspersed in between. Thus Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, in 1732 tells her grand-daughter, then about to move into No. 51 Grosvenor Street: 'Though several people have larger rooms, what you have is as much as is of any real use to anybody, and the white painting with so much red damask looks mighty handsome. All the hangings are up in the four rooms above stairs except some pieces that are to be where the glass don't cover all the wainscott, and I think that will look very well.' (fn. 22) Thus too in an inventory of 1767 for No. 18 Grosvenor Square the bedrooms, which were probably panelled from head to foot, were called after their hangings and soft furnishings in general: 'green silk damask bedchamber', 'printed cotton bedchamber', 'green harrateen bedchamber' and 'blue mohair bedchamber'. (fn. 23) Such names reveal the crucial, sometimes tyrannical, part played by the upholsterer in finishing these houses. Little is known of the men who originally furnished the great Grosvenor estate houses, but of their successors there will be much to say.
Panelling apart, the joiner was of course responsible tor doors, which on the main floors might have pediments and friezes, and occasionally for chimney pieces. But fireplaces were basically part of the mason's job, a point on which the early inventories are surprisingly unanimous. The good houses usually had marble fireplaces, often of no great pretension, right through to bedroom level, with Portland stone equivalents in the basement and the 'garrets'; the lesser houses were content with ordinary stone chimneypieces throughout. Perhaps because of their simplicity, few of these remain in either marble or stone; later accounts for Grosvenor Square mention the replacement of fireplaces with particular frequency. The characteristic early Georgian high chimneypieces have also rarely survived in their entirety, though there are wooden examples at No. 71 South Audley Street (Plate 10a) and a more elaborate one of marble below and plaster above on the first floor at No. 66 Brook Street (Frontispiece). This type of fireplace must have meant calling in a skilled carver or statuary specially for this task; thus Hanmer employed Rysbrack for a lost fireplace at No. 52 Grosvenor Street. (fn. 18)
Some elaborate survivals suggest that the plasterers were particularly active on the Grosvenor estate. To a degree their trade overlapped with that of the carpenters, since cornices could be of wood and walls could be panelled but either feature could be plastered instead. They may even in places have encroached upon the traditional spheres of other tradesmen. Because the houses were built by a mutual system of sharing jobs and bartering in labour, there had to be co-operation between the trades, but the actual lessee presumably had the final say as to the permanent finishings of his house and would naturally bias them in favour of his own craft. Certainly stucco was already gaining ground on the fronts of houses, especially where plasterers like Edward Shepherd were involved. For his group of houses at Nos. 18–20 Grosvenor Square (Plate 5), Shepherd agreed in 1728 to execute all the 'Plaistering worke of the front ... (Vizt) The Intableture Rustick Story Cellar Story and ornaments to Windows', (fn. 24) and though exterior stuccowork remained unreliable in quality for fifty years and more after this, it is likely that several other houses on the estate took advantage of the material. Similarly, quite a few surviving interiors of quality can with fair certainty be ascribed to Shepherd, one of the most prolific and individual of the original developers, or to craftsmen close to him. These are Nos. 66 Brook Street, 72 Brook Street (for a time Shepherd's own house), 12 North Audley Street, and 71, 73 and 74 South Audley Street, all in a block taken by Shepherd and let to him and his associates. On the other side of South Audley Street five further houses, Nos. 9, 10, 12, 13 and 14, retain interesting ornamental plasterwork; here the plasterer William Singleton, of whom little is known, was one of the lessees.
What all these houses have in common is a series of entertaining decorative ceilings (fig. 5). More unusually, many of them also have interesting plasterwork to the walls as well. Nos. 12, 71 and 73 South Audley Street share in many of the principal rooms the characteristic of eccentric sunk plaster wall panels with shouldered heads (Plate 10a). These, clearly the plasterer's equivalent to wainscotting, were meant to receive pictures and hangings. Sunk plaster panels occur again at No. 66 Brook Street on the walls and ceilings of the ground-floor front room, as part of a more elaborate composition including pilasters, flowerpieces, and ornamental cartouches destined for 'pier glasses'. This house undoubtedly contains the finest of all Shepherd's surviving interiors on the estate, for besides this room there is a plaster-vaulted staircase (Plate 9a) leading on the first floor to a splendid and festive apartment, long recognized as one of the best Baroque interiors in London. It boasts elaborate doorcases, engaged Corinthian columns on all sides and, as a climax, an exuberant double-storey chimneypiece, marble below and plaster above, with a standing putto set in relief in the upper part (Frontispiece).
