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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Davies Street: West Side
Nos. 1–7 (odd)
Nos. 13–27 (odd).
This six-storey block of shops, offices, showrooms and flats was built in 1963–5 to the designs of Sir John Burnet, Tait and Partners in a simple, modular pattern of dark brick and marble cladding with balcony-like projections at intervals in the upper storeys. (fn. 1) The redevelopment included No. 53 Grosvenor Street which is, however, treated in a more conventional neoGeorgian manner.
Nos. 29–37 (odd) Davies Street and 29–31 (consec.) Grosvenor Street.
This neo-Georgian red-brick block of flats, offices and shops, consisting of four main storeys and a tall attic, was built in 1926–8 by G. E. Wallis and Sons to the designs of Robert Angell and Curtis, (fn. 2) who perhaps took their stylistic cue from the slightly earlier Claridge House opposite.
Nos. 39–49 (odd) Davies Street
Nos. 55–61 (odd)
Nos. 55–61 (odd) are a group of four late-Georgian houses built in 1824–7 by Samuel Erlam, builder and surveyor. Four storeys high (except at No. 59 where an extra storey has been added), they have plain stock-brick façades above altered ground floors.
The ground on which these houses stand was formerly part of the curtilage of No. 66 Brook Street and was chiefly occupied by the offices and stabling of that house. After the original lease of the house had expired in 1822 terms for renewal were agreed with James Hurtle Fisher, a solicitor, who asked that the plot should be divided and leased in three lots. He, himself, was to take both the middle section, comprising No. 53 Davies Street, at a rent of £119, and the northern part, which was earmarked for building, at a rent of £1. (fn. 3) When the lease of the latter was granted to him for sixty-two years in 1824 it referred to four messuages and a coach-house and stables 'built ... or now in building'. (fn. 4) The stables, which were on the north side of No. 61, were later rebuilt or converted into a house with two shops on the ground floor. This was demolished in 1886 when the entrance to Cock Yard (now St. Anselm's Place) was widened. (fn. 5) Within three months of obtaining his lease Fisher had granted sub-leases of the houses and stables to Samuel Erlam (or, in one case, his nominee), who was presumably then engaged in building them. (fn. 6)
Nos. 57, 59 and 61 have narrow, two-bay frontages, but No. 55 is a more imposing three-bay house with greater storey heights and a plain cornice above the second floor. This house, which had cellars extending under the other three houses, was sub-let, at Erlam's direction, to a wine merchant. In 1831, when the house was advertized for sale, it was described as having been 'Fitted up in a superior manner under the direction and good taste of Henry Harrison'. (fn. 7) In 1886 it was added to the Grosvenor Office at No. 53, (fn. 8) and in 1922 both Nos. 55 and 57 were converted into offices for Boodle, Hatfield and Company, the solicitors to the Grosvenor Estate, who have occupied them since 1923. The alterations made at this time at a cost of some £10,000 by F. Foxley and Company to the designs of Edmund Wimperis, the estate surveyor, included the removal of the previous entrances to the houses, access now being obtained through a shared entrance at No. 53, and the refacing of their ground storey in channelled stucco with round-headed windows. (fn. 9)
The most attractive feature of No. 61 is its ornate ironwork, which was added in 1865. (fn. 10) This includes the railings to a first-floor balcony which is supported by thin twisted columns, the latter also forming an unusual porch in front of the entrance. There are also individual balconettes and more florid ironwork to the windows of the upper storeys.
St. Anselm's Church and Vicarage (demolished).
