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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Although the amounts of ground rent payable under individual leases differed widely, a general consistency can be discerned in the sums required under the various building agreements. The rent demanded for each piece of ground was either expressed as a rate per foot frontage on the principal front of the land (and occasionally on more than one front when the plot lay between two streets) or as a lump sum, which can sometimes be reduced to an equivalent rate per foot frontage.
In early agreements covering sites in Grosvenor Street and Brook Street the ground rents were usually 6s. per foot on the Grosvenor Street frontages and 5s. on Brook Street, the plots being generally 150 or 200 feet in depth. (fn. 2) For substantially larger pieces of ground on the north side of Brook Street, with back land extending as far as Oxford Street, however, the rate was increased. In an agreement for the area bounded by Brook Street on the south, Davies Street on the east, Gilbert Street on the west and Oxford Street on the north the ground rent charged was 9s. per foot, assessed on the Brook Street frontage, but the agreement was not carried out and when a new one was made with another developer this rate was reduced to 8s. per foot. (fn. 3) The latter rate was also paid for the remaining frontage of Brook Street as far west as Duke Street, with an equally extensive 'hinterland'. (fn. 4)
On the south side of the eastern part of Mount Street, where the southern boundary of the estate or the location of the parish burial ground prevented any great depth of site, sixty to seventy feet being the average, rents of only 2s. to 2s. 6d. per foot frontage were asked. (fn. 5) Even on the north side, however, the figure was at most 3s., although the building plots (if not the house sites as eventually built) extended back for some 150 feet. (fn. 6) Mount Street was probably never originally intended to be more than a minor street, and the building of the parish workhouse on the south side in 1725–6 was in keeping with its lowly status. (fn. 7)
The ground rents for Grosvenor Square were not significantly different from those for Brook Street or Grosvenor Street. The first builder to take an extensive frontage to the square (the whole of the east side) was John Simmons, carpenter, in November 1724, and for 350 feet with a depth of 260 feet he agreed to pay £112 per annum, equivalent to slightly over 6s. per foot frontage. (fn. 8) For the same number of feet on the west side the undertaker's rent was £150, but his plot had greater depth and abutted at the rear on Park Street. (fn. 9) On the north side the rents ranged from approximately 8s. to 10s. per foot, but, as at the western end of Brook Street, the plots extended northwards for about 600 feet. (fn. 10) Most of the south side was let by Sir Richard Grosvenor to his brother Robert at only 2s. per foot frontage, but in the agreements which he made with builders Robert Grosvenor charged the equivalent of 10s. per foot frontage for sites which reached as far as the north side of Mount Street. (fn. 11)
To the west of Grosvenor Square the ground rents were more variable and, in view of the large areas often involved, were generally more favourable to builders than in the eastern part of the estate. For the extensive rectangle of ground between Upper Brook Street, North Row, Park Street and North Audley Street, for instance, Thomas Barlow and Robert Andrews were jointly charged only £150 per annum (apparently calculated as 5s. per foot frontage on either the Park Street or North Audley Street fronts, or 2s. 6d. on both). (fn. 12) Apart from the section of South Audley Street lying to the south of South Street, where the rents were equivalent to between 6s. and 9s. per foot frontage (and where houses of a high quality were built), (fn. 13) 5s. per foot for one frontage alone appears to have been the maximum amount charged here until the 1750's. It was not until June 1765 that a ground rent of a substantially different order was required when John Phillips, carpenter, had to pay £320 per annum for the last undeveloped piece of ground, the area bounded by Oxford Street, Park Lane, North Row and Park Street. This sum is equivalent to between 13s. and 14s. per foot if assessed on the long east-west frontage to Oxford Street, or to exactly £2 per foot on Park Street. (fn. 14)
