Survey of London: Volume 40, the Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair, Part 2 (The Buildings). Originally published by London County Council, London, 1980.
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South Audley Street
South Audley Street falls today into two visually distinct sectors. North of South Street it is generally open and remnants of its Georgian past have been wholly obliterated apart from the Grosvenor Chapel; southward much of the street's original character remains. This division accords well with an old social dichotomy, whereby small houses and commercial premises were plentiful at the north end but larger family residences predominated at the other end, culminating beyond Audley Square in Chesterfield House.
Most of that southern part, however, south of the line of Hill Street and Deanery Street, lies outside the Grosvenor estate. This leaves just two small but significant groups of houses, Nos. 9–16 (consec.) on the east and Nos. 71–75 (consec.) opposite, to speak for the Grosvenor estate's contributions to elegant Georgian development in the district. Of these, Nos. 9, 10, 13 and 71 have well-preserved exteriors, including at the corner houses Nos. 9 and 71 overhanging projections on the side elevations of a type once common in London street architecture but now rare (Plate 77c: see also Plate 6d in vol. XXXIX). What, however, distinguishes these two ranges is the unusually good condition of the interiors here by contrast with so many others on the estate. Their notable common feature is undoubtedly their plasterwork, and particularly their ceilings. Nos. 9, 10, 12, 14, 71, 73 and 74 all contain fine examples of the extravagant mode of ornamental plasterwork in vogue on the estate in the 1730's—a refreshing accompaniment to the austerities of contemporary Palladianism (Plates 79, 81a, 82, fig. 73: see also Plate 10a, fig. 5a, b, c in vol. XXXIX).
All these ceilings have a strong family resemblance and may be attributed to craftsmen who worked with or in the shadow of Edward Shepherd, at one time plasterer, later architect, and finally 'esquire'. Shepherd was the entrepreneur and no doubt also the designer responsible for Nos. 71–75 (1736–40), the more important group here, equal in its original grandeur to any terrace of houses on the estate. Because of later changes, notably Edwardian refrontings, these houses bear traces only at No. 71 of the elaborate elevational composition that seems to have been devised by Shepherd to embrace the whole range. But No. 71 (at first the most modest house in the range), together with fine surviving interiors at Nos. 73 and 74, offers hints of the ambition of his undertaking here. (fn. 1) Opposite, Shepherd had no concern in Nos. 9–16, where the main undertakers (also from 1736) were Roger and John Blagrave, carpenters, who were father and son, and William Singleton, plasterer. But with few exceptions the general style of plasterwork differs little from that of his own houses.
Further north, the Grosvenor Chapel alone survives from early development in the upper part of the street (Plate 76). Projected as early as 1723 but not built until 1730–1, it was the only place of worship on the estate initially promoted by the Grosvenors. It had effects upon local development, for not only did it act as a 'vista stopper' at the end of Chapel (now Aldford) Street, but in order to secure its erection Sir Richard Grosvenor offered favourable terms to its four developers, Benjamin Timbrell and Robert Scott, carpenters, William Barlow senior, bricklayer, and Robert Andrews, gentleman, for several nearby 'takes', covering the sites of the modern Nos. 17–22, 25–28, 57–63 and 64–70. Members of this group also undertook much else in the street from the late 1720's, so that the quadrumvirate may be said to have been the dominant force in development north of South Street. Nothing special is recorded of any of the houses in this vicinity, which then as now was mainly devoted to trade.
Except at Nos. 9–16, for which military and naval officers seem to have had a predilection, and at Nos. 71–75, where tenants were mostly of lofty station, eighteenth-century residents on the Grosvenor estate's sector of the street tended to be modest tradesmen. Food shops were predominant in 1790, and there was the usual scatter of public houses, three on the west side and two on the east. (fn. 2) Between Reeves Mews and Mount Street there was however a coachmaker, perhaps the firm from which John Robson's large business, with addresses both here and in the block between Chapel Street and South Street, was descended.