The brief history of St. Anselm's, Davies Street, is in its early stages bound up with that of the Hanover Chapel in Regent Street. This well-known and prominent building, which was part of the original development of Regent Street, had been erected in 1824–5 to designs by C. R. Cockerell as one of the Commissioners' Churches and was soon afterwards assigned its own ecclesiastical parish. (fn. 11)
The first Duke of Westminster took an interest in the Hanover Chapel, contributing substantially from 1879 towards the income of its incumbent, the Reverend David Long. (fn. 12) In 1881 Long addressed a plea to the Duke for help in improving the chapel, which had fallen on hard times. The question having been debated at the Grosvenor Board, it was agreed that the chapel would 'never answer in its present situation owing to the altered circumstances of the times', and that it would be best instead to apply for an Act of Parliament to pull down the building, sell the site and erect a new church in the Davies Street district of the Grosvenor estate; here the Duke felt confident of offering a site in 1884, on or near the Grosvenor Market. (fn. 13)
Since Long left the Hanover Chapel in 1883, this proposal for some time hung fire. But in 1890 it was resurrected with a new site in mind on the west side of Davies Street between the present St. Anselm's Place and Weighhouse Street, abutting at the back on the newly built Hanover Schools in Gilbert Street. The Board, supported by the rector of St. George's, Hanover Square, and the Bishop of London, now went ahead with the Hanover Chapel (Regent Street) Bill. It met with some opposition, chiefly from the Royal Institute of British Architects, which objected to the demolition of one of London's very few monuments to Cockerell's 'refined and cultured taste'. But in 1891 the bill quickly passed into law. (fn. 14)
By early 1893 the Duke's surveyor, Eustace Balfour, had been appointed architect for the new buildings, which were to be designed in conjunction with his partner Thackeray Turner. The church, soon called St. Anselm's, was to occupy the corner with Robert (now Weighhouse) Street and to be linked with a vicarage next to the junction of Davies Street and Cock Yard (now St. Anselm's Place). The freehold of this site was presented to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in March 1893. After approval of the plans in 1894 the work was entrusted to Balfour and Turner's favourite builders, Walter Holt and Sons of Croydon, whose contract for church and vicarage was worth £20,000. By the end of 1895 the vicarage was finished, and on 15 February 1896 the church was consecrated in the presence of the Duke and Duchess of Westminster. Shortly afterwards the Hanover Chapel was demolished, its records and a few of its fittings being transferred to the new church. (fn. 15)
St. Anselm's was the only substantial Anglican church designed by Balfour and Turner (Plate 20a, 20b, 20d, figs. 22–3: see also Plate 38b in vol. XXXIX). There is stronger circumstantial evidence in this case than in other of the partnership's works in Mayfair that the dominant share of the design was Thackeray Turner's; indeed architects who had known him well felt confident that the church was chiefly his. (fn. 16) Whatever the apportionment of responsibility, the design was an audacious and idiosyncratic one, imbued with the Arts and Crafts principles to which both architects—and Turner in particular—firmly adhered. Yet despite its thoughtful originality, there was a severity coupled with wilful eccentricity about the church that failed to endear it to worshippers and critics. Opinions about St. Anselm's differed sharply. The Builders' Journal thought it 'not only one of the most interesting of modern Churches, but the best Church raised in London of late years'; but Beresford Pite in another periodical considered it an insult to both Cockerell's Hanover Chapel and the gentle memory of St. Anselm, and an exhibition of 'that pride of bastardy which is so prized nowadays'. (fn. 17)
The peculiarities and careful detail of St. Anselm's, together with the fact that the church has been demolished, make necessary a longer description than usual. The architects' starting point was an attempt 'to avoid introducing features in the design which call up remembrances of ancient buildings ... as our present conditions of building render competition with such buildings impossible'. (fn. 18) So although the shape of the church's exterior was fundamentally Gothic, with double aisles, a clerestory, pitched tile roofs and buttressing, overtly Gothic motifs were confined to the windows, which displayed reticulated tracery within elliptical heads. There was no tower, and only the north and east sides were fully open to view. The east front towards Davies Street (Plate 20a) consisted of church and vicarage, bound into one composition at upper levels by means of rounded and pierced arches which continued as a blank arcade across the church and ended next to Weighhouse Street in a pair of openings in the end-gable housing the bellcote. While the vicarage had prominent bay windows to the main floors, the east end of the church was markedly plain, with only three tiny windows, two large buttresses and the blank arcading to distinguish it. On the Weighhouse Street end of the bellcote was a sculptured rood, probably set up shortly after the church had been finished. The rest of the north front (Plate 24a, fig. 22) was more even and rhythmical, with massive flying buttresses sweeping down from the level of the main roof and finishing in sturdy piers which broke regularly into the aisles and were pierced with rainwater spouts. There was an entrance from a lean-to porch in the north-west position, but the main porch was in the south-west corner, behind the vicarage. On the west front the chief feature was a generous seven-light window, again with reticulated tracery. The materials for the whole of the exterior were stock bricks, with copious Portland-stone dressings.