The precise ground rent charged was no doubt often arrived at after negotiation with the builder or developer interested in a piece of ground. As early as 1721 Major Joseph Watts, who was one of the promoters and first directors of the Chelsea Waterworks Company, (fn. 15) had entered into an agreement to build on the whole site now occupied by Grosvenor House, and the rent charged had been 4s. per foot on the Park Street frontage (400 feet). (fn. 16) No building was then taking place so far westward and some five years later Watts appears to have wanted to reduce his commitment. Robert Andrews explained the situation to Sir Richard Grosvenor in 1726: 'Major Watts was this morning with Mr. Barlow and Me', wrote Andrews, 'about taking as much of the Ground He formerly held as would be sufficient for the building three houses upon. Mr. Barlow offered it for 10s. per ft. by Gros. Street front the whole depth into Mount Street but the Major woud have it for 6 and intends to write to You, to shew how reasonable it is for a person that has been so serviceable to the Family as he has been by projecting the Waterworks to have such a favour allowed him, of which I thought it proper to give You this informacion not doubting but You will easily make him sensible his Merrit is not so great in regard to his Services done the Family as he imagines.' (fn. 17) The rent now demanded by Barlow was in fact higher than the rate which he had been charging to the east of Grosvenor Square, and apparently no accommodation was possible for Watts did not develop any of the site. Andrews' letter also suggests that a somewhat more optimistic view of the ground rents obtainable in the western part of the estate was taken at this date than proved realistic in the event.
In 1734 Edward Shepherd, the architect and builder, who had already built several houses on the estate, made an offer of only 18d. per foot frontage for a very large plot between Park Lane and Park Street with a depth of about 600 feet from Oxford Street, the rent to be calculated on the north front alone. Andrews assessed the plot as worth 2s. per foot frontage on both the Park Lane and Park Street fronts: the difference was between £33 2s. 6d. as offered by Shepherd and £125 as computed by Andrews, who noted that 'there is no foundation to agree'. (fn. 18) Sir Robert Grosvenor duly turned down Shepherd's offer, but it was not until 1765 that the last part of this ground was eventually taken, the total ground rent received from it then amounting, however, to over £500.
Some parts of the estate were let to undertakers on particularly favourable terms in return for services rendered. The agreement with Major Watts in 1721 referred to above was no doubt the result of his role in promoting the Chelsea Waterworks Company which supplied the new houses with water. Another plot at the western edge of the estate was taken by Francis Bailley, carpenter, who was then building in Conduit Mead, in return for the assignment of some of his land there to Sir Richard Grosvenor to enable Brook Street to be carried through from Hanover Square to the Grosvenor estate. Bailley's rent was 5s. per foot frontage, 'being a cheaper price than the other ground thereabouts was . . . designed to be let for', (fn. 19) but he, like Watts, did not eventually build there. For similar reasons the triangular area now bounded by Brook Street, Davies Street and South Molton Lane was also made available at a very low rent to two developers who had interests in Conduit Mead: parts of this site to the north of Davies Mews were not built over for many years. (fn. 20) We have already seen that in the very first agreement, made with the estate surveyor Thomas Barlow, for the extensive area to the south of Grosvenor Street and east of Davies Street, a ground rent of only 2s. per foot frontage on the Grosvenor Street front alone was required. No doubt this was partly in return for Barlow's services in laying out the estate and seeking builders to work there, but he was, of course, paid a fee for these activities, and another consideration in Sir Richard Grosvenor's mind may have been a desire to let Barlow have a piece of land on terms that would enable him to raise sufficient capital to develop it quickly and profitably, and thereby attract other builders to the estate. In 1730 the promoters of the Grosvenor Chapel were granted land adjacent to its site, on both sides of South Audley Street, at a rent of only 1s. per foot frontage in consideration of their 'hazard and expense' in building the chapel. (fn. 21) They were also allowed a five-year peppercorn term instead of the usual period of between two and three years.
