The Acquisition of the Estate

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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 Acquisition of the Estate

For three hundred years the Grosvenor family has owned large estates in what are now some of the most valuable parts of Westminster. These estates were acquired in 1677 through the marriage of Sir Thomas Grosvenor with Mary Davies, the infant daughter and heiress of a scrivener in the City of London. In the process of time Mary Davies's inheritance was developed for building, and the Grosvenors became the richest urban landlords in the country, the lustre of their name—for long synonymous with wealth and fashion—being gilded by successive advancements in the peerage, culminating in the dukedom of Westminster in 1874. Today the bulk of that inheritance is still, despite the sale of some of the less select parts, enjoyed by her descendants, and is now administered by the Grosvenor Estate Trustees.

The marriage portion which the guardians of the twelve-year-old Mary Davies were able to offer the young Cheshire baronet Sir Thomas Grosvenor in 1677 consisted of some five hundred acres of land, mostly meadow and pasture, a short distance from the western fringes of built-up London. Not all of this was to be available in immediate possession and the income from the land was at that time relatively small, but its potential for future wealth was realized even then. The area with which this volume is particularly concerned was only a part of that vast holding, approximately one hundred acres in extent and sometimes called in early deeds The Hundred Acres, (fn. 2) lying south of Oxford Street and east of Park Lane. With only minor exceptions this part of Mary Davies's heritage has remained virtually intact to the present day and forms the Grosvenor estate in Mayfair. The history of the ownership of this land before it came into the possession of the Grosvenor family is, however, best told as part of the history of the larger holding which the third baronet acquired on his marriage. To a considerable extent this story, and that of the personalities involved in it, have been recounted in the two volumes by Charles Gatty entitled Mary Davies and the Manor of Ebury and only a brief outline will be attempted here.

The Manor of Ebury

Most of the London estates which now belong or have belonged to the Grosvenor family—and all of that with which this volume is concerned- once formed part of the manor called Eia in the Domesday survey but later known as Eye, from which Eybury or Ebury derives. Although the manor's original bounds have not been determined with certainty it probably occupied the territory between the Roman road along the present course of Bayswater Road and Oxford Street on the north, the Thames on the south, the Westbourne river on the west, and the Tyburn, which was also known as Eye or Ay(e) Brook, on the east. (fn. 3) Even these relatively straight forward bounds are difficult to define because these tributaries tended both to change course and to have more than one outlet to the Thames. In the case of the Tyburn the westernmost of several channels, perhaps originally little more than a drainage ditch, seems to have formed the eastern boundary of the manor in its southern part.

After the Norman Conquest Geoffrey de Mandeville obtained possession of the manor, one of many which he took in reward for his services in the Conqueror's cause. Before the end of William's reign de Mandeville had given the manor to the Abbey of Westminster and it remained in the Abbey's ownership until 1536 when it was acquired by Henry VIII. (fn. 4) During this long period two areas came to be distinguished from the main manor, but although sometimes termed manors it is doubtful whether they had entirely separate jurisdictions. (fn. 5) The areas were Hyde in the north-west corner, now incorporated into Hyde Park, and Neyte or Neat(e) in the heart of the district later known as Pimlico. The so-called manor or bailiwick of Neat presents particular problems. In seventeenth- and eighteenth-century title deeds the estate belonging to the Grosvenors is described as the site of the manor of Ebury and parcel of the bailiwick of Neat, (fn. 6) but the use of these terms appears merely to have followed that in early leases in which they were probably employed loosely to describe farms. In fact the Neyte was formerly a manor house or grange of the Abbots of Westminster situated between the modern Warwick Way and Sutherland Row, (fn. 7) and its site, together with some thirty-six acres to the south and east, were not included in Mary Davies's inheritance, having been granted away separately by the Crown after 1536, and thus did not pass into the ownership of the Grosvenor family.

Surrounded by other lands belonging to Westminster Abbey the manor had lost its identity as a unit of landholding before the end of the Middle Ages, and the process of disintegration continued after its acquisition by the Crown. The many documents and maps which survive show that the subsequent history of its descent is extremely complex, but as few of these complexities affect the history of The Hundred Acres in Mayfair no attempt will be made here to unravel all of them. The 'Manor of Hyde' was enclosed into Hyde Park by Henry VIII, and he or his successors also added some land on the east to his new park, for fifteen acres called Tyburn Close and forty acres near Stonehill (apparently the north-eastern and south-eastern extremities of the park) were specifically excluded from subsequent leases and grants of Ebury manor. Other stated exceptions in such transactions were the lands around the 'Manor of Neate'. (fn. 8)

Although not specified other lands which appear originally to have been within the manor became detached when it was in the hands of the Crown, including a substantial part of Mayfair south of The Hundred Acres. Among these was a large close or series of fields called Brick Close which was later to form part of the Berkeley estate, (fn. 9) and other fields which were incorporated into the manor or bailiwick of St. James. Some six or seven acres to the north of the modern Brick Street were, however, retained; they were included in a schedule of property to be sold to pay the debts of Alexander Davies, Mary Davies's father, by Act of Parliament in 1675, (fn. 10) and therefore did not pass to the Grosvenors.