The interior of St. Anselm's conformed in plan to the standard liturgical arrangements of late-Victorian churches, while departing more wholeheartedly than the exterior from orthodoxy of style or detail (Plate 20d, fig. 23: see also Plate 38b in vol. XXXIX). Although there was no structural chancel, the body of the church was divided from the aisles by arcades of coupled columns. High transverse arches across the nave, springing from clerestory level, divided the flat ceiling (which was of Oregon pine) into compartments. The aisles themselves were rib vaulted, and next to the south-west entrance was a small two-bay morning chapel also with rib vaults, set back from the south aisle behind further columns and a railing of ebony. In character all this work bore marked resemblances to church interiors of the Florentine quattrocento, especially to Brunelleschi's Santo Spirito and Pazzi Chapel. Not only the mouldings and elliptical arches but also the alternating texture of light and shade breathed the spirit of the early Italian Renaissance; the columns, ribs and dressings were all executed in a blue-grey Robin Hood stone from the Forest of Dean, while the walls were plastered and whitewashed. The east end culminated in a complex arrangement of flat arches and pilasters flanking the altar, with three small lancets over and, above these, crowning representations of the Four Evangelists carved in blocks of Robin Hood stone by Laurence Turner, craftsman brother of Thackeray Turner. Laurence Turner also executed the formalized carving on all the capitals of the columns, and a pierced oak screen marking off the vestry in the south-east corner. As a token of Balfour and Turner's loyalty to the Arts and Crafts ideal of conscious craftsmanship, the stone dressings throughout the church were left 'as from the tool' and then waxed so as to set off their texture and make them washable; further, the plasterwork was applied to the walls in a single coat from the trowel, without other instruments. (fn. 18)
Other details and fittings in the church displayed the architects' commitment to eclecticism of manner and materials. A dado of Powell's opalescent glass tiles ran round three sides of the walls, flush with the plasterwork above. The windows were all glazed with special thick panes of Prior's glass, made by Britten and Gilson and bound with saddles of gunmetal. The floors progressed from two tones of wood block in the side chapel to squares of Irish green, black and Pavonazzo marble in the sanctuary. The choir was set off from the nave by a dwarf screen of Irish green marble topped with gunmetal or bronze, and contained stalls of teak, while the sanctuary was marked by a curving brass rail. The altar was simple and because of a lack of funds there was at first no permanent organ, pulpit or reredos, though it was eventually hoped to cover the east wall with mosaic and to introduce coloured decoration elsewhere. But a broad and plain octagonal font of black Alloa granite (Plate 20b) was installed at the west end of the south aisle. (fn. 19)
Few changes occurred at St. Anselm's during its brief span. An oak pulpit was installed, probably by Laurence Turner in 1919, and at some earlier point a permanent organ was added. (fn. 20) But the church clearly never enjoyed widespread support and in 1923 the incumbent reported the vicarage as 'somewhat large and expensive to keep up'. (fn. 11) So in 1936 the Chuch Commissioners, noting the decline in local population, decided to divide the parish between St. George's, Hanover Square, and St. Mark's, North Audley Street, to pull down St. Anselm's and to sell the site. An Order in Council to this effect was obtained in February 1938 and on 28 April of that year the last service was held. The freehold of church and vicarage was then sold back to the Grosvenor Estate, a low price of £45,000 being agreed because the Duke of Westminster had given the land in 1893. The buildings were demolished in June 1939 together with the Hanover Schools (by then known as St. Anselm's Schools). (fn. 21)
This was not quite the end of the story of St. Anselm's. When demolition was first canvassed F. W. Troup, a loyal friend of Thackeray Turner, advocated that the church be dismantled and re-erected on a suburban site, as had occurred in the case of St. Andrew's, Wells Street. Troup sought help from various quarters, but few architects were enthusiastic. H. S. Goodhart-Rendel, for instance, thought the church 'a purely personal record of Thackeray Turner's particular tastes' and added: 'though I admit that its design has much historical significance as a revolt from Gothic in a fashionable neighbourhood, I feel that the building deprived of its context, historical and local, might be more a curiosity than a thing of beauty'. (fn. 22) Nevertheless Troup did manage to interest the authorities in re-using some of its features in the new church of St. Anselm's, Ventnor Avenue, Belmont, Stanmore, to which it had been agreed that the endowments of the Davies Street church should pass. N. Cachemaille-Day, the architect for the new St. Anselm's, had been associated with Balfour and Turner's church and expressed himself 'ready to build the successor church in the same spirit and tradition of architecture'. Consequently St. Anselm's, Belmont (1939–41), though a plain basilican building, was partially constructed from the bricks of the old church; the columns and capitals of St. Anselm's, Davies Street, serve the nave arcade, many of the windows with their original tracery and Prior's glass are re-used, and the sanctuary paving and rails, choir stalls, font, organ, doorways and roof trusses are all incorporated. The few wall memorials were, on the other hand, transferred to St. Mark's, North Audley Street. (fn. 23)
St. Anselm's Schools, Gilbert Street (demolished).