The scale of ground rents on the Grosvenor estate was a good deal lower than that in nearby developments for which comparable evidence is available. In Albemarle Ground (the area of Albemarle Street, Stafford Street, Dover Street and Grafton Street) in the late seventeenth century rents ranged from approximately 5s. to 13s. 9d. per foot frontage for building plots varying from sixty-five to one hundred feet in depth, and the leases ran for only some fifty or fifty-one years. (fn. 22) On the Burlington estate (Cork Street, Clifford Street and Savile Row area), where building took place contemporaneously with the Grosvenor estate, the ground rents appear to have been calculated initially on the basis of 1s. per foot frontage for every ten feet of depth and varied between 7s. and 16s. per foot frontage for sixty-one- or sixty-two-year terms. (fn. 23) The calculation of the ground rent obtained from the development of Conduit Mead is complicated by the fact that some ground there was assigned to builders rather than leased to them. The total rent received for the twenty-seven or so acres was £1,076, or about £40 per acre. A report of 1742 estimated, however, that only two-thirds of the acreage had been let for rent, and if assessed on this proportion alone the figure was £60 per acre. (fn. 24) This compares with the final sum of £31 per acre secured in ground rents on the Grosvenor estate in Mayfair by its initial development, (fn. 1) and in Conduit Mead the leases were for less than fifty years.
All of these areas were much smaller than the Grosvenor estate, and in The Hundred Acres, where house building was being pushed some way beyond the existing urban limits, it was probably necessary to keep the ground rents at a low level in order to attract builders, particularly to the land near Hyde Park, where the rents were at first lower, in fact, than was desired or originally anticipated. In the event, however, several undertakers were able to obtain a handsome surplus in improved ground rents over the rent which they paid to the Grosvenors.
A remarkable example of the rise in value of such leasehold property occurred in the large area to the south of Grosvenor Street and east of Davies Street let to Thomas Barlow, the estate surveyor, in 1721 on a ninety-nineyear lease at £67 per annum. This was the largest piece of the Grosvenors' Mayfair lands to be let under a single lease and covered about six acres, now embracing, in terms of present streets and buildings, Nos. 55–81 (consec.) Grosvenor Street, Nos. 2–26 (even) Davies Street, Grosvenor Hill, Bourdon Street and Place, Broadbent Street, Jones Street and Nos. 25–31 (consec.) Berkeley Square. In this estate within an estate Barlow sub-let the land in building plots for at most eighty years (with one exception) and often for sixty or less, and from it he obtained some £280 per annum in improved ground rents over the £67 he had to pay, and £160 in rack rents. When Barlow's property was sold at auction in 1745 for the benefit of his descendants this very large plot fetched some £7,000. In 1792, however, when the whole area was again put up for auction, several of the sub-leases had already expired and others were shortly due to do so, giving purchasers the prospect of a considerable return in rack rents for the remaining twenty-eight years of the original Grosvenor lease, besides the possibility of renewals on favourable terms, and the sum realised amounted to over £58,000. (fn. 25)
Within the general framework of the ground rents laid down in agreements, the rents at which individual building plots were let varied widely and often bore no relation to the size or importance of the site. Sometimes the total ground rent required under an agreement was secured by leases of only a small part of the ground, and the remainder would be let (often in one lease) at a token rent, usually 3s. 4d. per annum. (fn. 26) Some huge pieces of land embracing two or three acres were let for such nominal sums, particularly between Oxford Street and the backs of house plots in Grosvenor Square and Brook Street. Even the rents of adjoining house sites could vary widely. To take one instance, No. 5 Grosvenor Square, with a forty-fivefoot frontage, was leased to John Simmons, its builder, in May 1728 for £22 10s. per annum while No. 4, with a seventy-foot frontage, was leased to him in September of the same year for 4s. per annum, both for ninety-nine-year terms. (fn. 27) No doubt such variations were often made for the builder's convenience, to enable him to make a quick sale, possibly at an enhanced price, of a house at a low ground rent, or, as in Simmons's case, to enable him to create an improved ground rent which he could sell to raise money for his building operations.