The surviving ceilings and staircase decorations of Shepherd and his circle show that, left to their own devices, they expressed themselves with an almost rustic floridity. This was not uncommon at the time, even with quite Palladian houses. William Kent was a fertile and frequently unclassical designer of ornament, and even true Italian stuccadori like Bagutti (who is known to have worked on the lost staircase at No. 52 Grosvenor Street (fn. 18)) could produce ceilings bordering on the quaint. This rampant style of plasterwork is well shown in four fine surviving ceilings at No. 73 South Audley Street, where Shepherd's brother John, also a plasterer, was the lessee (fig. 5b). They are highly compartmentalized compositions, relatively flat in relief; but within its borders each compartment breaks out into a rash of arabesques and strapwork patterns, with the occasional naturalistic flowerpiece or portrait medallion reserved for the sides or corners. The manner is too stiff to be connected with the real Rococo that was shortly afterwards to triumph in the great London palazzi of Chesterfield House or Norfolk House, and it may in part reflect surviving plasterers' traditions from an earlier period. This is not to say that Edward Shepherd could not turn out disciplined, dignified plasterwork when required to. The vaulting over the stairs at No. 66 Brook Street (Plate 9a), perhaps done specially for Sir Nathaniel Curzon, and the ceilings at No. 74 South Audley Street, originally the Portuguese ambassador's house (fig. 5c), are at once deeper in relief, severer in conception, and more gracious than his average production. Still more 'correct' is the plasterwork in the long gallery at No. 12 North Audley Street, the house that Shepherd probably built for Lord Ligonier and one of the outstanding survivals on the estate (Plate 11). Here Ligonier had a tripartite singlestorey gallery built for himself at the back, very possibly designed by the Irish architect Edward Pearce; but though its proportions, plaster vaulting and engaged columns show a restraining hand at work, there are still traces of Shepherd's florid manner. At No. 72 Brook Street, his own house, some hint of his idiosyncrasies also survives, despite much alteration. It should be added that Shepherd can have had no monopoly of high-class plasterwork. The two houses leased to William Singleton at Nos. 12 and 13 South Audley Street included accomplished plaster decorations (Plate 9c; fig. 5a), while much elaborate work of which we now know nothing must originally have been executed for houses in Grosvenor Square.
The last feature of these early Mayfair interiors that remains to be singled out is the treatment of the 'great stair'. As the most formal part of the house, the staircase had to be handled with fitting pomp. Up to this time, main staircases in enclosed town houses had usually been of wood, but the Grosvenor estate shows the joiner beginning to give ground to the mason and the smith. Here they were often built of stone, the steps cantilevered out from the wall and cut away on their undersides, with hand-wrought iron balustrades in simple, attractive patterns (fig. 6). There are good surviving examples in each of the three traditional staircase positions at Nos. 33 and 34 Grosvenor Street (Plate 9b; fig. 6c, f) and No. 16 Upper Grosvenor Street (fig. 6d). With a front compartment staircase, this might make part of a considerable architectural composition. Over the stairs would come an ornamental plaster ceiling (Nos. 14 and 74 South Audley Street, 34 and 59 Grosvenor Street, 20 Upper Brook Street), or even a plaster vault (No. 66 Brook Street). Sometimes this plasterwork was extended to the walls, as at No. 13 South Audley Street, where the decoration has been comparatively recently destroyed (Plate 9c). An inventory records similar treatment at No. 6 Grosvenor Square, and at No. 34 Grosvenor Street the lessee Richard Lissiman agreed in 1728 with Sir Paul Methuen, the intending occupant, 'to wainscoat the Staircase with Oak, in the same manner as the Staircase is wainscoated, in the house where Sir Thomas Hanmer now lives [No. 52 Grosvenor Street]. And ... to cover all that part of the Staircase and Sealing above it, that is plaisterd, with Ornaments of Stucco, to the Satisfaction of Sir Paul.' (fn. 25) However this was evidently not done in exact accord with the agreement, for the surviving staircase at No. 34 Grosvenor Street, a fine and authentic example, is wainscotted from head to toe in elegantly elongated panels, with the plasterwork confined to the ceiling (fig. 5d).