The first branch schools of the Hanover District of St. George's parish were opened in 1846 in Davies Mews, and were transferred a few years later to premises in South Molton Street. (fn. 24) An inspector's report on their deficiency led in 1886 to the school managers asking the Grosvenor Board for a site, and the Duke of Westminster quickly promised to present one on the east side of Gilbert Street, between Cock Yard (now St. Anselm's Place) and Robert (now Weighhouse) Street. By June 1887 W. D. Caröe had been appointed architect for this, the first of several commissions that he was to execute upon the Grosvenor estates; the reason for his choice is unknown. Plans for a school to accommodate 110 boys, 110 girls and 150 infants were approved early in 1888, and in April the tender by Messrs. Turtle and Appleton of Wandsworth to carry out the work for £5,115 was accepted. The Duke opened the completed Hanover Branch Schools on 4 March 1889. (fn. 25)
The plan and character of the new three-storey brick building conformed to the principles of the London School Board, with the departments for the elder children placed above the infants' school. The master's house stood at the street corner, while the playground came behind the school in Gilbert Street. The design was tall and irregular but compact, with only a few touches of Gothic detailing to give a hint of style. The chief features were a broad bay rising through all the storeys at the back, and a bellcote sandwiched between two chimneys.
The buildings eventually became known as St. Anselm's Schools. On ceasing to be used as schools they reverted in 1938 with the freehold of the land to the Grosvenor Estate, and were demolished together with St. Anselm's Church in 1939.
No. 65 Davies Street
No. 65 Davies Street is a seven-storey neo-Georgian office block which occupies the whole island site bounded by Davies Street, St. Anselm's Place, Gilbert Street and Weighhouse Street. After St. Anselm's Church had been demolished in 1939 and the site sold back to the Duke of Westminster preparations were put in hand for rebuilding on this large plot to the designs of Howard, Souster and Partners, but the outbreak of war intervened and the building was not erected until 1948–50. It houses the British Council. (fn. 26)
Nos. 75–85 (odd) Davies Street and 7–9 (odd)Weighhouse Street.
At the time of writing (1978) this site is awaiting redevelopment in connexion with the rebuilding of Bond Street Underground Station, but it was formerly occupied by a block of shops and chambers which were erected in 1890–1 in conjunction with an electrical generating station (Plate 19b). The Westminster Electric Supply Corporation, which was one of the companies competing in the supply of electricity to Mayfair and adjacent parts of Westminster, approached the Estate early in 1890 for a site on which to build a power station. The Board suggested a large plot at the corner of Davies and Robert (now Weighhouse) Streets, for which the Company agreed to pay a rent of £406 per annum on a sixty-year lease. The generating station itself was designed by Professor A. B. W. Kennedy, who was the Company's chief engineer from 1890 to 1926, but the architectural dress was supplied by C. Stanley Peach. The builders were Holliday and Greenwood. (fn. 27)
Peach's lively street façades were not unfitting company in the impressive group of late-Victorian buildings towards the north end of Davies Street including St. Anselm's Church, Boldings' factory and the headquarters of the St. George's Rifles, all except Boldings now demolished. Contemporaries, however, seemed as interested in the massive chimney-shaft of the power station as in the design of the chambers and shops, one observer commenting that 'It is very satisfactory to note the care taken with the designs of these stations, now so numerous; their chimneys have mostly some features to recommend them to the eye, and the thread of white steam, which is all that usually rises from them, rather enhances the effect of their mass against the sky'. (fn. 28) The power station closed in 1922 and although the premises were subsequently used as a garage (fn. 5) the chimney survived until the recent demolition of the whole block.