Of the areas in Mayfair which apparently became separated from the manor, that which presents the most puzzling aspects is a plot with a frontage to Park Lane, about three acres in extent, immediately to the south of the Grosvenor estate, now occupied by the Dorchester Hotel and parts of Deanery and Tilney Streets. When first leased for building in the 1730's this was described as waste ground belonging to the manor of Knightsbridge in the ownership of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster. (fn. 11) The Dean and Chapter had acquired the manor (the full title of which was the manor of Knightsbridge with Westbourne Green) from Henry VIII in 1542 (fn. 12) although it had belonged to Westminster Abbey in the Middle Ages. How that manor came to include a parcel of waste ground in the middle of the manor of Ebury is unclear. In Grosvenor estate documents of the eighteenth century the area is defined as 'a common or waste … called Ossulton Common'. (fn. 13) The name Osolstone is also used to describe this spot in a deed of 1614 and in the same document Park Lane is described as 'the highwaye from Osolstone to Tiburne'. (fn. 14) The name is also marked on an early manuscript map among the Grosvenor archives which relates to this deed. In the records of Westminster Abbey there are references to a farm 'at Osolueston' which belonged to the manor of Eye, and other references to Ossulston, always as part of this same manor. (fn. 15) The evaluation of this evidence in determining the location of the assemblies or courts of the Hundred of Ossulston, the ancient area of jurisdiction which included London, is not within the scope of this volume, and the apparent conflict of evidence about the manorial history of this small area remains unresolved.

Most of the remainder of Ebury manor was let by the Crown in two leasehold entities, the fields of one intermingling with those of the other. Reversionary leases were also granted, apparently as a way of rewarding faithful service, well before the current leases expired, and to complicate matters further each reversionary lease came to be held by more than one person so that partitions of the land had to take place when the previous leases fell in early in the seventeenth century. (fn. 16)

In 1618 a moiety of one lease was bought for £4,760 by trustees acting for Sir Lionel Cranfield, the ambitious merchant who held several offices of state under James I and was later impeached for corruption. (fn. 17) By this purchase Cranfield became the direct leaseholder of a large part of the manor including The Hundred Acres. He also contemplated purchasing the other moiety, which he estimated would cost about £5,000 or £6,000, but was evidently unable to complete the transaction before his fall, for this leasehold interest remained outstanding until its expiry in 1675. (fn. 18) In 1623, however, James I sold the freehold reversion (fn. 1) of the manor to two 'gentlemen' of London, John Traylman and Thomas Pearson, for £1,151 15s. By a conveyance dated the day following they in turn disposed of it for the same amount to two representatives of Cranfield, by then Earl of Middlesex and Lord High Treasurer of England. (fn. 19) The price was equivalent to thirty years' purchase of the nominal Crown rents obtained under leases granted by the Tudors, and by buying the manor in fee farm Cranfield could no doubt claim that he was preserving the King's rent, low as it was. Not only did the grant convey all of the manor with the exception of those parts already detached from it and a royal mulberry garden (now part of the site of Buckingham Palace and its grounds), but additionally some land elsewhere was included. Particularly important for the later history of the Grosvenor estate were some twenty acres at Millbank on the south side of Horseferry Road, for it was here that the first speculative building on the estate took place.

In 1626, when his personal and financial fortunes were at a low point, Cranfield sold his interests in the manor and the additional lands for £9,400 to Hugh Audley (also spelt Awdley or Awdeley), a clerk of the Court of Wards and Liveries who amassed a considerable fortune by lending money. (fn. 20) Although Cranfield had thus made a handsome profit on the two sums he had laid out, he felt that Audley had driven a hard bargain. (fn. 21) Audley held the property until his death at an advanced age in 1662. During this long period he sold some small parcels of land and bought others which had probably once belonged to the manor, (fn. 22) but when he died the estate he had purchased in 1626 was still virtually intact. By a settlement made shortly before his death he left the bulk of the land to his great-nephew Alexander Davies and the detached part at Millbank (known as Market Meadows) to the latter's brother Thomas Davies, later Sir Thomas Davies, who was Lord Mayor of London in 1676–7. (fn. 23) After Audley's death Thomas Davies sold his holding for £2,000 to his brother (fn. 24) so that Alexander Davies possessed all of Audley's former estate in the area.