Another and more dramatic alternative was to fresco the stairs. How common this was we do not know, but it was probably fairly regular in the 1720's and 1730's, having been done often enough in country houses since 1660, and having acquired a new impetus in London after William Kent painted the great stair at Kensington Palace. It certainly required craftsmen of ability, but they are usually anonymous. Israel Russell, a 'painterstainer' who was one of the original lessees of some of the houses, may have specialized in this direction; another possibility is Mark Antony Hauduroy, who had worked with Shepherd at Chandos House and lived in one of his houses at No. 11 North Audley Street. A charming figurative staircase mural, found at No. 44 Grosvenor Square, was removed to the Victoria and Albert Museum before the destruction of that house. An attribution of this fresco has been made to John Laguerre, son of Louis Laguerre, and seems the more convincing in so far as an inventory of 1750 for No. 48 Grosvenor Street informs us that the 'Great Stair Case' was 'Wainscotted Rail'd high with Oak and the rest painted in a Composed Order with figures and Trophies done by John Legare'. Several of the other houses, especially in the square, must have had painted staircases, though none survives; besides those mentioned, inventories allude to long-lost examples at Nos. 45 Grosvenor Square and 29 Grosvenor Square, the latter 'painted in Architecture and History'. (fn. 26)
To round off this discussion of the interiors of the great Grosvenor estate houses, the reader is referred to Appendix II, where he will find the full text of one of the several inventories mentioned above, that of 1733 for No. 45 Grosvenor Square. This will provide some idea of the typical positions, names and uses of the smaller rooms, as well as of the basic fixtures and fittings of such a house.
A few general comments can be added about the gardens of these large houses. Sutton Nicholls's engraving of Grosvenor Square (Plate 5a) gives an idealized representation, showing in each back garden numerous straight gravel walks enclosing small grass plots or flower beds, with espaliered fruit trees against the walls, a few minor shrubs here and there, and the occasional architectural feature at the back to disguise a stable block. Though this picture of seventeenth-century formality may be misleading in many respects, it demonstrates that these townhouse gardens were no mere plain and functional backyards. Even where a basement extended behind the main house, a proper garden could from early on be had, as an inventory of 1799 for No. 16 Grosvenor Street shows; here the yard is described as 'covered with Lead Clayed and Gravelled for Garden'. (fn. 27) Yet another inventory, this time of 1742 for a house on the south side of Grosvenor Street, shows that the 'features' too were no mere figment of the imagination, for here there could be found 'an Alcove at the end of Garden after the dorick order covered with lead, the alcove back and sides wainscotted quarter round and raised pannells with a seat, Portland pavement before ditto'. (fn. 28)
Flowers in abundance were certainly common and, as time went on, so were fair-sized trees. Sir Thomas Hanmer's accounts of 1726–9 for No. 52 Grosvenor Street itemize several payments for tending flowers to gardeners (one of whom was French), and include a note to pay one man more 'when the flowers appear to he right in number and kinds'. (fn. 18) So too in 1734 Mrs. Delany, keeping her provincial sister up to date with details about her modest (hut surviving) house at No. 48 Upper Brook Street, could write: 'You think, madam, that I have no garden, perhaps? but that's a mistake; I hare one as big as your parlour in Gloucester, and in it groweth damask-roses, stocks variegated and plain, some purple, some red, pinks, Philaria, some dead some alive; and honeysuckles that never blow'. (fn. 29) And in 1748 Fanny Boscawen of No. 14 South Audley Street was boasting that 'my garden is in the best order imaginable, and planted with 100 shrubs and flowers'. Half a century later, still living in the same house, Mrs. Boscawen could in the more picturesque spirit of the age go further: "tis well I have some trees, whose leaves wave close by me, and that about me I behold purple lilacs, white lilacs, and yellow laburnums in my own or my neighbours' gardens, and no bricks or tiles'. (fn. 30) How mature Mrs. Boscawen's trees were is hard to say, but they were probably bigger than the trees which in 1763 William Chambers was advising his client at No. 25 Grosvenor Square to trim and nail up against the wind, in a garden which contained wooden 'lattice work', that is presumably trellises for espaliers against the walls. (fn. 31) So from quite early days, there was a fair amount of variety, colour and greenery in all these gardens and by the end of the eighteenth century precious little austerity, if the Boscawen case is at all typical.
