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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The Course of Development
The translation of Barlow's plan into the realities of bricks and mortar took over half a century to complete. The last leases, for sites in the north-west corner of the estate, were not granted until 1777, (fn. 1) by which time it was necessary to consider renewals of the earliest leases. The progression of the development was generally, and logically, from east to west, but the pace was by no means even. On the rudimentary evidence of the dating of estate leases (some leases being of large plots which were sub-let in smaller sites) there was considerable building activity throughout the 1720's, with 1725 and 1728 as the peak years, a slow-down from 1733 to 1735, a new surge to another peak in 1740, a considerable decline throughout the 1740's and early 1750's (only six leases were granted between 1741 and 1755), and a gradual development of the remaining unbuilt land over the next twenty or so years. The marked reluctance of builders to take sites near the north end of Park Lane and the western end of Oxford Street was probably due to the proximity of Tyburn gallows, situated at the present junction of Edgware Road and Bayswater Road, where public executions attended by vast and tumultuous crowds continued until 1783.
In general the frontages to Oxford Street and Park Lane were not regarded with any favour by either the officers of the estate or by builders. The whole development was at first noticeably turned inwards towards Grosvenor Square and away from the extremities of the estate, with the exception of the eastern boundary where it was clearly desirable to link up with existing streets. Although areas on the north side of Brook Street and Grosvenor Square extending as far as Oxford Street were taken under building agreements as early as 1723 5, the completion of buildings along the frontage to Oxford Street was in some cases delayed for over thirty years. (fn. 2)
In 1766 John Gwynn remarked disparagingly on 'that heap of buildings lately erected from Oxford-Road to Hyde Park Corner, whose back-fronts are seen from the Park'. (fn. 3) The wording of early building agreements for ground at the western edge of the estate suggests that this orientation was a matter of deliberate policy (although the layout shown on Mackay's map envisages buildings along the Park Lane frontage). Under these agreements ground rents were to be calculated by the extent of frontage along Park Street, and while it was usual to include provisions against the siting of coach-houses and stables along that street or in any of the main east-west streets, no such restriction applied to Park Lane. (fn. 4) In fact stabling was built there on a site now occupied by part of Grosvenor House. (fn. 5) One short terrace of houses facing the park called King's Row was built in the 1730's (on the site of the present Nos. 93–99) (fn. 6) but it was set back from Park Lane and quickly shielded from the road by a screen of trees (Plate 13a, 13b). Even in the 1750's when Norfolk (now Dunraven) Street was laid out the houses were built with their back elevations overlooking the park and their garden walls forming the Park Lane frontage (Plate 19b, 19c). In 1791 William Porden, the estate surveyor, remarked on the opportunity lost 'in originally laying out the ground of making a handsome front towards Hyde Park', (fn. 7) and it is not clear why Park Lane was so ostracized. Certainly in the nineteenth century it was a very busy road and was originally quite narrow: some stretches were widened in the course of building on adjacent land. (fn. 8) The park was concealed by a brick wall which was not entirely replaced by iron railings until 1828, (fn. 9) and, although a gate was provided at the cost of Sir Richard Grosvenor for the benefit of his tenants (Grosvenor Gate), (fn. 10) the prospect from ground level at least could not have been very attractive.