Abridged pedigree of Audley, Davies and Grosvenor families

Alexander Davies was a scrivener by profession and had worked for Audley. (fn. 25) Although scriveners were technically the draftsmen of deeds they also undertook many of the functions later associated with lawyers, particularly the management of investments for clients, and Davies probably had access to ready supplies of capital. He decided to embark on speculative building on his new property and as the site chose Market Meadows at Millbank, which he had purchased from his brother. He let the land along the river front for building, reserving a large plot at the southern end as the site of a mansion for his own occupation. This was later called Peterborough House and then Grosvenor House when it became the principal London residence of the Grosvenor family in the first half of the eighteenth century. In 1665, however, 'in the time of the … greate Sicknesse' Alexander Davies died at the age of twenty-nine, leaving the speculation unfinished, his mansion half built, and an infant daughter less than six months old as his heir. (fn. 26) This was the Mary Davies who was to marry Sir Thomas Grosvenor in 1677.

Alexander Davies had settled the estate on trustees for the benefit of his heirs with provision for an annuity of £100 to be paid to his widow. (fn. 27) The settlement did not extinguish her right of dower, however, and so his widow, also named Mary, could claim a life interest in a third of the property. She quickly remarried, her second husband being John Tregonwell, a Dorset squire, and was hereafter, of course, known as Mrs. Tregonwell. Despite the potential wealth of the estate the immediate problem facing the Tregonwells was the settlement of Alexander Davies's debts. He had not paid the £2,000 purchase money for the land at Millbank and had borrowed heavily to finance his building programme. Nearly £2,000 more had to be spent on the unfinished mansion to make it habitable and there were annuities and interest charges on the estate. A substantial part of the land yielded no income as it was still subject to the leasehold interest granted by the Crown (previously referred to) which was not due to fall in until 1675. John Tregonwell later claimed to have advanced a considerable amount of his own money in settling Alexander Davies's affairs, (fn. 28) and in 1675 an Act of Parliament was passed enabling some property to be sold to pay the debts. (fn. 10) Specified in the Act were Goring House (on the site of Buckingham Palace) and some twenty acres adjoining, five acres which now lie in the north-western corner of Green Park, the seven acres in Mayfair to the north of the line of Brick Street referred to above, and twenty-two acres in Knightsbridge. The land in Knightsbridge was repurchased by the Grosvenor family in 1763. (fn. 29) The Act also provided that several fields in the Mayfair portion of the estate should be held in dower by Mrs. Tregonwell. About fifty-six acres were involved, constituting the western part of The Hundred Acres. This had some effect on the building history of the area as the dower lands were exempted from subsequent settlements and were held under a different tenure when building leases came to be granted.

Despite these temporary difficulties, however, there was no doubt about the eligibility of the infant Mary Davies as a future wife for some aspiring young nobleman. In 1672 an agreement was drawn up whereby she was to be married to the Hon. Charles Berkeley, the eldest son of John, first Baron Berkeley of Stratton, as soon as she reached her twelfth birthday, when she would be of age to consent to the match. As part of the contract Lord Berkeley paid £5,000 immediately to John Tregonwell, partly in recompense for money spent in finishing Alexander Davies's mansion and in the upbringing of Mary; he also agreed to settle land of a considerable annual value either on, or in trust for, the couple by the time of the ceremony. (fn. 30) The marriage, however, never took place. According to an account preserved in the Grosvenor archives and probably drawn up by Mrs. Tregonwell (fn. 31) the reason was that Lord Berkeley was unable to provide the land. Although he was a rich man he had recently built an expensive mansion, Berkeley House in Piccadilly, and at about this time he purchased Brick Close in Mayfair, immediately to the south of the fields belonging to Mary Davies. (fn. 32) The breakdown of these plans mattered little for within a few months of her twelfth birthday a husband had been found for her in the twenty-oneyear-old baronet, Sir Thomas Grosvenor.

