Survey of London: Volume 40, the Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair, Part 2 (The Buildings). Originally published by London County Council, London, 1980.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by English Heritage. All rights reserved.
Berkeley Square, North Side
Berkeley Square is not one of the great, planned squares of London: it owes its existence more to fortuitous circumstances than design. When in 1696 the third Lord Berkeley of Stratton sold Berkeley House in Piccadilly to the first Duke of Devonshire he agreed to protect the northward view from the house as far as the extent of his own land would permit by refraining from building on a strip of ground equal to the width of the garden of Berkeley House. This agreement was honoured when the Berkeley estate was laid out for speculative building in the 1730's and 1740's and the principal developers, Edward Cock and Francis Hillyard, carpenters, eventually used the open space which was thus left to form a square. (fn. 1)
The north side of the square is on the Grosvenor estate, however, and here, as development had taken place in the 1720's when the Berkeley estate was still farmland, the frontage was initially occupied by the side elevations and yards of houses which faced on to Davies Street and Jones Street, or coach-houses, stables and other back buildings. (fn. 2) One of the first steps taken by Cock and Hillyard when they developed the eastern part of the Berkeley estate was to make a roadway on the south side of these buildings to link their new streets of Bruton Street and New Berkeley Street (now the eastern side of Berkeley Square) with Davies Street, and the opportunity was thus provided for some early redevelopment to take place. Five houses were built between Jones Street and the corner house with Davies Street in the late 1730's and early 1740's including a coffee house at the corner of Jones Street, kept first by Roger Henley from 1740 to 1742 and then by Morgan Gwynn until he moved to another house on the east side of the square in c. 1754. (fn. 3) In about 1770 a wooden shop was added at this corner, projecting into Jones Street, and in 1782 the house at the corner of Davies Street was rebuilt to face the square. (fn. 3) In 1790 the occupants of this row included a hosier, a fruiterer, a shoemaker, a watchmaker and a bookseller, while the lock-up shop was used by a breeches-maker. (fn. 4)
These houses had little depth, and a sketch made shortly before their demolition in 1820 shows them to have been a very heterogeneous collection. (fn. 5) All except one had shops on the ground floor, the exception being the only house with any real claim to distinction which stood on the site of the present No. 28. This had three very tall storeys with what looks to be a Venetian window in the centre of the first floor and a Diocletian window above. The house was built by John Shepherd, the plasterer brother of the architect-builder Edward Shepherd. He had earlier built some of the other small houses on the north side and assigned this house to its first occupant, John Barnard, in 1743. (fn. 6) In 1792 it was described as having been 'altered and fitted up at a great Expence'. (fn. 7) Barnard, who had an extensive collection of paintings, (fn. 8) lived there until 1784. Other notable occupants of the house were William Fullarton, M.P. (1785–8), the sixth Earl of Stair (1791–4), Edward Bouverie, M.P., brother of the second Earl of Radnor (1794–1804), Sir William Wolseley, sixth baronet (1805–9), and General Sir Banastre Tarleton, baronet, a veteran of the American War of Independence (1810–20).
The unsatisfactory nature of this side of the square was often a subject of comment. In 1792 Malton described it as 'a situation which deserves to be better occupied' and in 1793 The World included it in a list of 'Fine Situations Long Neglected'. (fn. 9) In the latter year the minutes of the Grosvenor Board record that 'one grand object will be to get the front … next Berkeley Square covered with Houses of a respectable description', (fn. 10) but concrete proposals could not be entertained until nearer 1820, when the head lease of the whole ground, which had been granted in 1721 to Thomas Barlow, the estate surveyor, expired.
