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 Estate Surveyor
Thomas Barlow, who was the estate surveyor when building commenced, was a carpenter by trade. Little has heretofore been known about Barlow but he emerges as one of the most important master builders working in west London in the early eighteenth century. The earliest known reference to his building work is in a deed of 1701 concerning a house, probably built by him, in Albemarle Street, (fn. 2) and he was also the builder of other houses in that vicinity. (fn. 3) His address at that time was in Maiden Lane, in Covent Garden, (fn. 4) where he was the building lessee of houses in Southampton Street in 1708 and undertook repairs to St. Paul's Church in 1714–15. (fn. 5) In 1715, however, he appears in a more significant role as 'agent' for Lord Scarbrough in negotiations with the 'Fifty Churches' Commissioners over the siting of a church near Hanover Square. (fn. 6) In view of Barlow's later position on the Grosvenor estate and the fact that Lord Scarbrough was the promoter of the development of the Hanover Square area (fn. 7) there must at least be a possibility that Barlow was responsible for the layout of that development. He was certainly deeply involved in the building operations there and appears to have been the builder of several of the houses with a distinctively Baroque appearance in St. George Street. (fn. 8) He was at one time owner of the freehold of the site of St. George's Church, but conveyed the ground to General William Steuart who in turn gave it gratis to the Commissioners. (fn. 9) Barlow was also active in the development of the Conduit Mead estate and built himself a house in New Bond Street where he lived until his death. (fn. 10) Barlow Place (formerly Mews) off Bruton Street is named after him. (fn. 11)
In a petition addressed to the Lord Chancellor Sir Richard Grosvenor stated that he had appointed Barlow on 10 August 1720 'to Lett Severall Feilds or Closes … to build upon' and that 'a Scheme or Plann of the Said Intended Building has been Drawn by the said Barlow'. (fn. 12) The purpose of this petition was to enable money to be freed from Dame Mary Grosvenor's account in Chancery in order to build sewers and to pay Barlow's expenses and salary. He was to receive £50 for the initial work he had undertaken and then £50 per annum 'besides his Reasonable Expences' (which generally amounted to £10 per annum). (fn. 13) He continued to act as estate surveyor until his death in January 1730, (fn. 14) but to what extent he exercised control over the operations of builders is difficult to determine. In one building agreement for a plot on the south side of Grosvenor Street and the south-east corner of Grosvenor Square it was stated that 'all and every of the houses which shall be built on ye said piece of Ground fronting Grosvenor Street aforesaid shall be built so as to range in their fronts in such manner as Mr Thos. Barlow the present Surveyor of the said Lunatick's Estate, or other the Surveyor or Surveyors … for the time being shall hereafter direct and appoint', (fn. 15) but this was an unusually explicit reference to Barlow, perhaps because the south side of Grosvenor Square was to be set back from the line of Grosvenor Street. As the author of the layout he appears to have been responsible for staking out plots on the ground and making some adjustments when building was under way, even correcting a 'grand mistake' in one instance. (fn. 16) The fact that several early leases were witnessed by the master of the Mount Coffee House (on the site of the present No. 80 Grosvenor Street), which was built by Barlow and was one of the earliest buildings on the estate to be completed (by November 1721), suggests that negotiations with builders may well have been conducted in that establishment. (fn. 17) One of Barlow's functions was the assessment of the value of houses in order that money held in Chancery could be made available to their builders on mortgage. (fn. 18) In general, however, neither the wording of agreements and leases, nor the surviving visual evidence suggest that Barlow exercised a very firm control over building operations, and when he died in 1730 it was not considered necessary to appoint a successor. Robert Andrews took over some of his functions and the post of estate surveyor remained vacant until the 1780's, when the assessment of fines on the renewal of leases posed new problems which led to the employment of William Porden.
Like Richard and Robert Andrews, Barlow was also directly concerned in the development. He was the recipient of the first building agreement (dated 8 August 1720, two days before his official appointment) covering the area bounded on the north by Grosvenor Street, on the west by Davies Street, and on the south and east by the boundaries of the estate (no. 1 on plan A in the end pocket), and he subsequently held all this land under one lease granted in July 1721. For this he paid the very low ground rent of £67 per annum, or 2s. per foot frontage calculated on the frontage to Grosvenor Street only. (fn. 19) Within this area he built the Mount Coffee House and No. 75 Grosvenor Street (both now rebuilt) and some coach-houses and stables in Grosvenor Mews, developing the rest of his land by sub-leases to other builders or occupiers. In improved ground rents alone he obtained a profit of £280 per annum on this sub-development, which was substantially complete by the time of his death. (fn. 20) (fn. 1) He also took other parts of the estate under building agreements, including (jointly with Robert Andrews) the area bounded by Upper Brook Street on the south, Park Street on the west, North Row on the north and North Audley Street on the east (no. 55 on plan A), the largest plot to be covered by a single agreement. (fn. 21) Building here had, however, hardly begun before his death.
Barlow was one of the founder-directors of the Westminster Fire Office in 1717 (fn. 22) and was also one of the initial Vestrymen of the parish of St. George, Hanover Square, chosen by the 'Fifty Churches' Commissioners in 1725. (fn. 23) On his death in January 1730 he was described as 'a very noted Master-Builder'. (fn. 14) In a complaint brought in Chancery by his descendants against one of his executors it was stated that he left a leasehold estate which brought in about £600 per annum in ground rents and £400 in rack rents, several freehold houses and a personal estate of upwards of £1,000. (fn. 24) While there may have been some exaggeration in these figures there is little doubt that Barlow's career as a builder had been eminently successful. He left the bulk of his estate to his son, Richard, who died in 1740 'haveing greatly wasted and outrun his fortune'. (fn. 25)