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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Duke Street Area
The present-day appearance of Duke Street dates almost entirely from the general rebuilding undertaken in this district between 1886 and 1896. Though no illustration of the street's earlier aspect has come to light, it cannot have differed much from other lesser thoroughfares on the estate.
Duke Street was part of the original layout of the estate, and was so called on Mackay's plan of 1723, though the reason for its name is unknown. The first development on either frontage followed agreements of 1724 and 1725 whereby Augustin Woollaston took large parcels of land on both sides of the street, which were gradually let out to builders and covered by houses of modest size. (fn. 1) By 1735 there was a substantial population, probably chiefly of tradesmen. In this year Duke Street (together with North and South Audley Streets) was called 'but little inferior' to Brook Street, (fn. 2) but though there was certainly a scattering of gentry among early tenants, they were never more than a small minority. (fn. 3) During the course of the eighteenth century the street became markedly less fashionable, until by 1790 there was just one resident M. P. and one other esquire. (fn. 4) At this date Duke Street conformed to the usual pattern of a trading street, with three public houses and a variety of shops lining almost the whole frontage. Brown Street and Hart Street extended to the west on the present lines of Brown Hart Gardens, with George Yard further south, entered under an arch next to the Barley Mow. On the east side Chandler Street occupied the line of what is now Weighhouse Street, but Duke's Yard lay somewhat to the south of its present position; it was a cul-de-sac and, like another yard in this sector called Tom's Court, was again entered under an arch from the street.
One unusual but short-lived feature about which very little is known was an early lying-in hospital for married and unmarried mothers, perhaps the ancestor of Queen Charlotte's Hospital (previously the General Lying-In Hospital). First established in Jermyn Street, St. James's, this hospital probably transferred to Duke Street in 1754, when the Vestry first took note of its existence. (fn. 5) Its precise site and duration in the street do not emerge from the ratebooks, but the most likely date of its removal is 1768, when the General Lying-In Hospital moved from a previous unknown location to St. George's Row, Bayswater. (fn. 6)
The commercialization of Duke Street continued into the nineteenth century. On the west side, for instance, a tenant of one of the larger houses proposed 'to lay out a considerable sum in improvements and building Warehouses', and in 1800 it was reported that workshops had been erected here. (fn. 7) There was, however, much less rebuilding when the first leases fell in during the 1820's and '30's than in some other streets, for instance nearby in Robert (now Weighhouse) Street under Seth Smith. One house on the east side was rebuilt in 1836 by Wright Ingle, (fn. 8) but this was probably the exception; throughout the first eighty years of the nineteenth century Duke Street was firmly established as a street of trade and multioccupation. In 1871 there were again three public houses (the King's Arms, the Albion and the Barley Mow), several food shops, and much in the way of dressmaking and ancillary trades. (fn. 9)
The first intimation of rebuilding came when in 1870–2 the two corner blocks of Duke Street with Oxford Street were rebuilt with fronts by Thomas Cundy III, the eastern one (the present Nos. 411 and 413 Oxford Street) for a chemist, the western one (Nos. 415 and 417 Oxford Street, now demolished) for a baker. Eight years later, plans were in preparation for the complete rebuilding of Duke Street and for the blocks of industrial dwellings that were to be built around Brown Hart Gardens in 1886–8. The new Duke Street appears to have been conceived as a street of shops with somewhat better-class flats over, acting as an intermediate zone between the blocks round Brown Hart Gardens to the west and the Improved Industrial Dwellings Company's other flats, to be built to the east between what are now Binney and Gilbert Streets. The first ranges to be taken in hand were on the west side, where Duke Street Mansions (Nos. 54–76 even) and Nos. 78 and 80 were built in 1886–8, while the houses between them were demolished and a communal garden was laid out in connexion with the working-class dwellings round Brown Hart Gardens (Plate 31a in vol. XXXIX). On the east, Alfred Waterhouse's prominent King's Weigh House Church (Plate 23a) was the first new building (1889–91), on the site of a public house at the northern corner with Chandler (now Weighhouse) Street. It was soon followed by two distinguished ranges (Plate 24c, fig. 26) built for combinations of tradesmen to the designs of W. D. Caröe (1890–2 and 1893–5). On this side Duke's Yard was opened out (Plate 35c in vol. XXXIX), with some excellent stabling here by Balfour and Turner (1900–2). Back on the west side, the new Barley Mow (1895–6) and some stables at Nos. 84 and 86 (1898–9, now demolished) completed the new Duke Street, which was renumbered so as to include the part north of Oxford Street in October 1898. The only further significant change occurred in 1903–5 when the communal garden disappeared, to be replaced with the Baroque grandeur of the Duke Street Electricity Substation by C. Stanley Peach, supporting a paved 'Italian Garden' on top (Plate 22c: see also Plate 31b in vol. XXXIX).
Duke Street was also much affected in appearance by the demolition of Nos. 10–13 Grosvenor Square and the stables behind in about 1961 and their replacement by Lewis Solomon, Kaye and Partners' Europa Hotel (1961–4), entered from Duke Street. But the history of this site belongs to that of Grosvenor Square.