From about 1817 a number of proposals for rebuilding were received including ones from Jeffry Wyatt, Philip Wyatt and George Basevi on behalf of clients, but William Porden, the estate surveyor, had decided that the ground was worth the very high rental of ten guineas per foot frontage, and at that price there were no takers. Nevertheless preparations went ahead. Greater depth of plot was provided by moving the roadway at the rear further to the north, a change which had the concurrence of the local paving commissioners, the existing houses between Davies Street and Jones Street were demolished in 1820, and the ground was advertised in the newspapers. But it was not until the end of September 1821, very shortly after Thomas Cundy I had succeeded Porden as estate surveyor, that an offer was finally accepted when John Bailey, the proprietor of the hotel which stood on the site of the present No. 25, agreed to take a plot on the west corner with Jones Street at a rent of five guineas per foot. This much-reduced figure was then applied to the rest of the frontage up to Davies Street which had all been taken by the end of October 1821. (fn. 11)
Of the four houses, Nos. 27–30 (consec.), which were built between Jones Street and Davies Street, Nos. 29 and 30 were destroyed by bombing during the war of 1939–45 and Nos. 27 and 28 have been much altered. Originally, however, they seem, despite their differing widths, to have been built to an overall terrace design which was treated with some flexibility in execution (Plate 17a, 17b). Nos. 28 and 30 are known to have been built by Thomas Cubitt, (fn. 12) but a number of differences between these and Nos. 27 and 29, particularly in the design of the doorcases and the balcony railings, suggests that the latter two were by another hand. The only other builder known to have been connected with these houses was Alexander Mingay, bricklayer, of St. James's, who built a sewer in the square on behalf of John Bailey, the lessee of No. 27, (fn. 13) but he is not known to have undertaken any major works elsewhere. The general elevation of the range could have been provided by William Porden, who furnished plans and what was described as 'a sketch of the proposed improvements' to prospective developers, (fn. 14) or by his successor, Thomas Cundy I. On stylistic grounds the latter is more likely, and it may be significant that on Cundy's death in 1825 he was owed money by the lessee of No. 29, Paul Beilby Thompson, who also seems to have obtained building materials from Cundy's son, James. (fn. 15)
The plot to the east of Jones Street was not included in either the rebuilding scheme of the 1730's or that of the 1820's, and its history is described under No. 25 below.
No. 25 is a block of flats (now converted into offices) which was erected in 1905–6 to the designs of Frank T. Verity.
Most of this large plot was originally let in the 1720's to a farrier, Francis Cornish, who built a house and other buildings on the northern part with coach-houses and stables to the south. (fn. 16) In 1755 Cornish's former premises were acquired by William Linnell, the carver and cabinetmaker, who rebuilt or substantially altered them to provide a house and workshops for himself. (fn. 3) The house faced Berkeley Square, a privilege for which Linnell paid a fine of £100, presumably to Lord Berkeley. (fn. 17)
In 1760 another small building was erected to the west of the main house on the corner with Jones Street, and was first occupied by John Linnell, William Linnell's eldest son. (It was usually occupied, and sometimes let, separately from No. 25 and in the nineteenth century was numbered 26 Berkeley Square. In the late eighteenth century it was a fishmonger's shop and in the second half of the nineteenth century was occupied by a succession of doctors and dentists. (fn. 18) )
On William Linnell's death in 1763 John Linnell took over his father's business and retained the premises in Berkeley Square until his own death in 1796. During his ownership the site was expanded by taking in a small house to the east which faced John (now Bourdon) Street.
The Linnells were amongst the most important cabinetmakers and upholsterers of the eighteenth century, and a number of surviving documents and an outline plan of c. 1795 with a sketch elevation enable the arrangement of their premises to be reconstructed. Facing Berkeley Square was a large building with a frontage of over sixtyfive feet, having a basement, three main storeys and garrets. Above the ground floor there was a normal domestic façade with five well-spaced windows of the usual Georgian proportions on the first and second floors and four dormer windows lighting the garrets above. On the ground floor the doorway was in the centre and to the east were two windows ranging in line with those above, but the sketch appears to show a large shop window on the west side of the doorway, perhaps lighting a showroom (a 'Fore Ware Room' is mentioned in an inventory) or the counting-house which was situated on the ground floor near the parlour. Behind this building, which principally housed the Linnells' domestic quarters, there were four, and in one part five, storeys of workshops and other rooms. These included three upholsterers' shops, a joiners' shop, a carving shop, a gilding shop, a cabinet shop, a chair room, a glass room, ware rooms and store rooms. There was also a stable yard and a saw pit. (fn. 19)
Shortly after John Linnell's death the premises were adapted for a hotel by Tycho Thomas, a hotel-keeper of Dover Street. (fn. 20) Although extensive alterations must have been made, a complete rebuilding does not appear to have taken place. On the main elevation to Berkeley Square the shop window was removed, the windows on the first and second floors were enlarged and the garrets were made into a square fourth storey. (fn. 5) The result was a bulky building which probably fitted in reasonably well with the lateGeorgian range to the west of Jones Street when that was rebuilt in 1821–4. The hotel was extended to the east, probably in 1852, (fn. 21) but this extension was largely hidden by No. 24, the northernmost house on the eastern side of the square.