The Grosvenor Marriage

The marriage between Mary Davies and Sir Thomas Grosvenor took place on 10 October 1677 in the church of St. Clement Danes, where the bride's grandfather, Dr. Richard Dukeson, was rector. (fn. 33) The Grosvenors were an ancient Cheshire family claiming a somewhat tenuous descent from Hugh Lupus, first Earl of Chester, one of William the Conqueror's foremost knights and possibly his nephew. By the seventeenth century they owned land in Chester, Cheshire, Denbighshire and Flintshire and also valuable lead mines in the last two counties. In 1622 Sir Richard Grosvenor was created a baronet by James I, and Sir Thomas, his great-grandson, was the third baronet. The family seat was at Eaton Hall, near Chester.

All Sir Thomas Grosvenor's prospects from the marriage were in the future. In deference to her tender years his bride remained for at least two years in the care of a guardian aunt, and as part of the marriage bargain he had to expend a considerable sum of money. Lord Berkeley's £5,000 had to be repaid with interest, and among other sums required to be disbursed John Tregonwell received £1,000 for a reversionary interest in the estate which would arise in the event of the death of Mary Davies before reaching the age of twenty-one, and which he had prudently acquired by assignment. (fn. 34) While a settlement of the estates in Cheshire and North Wales for the benefit of any male heirs of the marriage in order of primogeniture was made shortly after the ceremony, (fn. 35) a similar settlement of that part of Mary Davies's lands which was free from dower had to await her twenty-first birthday and was finally made in 1694. (fn. 36) The total annual rental value of the London estates in 1677 was £2,170, but one third of this was payable to Mrs. Tregonwell in dower, and after annuities and other payments the clear income from the rest amounted to £824. (fn. 37) Besides this income, some £3,400 were obtained in 1681 when thirtyfive acres were sold, apparently by royal wish, to the Earl of Arlington. (fn. 38) The land involved now constitutes parts of the grounds of Buckingham Palace, Green Park and Hyde Park Corner. A further two and a half acres in Chelsea, now or formerly part of the grounds of the Royal Hospital, were also sold. (fn. 39)

Sir Thomas Grosvenor died in 1700 leaving three sons under the age of twelve; a daughter also was born a month after his death. All three sons eventually succeeded to the baronetey. Sir Richard, the eldest, died in 1732. His brother, Thomas, succeeded him for only seven months before his death in Naples early in 1733. The youngest son, Robert, then became the sixth baronet until his death in 1755; he was the only one of the three brothers to leave any issue.

The effect of the settlement of 1694 was that on her husband's death Dame Mary Grosvenor, as Mary Davies was now styled, was left a life interest in the London estate, with the exception of those parts held in dower by her mother. She had already shown signs of mental instability during her husband's lifetime and her illness was no doubt accelerated by his death. In 1701 while in Paris she married, or was inveigled into a bogus marriage by, Edward Fenwick, the brother of a Roman Catholic chaplain she had taken into her household. Four years of legal disputes ensued until the supposed marriage was annulled by the Court of Delegates in 1705. (fn. 40) In the same year a commission of lunacy was appointed to enquire into her mental state. She was adjudged insane and committed to the care of Francis Cholmondeley of Vale Royal in Cheshire, who had been appointed one of the guardians of her children by Sir Thomas Grosvenor's will. (fn. 41) As a result the revenues from her estate were paid into the Court of Chancery to be invested for her benefit, and any change in the use or disposition of the land could only be made by leave of the Court. Dame Mary lived on without regaining her faculties until 1730.

In 1708 Sir Richard Grosvenor married Jane Wyndham, daughter of Sir Edward Wyndham of Orchard Wyndham in Somerset. In return for a marriage portion of £12,000 he agreed to make a new settlement of the estates in his possession and of those in which his mother had a life interest, in part to secure a jointure for his wife. (fn. 42) In view of his mother's lunacy, however, it was only possible to do this with the authority of an Act of Parliament which was duly obtained in 1711 when he had reached the age of twenty-one. (fn. 43) The effect of the settlement was to preserve the descent of the estates in the male line, firstly to his male heirs if any and then to his brothers and their male heirs. Jane Grosvenor died in 1719 without issue and Sir Richard married again. His second wife was Diana Warburton, daughter of Sir George Warburton of Arley in Cheshire. This time a dowry of £8,000 was provided and a new settlement was drawn up, but its effect was to preserve the same contingent remainders as earlier ones. (fn. 44) Diana Grosvenor died in 1730, also without issue.