Finally, something must be said of the few larger buildings that interrupted the estate's original pattern of regular terrace housing. Here and there, especially west of Grosvenor Square, a few individual houses of size did spring up. Among these, pride of place must go to the freestanding house built in about 1730 for Lord Chetwynd in Upper Grosvenor Street near its west end. Though it was to become the future Grosvenor House little is known of its original appearance, except that Porden characterized the interiors as being in 'a heavy, antiquated, but respectable stile'. (fn. 32) This was written in 1805, just before the Grosvenors began their transformation of the house; at that time it was a sizeable, symmetrical villa in plan, set back some ninety feet from the south side of the street at the rear of a court with a narrow street entrance. In this respect it was like some of the large noblemen's houses that still in part survive on the north side of Piccadilly, but instead of having office wings flanking the court, the side plots were let oft", so that the house must have been inconspicuous from the street. In the later eighteenth century other big houses were to be built close to the park in this western sector, but for nearly thirty years Lord Chetwynd's house stood alone.
For the largest surviving individual house of early date on the estate one must look further north, to No. 61 Green Street, later known as Hampden House. This was the home of the Palladian architect Roger Morris. Of the Palladians who were involved in the estate development, Colen Campbell has already been discussed; Thomas Ripley built a very large house that survives in altered form at No. 16 Grosvenor Street but does not seem to have varied greatly in elevation from the estate norm; and William Benson may have been responsible for two small lost houses in Grosvenor Street of which, however, little is known. But Morris was evidently more ambitious on his own behalf. The result was the big brick house and spacious garden, dating from 1730, that survive at the east end of Green Street. This was then a relatively open position, with a few sizeable houses nearby in North Audley Street, some smaller but seemingly detached houses mainly belonging to other builders on either side of Morris's plot, and empty land close by on the north and west. It is now a gaunt and much altered building on both elevation and plan, but the slightly recessed wings and high central rooms of this seven-bay house still bear witness to Morris's ambition and wealth. By contrast, at the south end of Davies Street stands a much quainter survival, Bourdon House (Plate 12a). Built in about 1721–3 and therefore one of the earliest of houses on the estate, it still despite alterations and an added top storey keeps its modest brick character, with a south-facing pediment looking down on what must once have been the main approach, through a rather deeper front garden than now exists. Within, the interior has retained an early Georgian flavour almost better than any other house on the estate, and there is some excellent original woodwork in the 'ante-dining room' (Plate 10b).
These are the main early houses independent of any terrace arrangement of which something is known. There is little to add about the estate's few public buildings. Since there was originally no market, these really comprise only two, the parish workhouse that stood until 1886 on the south side of Mount Street, and the Grosvenor Chapel in South Audley Street. The workhouse, erected by Benjamin Timbrell and Thomas Phillips in 1725–6, was a functional and capacious building which could accommodate 160 persons and ran to no elaboration except a central cupola. The chapel (Plate 12b; fig. 7), erected in 1730–1, also involved Timbrell (with Robert Scott as fellow carpenter and William Barlow senior as bricklayer), and this is the more interesting since it bears distinct resemblances to James Gibbs's Oxford Chapel (St. Peter's, Vere Street) on which Timbrell had worked a few years before. Both arc simple auditoria of similar length having galleries on three sides, with groined plaster vaults over the aisles and a curved ceiling to the nave, and on the outside two tiers of windows along the sides, and pedimented and turretted western features. A comparison is instructive, as it shows the difference in fluency between the work of the specialist architect and that of the master builder; but though the Grosvenor Chapel is second best in most respects and has been more altered than St. Peter's, its quaint steeple at the termination of Aldford Street provides one of the few minor features of town planning in the estate layout. Of original interior fittings it still retains its old stairs to the gallery, some pleasant panelling and plasterwork, an organ and a pulpit, but much else has been changed in subsequent restorations.