Thomas's Hotel (or Bailey's Hotel as it was sometimes known after John Bailey, one of its early proprietors) rapidly established a reputation as one of the leading private hotels in London, (fn. 22) and it retained its cachet throughout most of the nineteenth century.
The building of such grand new hotels as the Cecil, the Savoy and, close at hand, Claridge's made such establishments as Thomas's seem old-fashioned, however, and in 1902 William Symonds, a solicitor, whose mother had been the proprietress for several years, applied to the Grosvenor Board for an extension to the lease of the hotel in order to rebuild. (fn. 23) Initially the Board refused because the lease still had several years to run, but other approaches were made in 1903 when the building was described as 'quite unfit for modern Hotel requirements', and eventually the Board agreed to grant a new ninety-year lease at a ground rent of £1,500 per annum. The successful applicant, Ernest Whitehead, who was described as having 'a large private income', decided to build flats instead of a hotel. The demolition of Thomas's Hotel began in March 1904. (fn. 24)
Several architects were involved with the site including Delissa Joseph and Ernest Runtz and Ford, but finally the job was given to Frank T. Verity in consequence of his expertise in planning luxury flats. Even Verity's position was threatened when Whitehead and Symonds, who had been brought in again as a co-developer, wanted to use a contractor who insisted on having Paul Hoffmann as architect. The Grosvenor Board, however, supported Verity, and he eventually found other contractors, Mark Patrick and Son, who agreed to erect the building at their own cost, Whitehead and Symonds having the option to purchase it on completion for £55,000. This option was not exercised, and in 1907 the new lease was granted to Colin Grant Patrick. The cost of construction was £50,000 and the flats were let at rents of about £800 to £850 per annum. (fn. 25)
Verity's six-storey block (another storey has since been clumsily added behind the parapet) has a fine Portlandstone elevation to Berkeley Square with the flat, attenuated neo-Grec detailing and excellent ironwork in the Parisian manner that were to become hallmarks of his style in later works such as Nos. 139–140 Park Lane. The entrance hall, staircases and corridors are luxuriously decked out with classical mouldings executed in compo. Much later Sir Albert Richardson claimed that the building had been 'detailed entirely' by him, as Verity's young assistant. (fn. 26)
No. 27 (Plate 17b, 17c) was built in 1821–3 under the circumstances described above. The building lessee was John Bailey, the proprietor of Thomas's or Bailey's Hotel at No. 25. On completion he sold the house for £5,000. (fn. 27)
A number of alterations have been made since the photograph of the house reproduced on Plate 17b was taken. In 1938 the discreetly hidden garret storey was crudely extended to the front, and in the same year the insertion of a shop front with a wide stone surround completely transformed the ground floor. (fn. 28) Other alterations, which were probably done at the same time, include the enlargement of the third-floor windows and the replacement of the continuous iron balcony at first-floor level with individual iron balconettes to the windows. The brickwork has been painted grey over tuck pointing.
In 1909 the young H. S. Goodhart-Rendel provided a design for a new house here for William Brass, the contractor, who was apparently intending to rebuild as a speculation. (fn. 29) Goodhart-Rendel exhibited the design at the Royal Academy in the following year and it was illustrated in The Building News. The plan was ingenious, and the stone elevation, which was basically neo-classical but with sharp, angular detailing and a variety of motifs, was very striking. (fn. 30) Had the design been carried out, it would have provided an excellent foil to Verity's flats at No. 25, but it would have jarred insistently with its decorous late-Georgian neighbours to the west.
In the event the house was not rebuilt but was extensively altered internally in 1910–11 at a cost of over £3,000 to the designs of G. A. Codd, then an assistant surveyor in the Grosvenor Office and later estate surveyor. (fn. 31)
Much of the decoration of the interior dates from the late-Victorian or Edwardian periods. The ground floor has a Louis XVI flavour, but the first floor is neo-Adam with attenuated festoons, fans and paterae all but smothering an early nineteenth-century cornice and ceiling rose. The staircase, however, survives from the 1820's with cast-iron lotus-patterned balusters.
Occupants include: Col. William Henry Meyrick, 1823–45. Marquess of Worcester, latterly 8th Duke of Beaufort, 1846–55. 5th Earl of Airlie, 1856–60. Edwin John James, Q.C., M.P., 1860–1 (in 1861 he was disbarred, the first Q.C. to obtain 'this infamous pre-eminence', and emigrated to the United States). Chandos Wren-Hoskyns, agricultural writer, 1863–6. Maj. E. A. Cook, 1869–72: his wid., 1872–7, and her 2nd husband, Lord George Charles Gordon-Lennox, son of 5th Duke of Richmond, 1875–7. Charles James Murray, M.P., 1879–1900. (Sir) Robert Ludwig Mond, chemist, industrialist and archaeologist, later kt., 1901–8.
