The Development of the Estate 1720-1785: Building Leases

Pages 16-17

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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Building Leases

In some cases, as has been indicated, some of the more notable deficiencies in agreements were corrected in the leases granted under them. (fn. 1) There were 460 such leases of plots ranging in size from individual house sites (and in one case part of a yard (fn. 2) ) to extensive areas which were then sub-let in smaller building plots by their lessees. Although by no means uniform, the leases generally followed a standard pattern. They were usually granted in consideration of buildings erected, in course of erection, or to be erected; the payment of rent; and the performance of covenants. Each was of a plot of ground and the building or buildings standing on it or to be erected there. Even in leases of individual house plots the phrase 'and all other buildings built or which may be built' on the same was often added, no doubt to cover stabling, offices or other out-buildings; but this phrase, if interpreted literally, gave the lessee complete freedom to cover the ground with whatever buildings he wished.

The term of years granted by such leases and the extra rent payable if undesirable trades were practised have been discussed above; the ground rents will be examined separately in the next section.

The 'common usual and necessary covenants' referred to in the agreements are set out fully in the leases themselves. The lessee undertook to pay the ground rent and the extra rent payable if he practised a noxious trade; to pay his share of the cost of making and keeping in repair the stable yard, if applicable; to finish the building within a specified time in a workmanlike manner; to put up rails and posts, and do the necessary paving work to the middle of the street; to build his stables or other buildings at the back of his plot to as low a height as possible; to maintain the premises in good repair; to surrender the buildings at the end of the leasehold term with their fittings intact; to allow to the landlord or his agents the right of inspection at least twice each year, and to put right any defects thereby discovered within three months. A further clause gave to the landlord the right of repossession in case of non-payment of rent in the usual manner of such leases.

The time limit laid down for completing buildings was usually six months but this was often varied. In leases of large areas containing a number of house plots a longer time was frequently allowed, and in one instance the lessee was merely required to finish his buildings 'with all Convenient Speed and as soon as may be'. (fn. 3) For houses in Grosvenor Square twelve or eighteen months were generally allowed. Many instances could be cited of houses which were not completed within the allotted span and there is no evidence of any attempt on the part of the Grosvenors or their officers to enforce such provisions rigidly. In one case, when a builder died after being in financial difficulties, partially built houses were standing in a deteriorating condition ten years after a lease of them had been granted to him, but Robert Andrews, acting for Sir Robert Grosvenor, agreed not only to remit the arrears of ground rent due but also to pay a small sum to the builder's principal creditor in return for an assignment of the lease in trust for Sir Robert. (fn. 4)

Additional covenants were included in leases whenever particular circumstances demanded. Often these were concerned with the siting of coach-houses and stables. In leases of plots which had their principal frontages on major streets such as Brook Street or Grosvenor Square and long return frontages to other streets such as Davies Street or Duke Street, a condition was often inserted that the building of stabling in the latter streets was either prohibited or only allowed if no entrance directly into the street from the stable was constructed, access being obtained from the mews at the rear. (fn. 4) Among the more unusual stipulations about the location of stabling was that contained in leases of sites on the south side of South Street in which it was stated that if lessees built stables on their plots they were not to keep dung in the street but were to 'sink a place … in the said Street … for the holding and keeping of such Dung and … cover the same over in a Safe manner even with the Surface of the said Street'. (fn. 5) In leases of plots with frontages on to stable yards, the use of the yard and its facilities was granted in common with other lessees of plots abutting on the yard.

The building leases for Grosvenor Square contained provisions about the square garden. In return for the privilege of 'walking in' the enclosure the lessee had to pay an additional annual rent (calculated at 9d. per foot frontage), the proceeds of which were to be used for maintaining the garden, watering the roadway in the square, and paying a gardener to look after the enclosure.


  • 1. The information in this section is largely based on GLB I XVIII 1–460.
  • 2. GLB XIII/348.
  • 3. Ibid., IV/115.
  • 4. 9 Anne, c. 22, private.
  • 5. Ibid., II/37, III/70.
  • 6. Ibid., XI/295, 297, 300, XII/301.