Robson, together with other tradesmen such as Thomas Arber, Thomas Oliver, John and Thomas Feetham and Wright Ingle, undertook the rebuilding of much of the district around Chapel Street in the 1820's and 1830's, but this affected the western frontage of South Audley Street relatively little. Opposite, there was rebuilding in Chapel Place North at about this time and the Grosvenor Chapel was thoroughly repaired in 1829–30, while further south Nos. 71–75 underwent in the 1830's some important changes and adjustments in plot under the auspices of John Feetham.
South Audley Street was not much troubled by the schemes of refronting and rebuilding common during the era of the second Marquess of Westminster (1845–69). Nos. 9–16 and 71–75 escaped entirely, and only No. 55, the solitary survivor of a group of three grand houses erected in 1859–60 to raise the tone in the street's northern sector, represents the Italianate sobriety of Thomas Cundy II so prevalent elsewhere (Plate 77d). A chemist, evicted in preparation for this scheme, installed himself across the street at No. 26 where, possibly in pique, he rebuilt the front to a violently Gothic design (Plate 83a) by Thomas Harris (1858), but this has not survived.
The expansion of Thomas Goode's china-and-glass shop, established in 1844 at No. 19 and expanded in phases from 1875 until the whole range at Nos. 17–22 was absorbed and rebuilt, and the arrival of Purdeys the gunsmiths in 1881 at Nos. 57–60, contributed to a gradual rise in the status of tradesmen in South Audley Street and a decline in the more mundane type of shop. Both Goodes and Purdeys opted for the new Queen Anne style favoured by the first Duke; in the case of Goodes, their premises as rebuilt by Ernest George and Peto are among the finest manifestations of the style in London (Plate 86). In line with the rebuilding of Mount Street, there followed between 1880 and 1900 a virtually complete reconstruction of commercial South Audley Street in shops with flats over, covering the modern Nos. 26–33, 34–42, 56 (Audley Mansions), 61–63 and 64–70. Plans to rebuild the Grosvenor Chapel in the same period were considered but eventually dropped.
From this period dates the modern character of the widened northern half of South Audley Street, and its respectability quickly increased. Previously it had witnessed sporadic disorders, for in 1768 the Wilkite mob had vented its fury on Lord Bute's windows at No. 75, while in 1792 the decorative windows of Wilkes's own house, No. 35 Grosvenor Square at the corner with South Audley Street, received the attention of the 'Mount Street rioters' (see page 148). A last such manifestation occurred in February 1886, when following a demonstration the unemployed smashed windows at Archard's jewellery shop and at Goodes opposite; Queen Victoria promptly sent heartfelt sympathy to W. J. Goode. (fn. 3)
At the southern houses, the early years of the twentieth century saw important changes. In 1900 a shop at No. 16, the only outpost of trade between South Street and Hill Street, disappeared. Shortly after this the future of these ranges began to be seriously considered. The prestige of the tenants at Nos. 73–75 probably prevented rebuilding when their leases came up for renewal, but the Estate did insist on refrontings in stone. This process, carried out in 1907–9, obscured the earlier history of much of the fabric of these houses. In 1907 the Estate also debated demolishing Nos. 9–16 opposite. Partly because of the second Duke's aversion to rebuilding here it was decided to preserve the houses but cut off much of the back premises and gardens. These were merged into the communal South Street garden, laid out in 1915–16 when the relevant parts of South Street and Waverton Street were rebuilt. (fn. 4)
The recent history of the Grosvenor estate's part of South Audley Street has not been eventful. The northern end was affected by the reconstruction of Grosvenor Square, Nos. 43–48 being rebuilt in 1935–6 and Nos. 49–54 (replacing two of Cundy's houses) in 1935. There have been no other substantial rebuildings. At the residential end of the street several houses in the group Nos. 9–16 remain in private occupation despite the narrowness of the street and the density of the traffic. Opposite, No. 75 has since 1926 been the Egyptian Legation or Embassy and retains, despite the frequent changes it has seen, pre-eminence among the houses of South Audley Street.