No. 28 (Plate 17a, 17b) was built in 1821–2 by Thomas Cubitt under the circumstances described above. The first occupant, Henry Powell Collins, purchased the house from Cubitt for £6,500. (fn. 32)
The attractive shop front shown on Plate 17a was inserted in 1929 by the Central Joinery Company of Kilburn for a printseller, (fn. 33) but its Gothick tracery has since been removed. Otherwise the façade has been relatively little altered apart from the addition of a plain railing above the parapet and shutters to the windows. The brickwork, however, has been tuck pointed and crudely painted red. The original iron railings survive at each side of the building. Inside, much of Cubitt's work remains, mainly in its original state, with anthemion-patterned friezes and a plain toplit staircase having cantilevered stone steps and an austere cast-iron balustrade.
Occupants include: Henry Powell Collins, sometime M.P., 1823–9. Sir John Benn Walsh, 2nd bt., latterly 1st Baron Ormathwaite, 1830–81: his son, 2nd Baron Ormathwaite, 1881–4. Lord Archibald St. Maur, latterly 13th Duke of Somerset, 1883–91: his brother, 14th Duke of Somerset, 1891–4: the latter's twin sons, Lord Percy St. Maur, 1894–1907, and Lord Ernest St. Maur, 1894–1920 (intermittently).
No. 29 (demolished).
With a frontage of fifty-five feet, this was the largest of the four houses which were built on the north side of Berkeley Square in 1821–4 (see above). The building lessee was Paul Beilby Thompson, later first Baron Wenlock. (fn. 34)
The Morning Post reported on the notable social gatherings which were soon held in the house, Mrs. Beilby Thompson's first rout taking place in May 1824. In 1829, when describing a ball which had been held there, the paper commented that, 'The house possesses all the requisites for entertaining a numerous circle, it having suites of spacious apartments above and below. The decorations of the walls, their gilding and furniture, may be said to vie with the most far-famed dwellings of the rich and great … . There were eight rooms illuminated in the most resplendent style; also the grand staircase, the gallery, or corridor. The inner hall was decorated with flowering shrubs.' (fn. 35)
In 1882 the seventh Duke of Marlborough purchased the house and made a number of alterations and additions, including the erection of a partially enclosed portico with a verandah above (Plate 17a). The builders were Macey and Sons. (fn. 36) The Duke had little time to enjoy his new London house, however, for he died there on 5 July 1883.
In 1940 the house was largely destroyed by bombing and the remains had to be pulled down.
Occupants include: Paul Beilby Thompson, M.P., latterly 1st Baron Wenlock, 1824–52: his wid., 1852–68: their son, 2nd Baron Wenlock, 1860–80: his son, 3rd Baron Wenlock, 1880–2. 7th Duke of Marlborough, 1882–3. Albert Brassey, M.P., son of Thomas Brassey, the railway contractor, 1883–1918: his wid., 1918–40.
No. 30 (demolished).
This house (Plate 17a), formerly situated at the corner of Berkeley Square and Davies Street, was built by Thomas Cubitt in 1821–4 in the circumstances described above. Cubitt sold the house to John Frederick Pinney, whose wealth was derived from sugar plantations in the West Indies and a West-India merchant's business. (fn. 37) It survived in a virtually unaltered state externally until destroyed by bombing in 1940.
Occupants include: John Frederick Pinney, 1824–45: his son, Col. William Pinney, M.P., 1845–98: the latter's brother-in-law, Sir John James Smith, 3rd bt., also here 1854–62, and latter's wid., 1862–95.
Alcan House: Nos. 30–31 Berkeley Square
Alcan House: Nos. 30–31 Berkeley Square, which replaced the war-damaged Nos. 29 and 30 Berkeley Square, was built in 1955–8 by F. G. Minter to the designs of Gunton and Gunton. It is a conventional neo-Georgian office block in red brick above a stone ground floor. (fn. 38)
Nos. 33 and 34
Nos. 33 and 34 see pages 319 and 329.
The freehold of this house was purchased by the Grosvenor Estate Trustees in 1926, but when built it stood on the Berkeley estate and its history will be described in a later volume covering that estate.