A clause was inserted in the Act of 1711 to enable Sir Richard Grosvenor to grant building leases for any term up to sixty years of the land in London in which his mother held a life interest (but excluding the land held in dower by Mrs. Tregonwell). The Act referred to some old and ruinous buildings which might be rebuilt, but otherwise there is no indication that any specific development was then planned.

In 1717 Mrs. Tregonwell died (fn. 45) and the third of the estate which she had held in dower passed in fee simple to Dame Mary Grosvenor. The income from this land was also henceforth administered on her behalf by the officials of the Court of Chancery.


  • 1. In strict terms the manor was sold in fee farm, for a perpetual annual rent of £38 7s. 10d. (equal to the total rent due under the existing leases) was payable to the Crown. In 1663 this rent was granted by Charles II to the Earl of Sandwich and was thereafter paid to the Earl and his descendants.
  • 2. P.R.O., C66 880, m. 32.
  • 3. William Loftie Rutton, 'The Manor of Eia, or Eye next Westminster', in Archaeologia, vol. LXII, 1910, pp. 31–58, from which most of the information about the early history of the manor is derived.
  • 4. 28 Henry VIII, c. 49 in Statutes of the Realm, vol. III, 1817, pp. 709–12.
  • 5. Rutton, op. cit., p. 33.
  • 6. E.g. G.O., early deeds and papers, no. 242.
  • 7. Rutton, op. cit., p. 34.
  • 8. G.O., early deeds . . ., no. 11.
  • 9. B. H. Johnson, Berkeley Square to Bond Street, 1952, pp. 10–21.
  • 10. 27 Car. II, c. 2, private.
  • 11. M.L.R. 1738 4 11.
  • 12. Calendar of Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, vol. XVII, p. 392.
  • 13. GBA 75.
  • 14. G. O., early deeds, no. 15.
  • 15. For Ossulston see Charles T. Gatty, Mary Davies and the Manor of Ebury, 1921, vol. I, pp. 51–60 and G.O., London Scrapbooks, vol. I, pp. 47–89.
  • 16. G.O., early deeds, nos. 5 12, 15: B.L., Add. MS. 38104 (reproduced by London Topographical Society as A Plan of the Manor of Ebury, c. 1663–1670, 1915).
  • 17. G.O., early deeds, nos. 26 7: Menna Prestwich, Cranfield, Politics and Profits under the Early Stuarts, 1966, pp. 258–9.
  • 18. Prestwich, op. cit., pp. 591, 601: B.L., Add. MS. 38104 (see ref. 15).
  • 19. G.O., early deeds, nos. 33 4.
  • 20. Ibid., no. 38: Gatty, op. cit., vol. I, pp. 76–155 passim.
  • 21. Prestwich, op. cit., pp. 478 9.
  • 22. B.L., Add. MS. 38104 (see ref. 15): Gatty, op. cit., vol. I, pp. 97–8.
  • 23. G.O., early deeds, nos. 101–2.
  • 24. Ibid., no. 107.
  • 25. Gatty, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 119.
  • 26. 27 Car. II, c. 2, private: Gatty, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 169.
  • 27. G.O., early deeds, nos. 111–12.
  • 28. Ibid., no. 135.
  • 29. G.O., chest B, bundle 9, 22 and 23 April 1763.
  • 30. Ibid., unnumbered early deeds, agreement of 12 Dec. 1672.
  • 31. Ibid., misc. box 3, 'An Acount at the Marage of my Daughter Grosvenor', quoted in Gatty, op. cit., vol. II, pp. 186 92.
  • 32. Johnson, op. cit., pp. 51 9.
  • 33. Gatty, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 222.
  • 34. G.O., early deeds, nos. 170–1.
  • 35. Ibid., MS vol. called 'Title Deeds', deed of 31 Oct. 1677.
  • 36. Ibid., early deeds, no. 242.
  • 37. Ibid., nos. 166, 181.
  • 38. G.O., unnumbered early deeds, bundle of deeds of 1681; early deeds, nos. 242, 328.
  • 39. Ibid., early deeds, no. 242: Survey of London, vol. xi, 1927, p. 5.
  • 40. Gatty, op. cit., vol. II, pp. 54 182.
  • 41. E.H.P., personal papers, 4th Bt., petition to Chancery, c. 1720; 3rd Bt., copy of will.
  • 42. G.O., chest B, bundle 6, 12 June 1708.
  • 43. 9 Anne, c. 22, private.
  • 44. G.O., misc. box 21, abstract of title, [c. 1730].
  • 45. Ibid., London Scrapbooks, vol. II, p. 35.
  • 46. P.R.O., C66 3032, no. 8, m. 6.