Survey of London: Volume 39, the Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair, Part 1 (General History). Originally published by London County Council, London, 1977.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by English Heritage. All rights reserved.
Architects and Builders
The names of some 290 individuals who were connected with the building trade, either as practitioners of its arts and crafts or as suppliers of materials, are recorded in the documentary evidence relating to the development of the estate. These were the men who entered into building agreements, were direct lessees of the Grosvenors, or were sub-lessees of developers, and it can reasonably be assumed that there were also many more sub-lessees whose names have not been traced. While by no means all of them can have aspired to the description of 'master builders' they were nevertheless in business in a substantial enough way to be parties to various legal instruments, and must have been supported by countless journeymen, labourers and apprentices. Their activities on the estate were, of course, spread over the whole sixty-year period of its first development but the names of a substantial number of them occur in documents dating from the first decade, and it is not difficult to envisage Defoe's 'World full of Bricklayers and Labourers'.
A handful of these 290 can justifiably be called architects, although only two were actually so described. One of these was Colen or Colin Campbell, who described himself as Architect to the Prince of Wales when he was granted a building lease in 1726, (fn. 1) and the second was John Crunden, who was the building lessee of a terrace of houses in Hereford Street in 1777. (fn. 2) The others usually styled themselves 'esquire' or 'gentleman'. They included William Benson, whose architectural career had already been cut short before he appeared on the estate; Edward Shepherd; Thomas Ripley; Roger Morris; and Thomas Archer, who had a house built in Grosvenor Square but apparently not of his own designing. In the case of Shepherd and Morris, however, the line dividing them from an outstanding master builder like Benjamin Timbrell is indeed fine.
Any discussion of the role played by architects in the development of the estate must begin with the enigmatic presence of Colen Campbell. Sir Richard Grosvenor was a subscriber to all three volumes of Vitruvius Britannicus published in Campbell's lifetime and Eaton Hall is featured in the second volume of 1717, but no account of any dealings with Campbell has survived in the family archives, and if Sir Richard Grosvenor and his brothers had any views on architecture they remain obscure. Campbell was the lessee of two adjoining house plots in Brook Street in 1726 and on one of these he built the stillsurviving house (No. 76) in which he lived until his death there in 1729 (Plate 33c; fig. 2e on page 107). (fn. 3) The ground on which these houses were built, however, was originally taken under a building agreement by Edward Shepherd, and it was as Shepherd's nominee that Campbell received his lease. In fact Shepherd had agreed to make the site available to Israel Russell, painter-stainer, and Campbell had subsequently obtained an assignment of Russell's agreement with Shepherd in 1725. Russell witnessed the lease. (fn. 1)
Although No. 76 and the now demolished No. 78 Brook Street are the only buildings which can with some certainty be attributed to Campbell, his involvement in the development of the estate was undoubtedly more extensive. We have already seen that in four agreements concluded shortly before his death he was named as one of the referees for settling disputes. (fn. 4) More directly, an engraving in the Gibbs Collection at the Ashmolean Museum shows the elevation and plan of 'Seven New intended Houses on the East Side of Grosvenor Sqr. as Designed by Colen Campbell Esqr. 1725' (Plate 4b). The engraving was probably intended for publication, but the circumstances in which the design was made are a mystery. An agreement to undertake the development of the east side of the square had been signed by the builder John Simmons in November 1724. (fn. 5) Whether Simmons commissioned Campbell to provide a design, whether Sir Richard Grosvenor procured a design which he hoped Simmons would follow, this being the first side of the square to be taken by a builder (although no stipulation that any overall design had to be adhered to was made in the agreement), or whether Campbell's contribution was unsolicited is not known. Perhaps significantly there is some similarity between the east side as built by Simmons and Campbell's scheme. Simmons's façade was much plainer but it was nevertheless treated as a symmetrical composition with the ends and centre given additional emphasis (Plate 5). 'By this means', to quote Sir John Summerson, 'the block assumed the character of a single palatial building, and an important step had been taken towards a new conception of street architecture'. (fn. 6) Campbell's design was for seven houses, and Simmons's range, as viewed from the square, also appeared to consist of seven houses, but, in fact, contained an extra house on the south side with its entrance in Grosvenor Street. As in Campbell's design, the centre house as built was wider than the rest, but it had a frontage of seventy feet rather than sixty as shown by Campbell, and there were corresponding differences in the dimensions of the other houses. A reference in a letter by Robert Andrews in 1726 to a dispute with Simmons over sewers may be pertinent although it hardly clarifies matters. Andrews wrote, 'It was an unlucky misunderstanding at first but such a Genr! design as that is seldom ever carried on without oversights of that kind which makes it the more pardonable'. (fn. 7) Part of Simmons's composition survived in a little-altered state at No. 1 Grosvenor Square until c. 1936 and can be seen on Plate 8a.
There is another design by Campbell for Grosvenor Square, architecturally very similar, dating from 1725 in the Royal Institute of British Architects. This consists of an elevation and plans for three houses with a combined frontage of approximately 185 feet. (fn. 8) Again nothing is known about the history of the design. It is, however, interesting to note that in April 1725 Robert Grosvenor was granted a lease by his brother of 185 feet of frontage on the south side of the square, but by August he was contracting with builders to sub-let the ground to them in building plots of such dimensions that the execution of Campbell's design would have been impossible. (fn. 9) Edward Shepherd took 180 feet on the north side of the square in 1725, (fn. 10) but he eventually built four houses there, three of them to his own rather grand design, which, although Palladian, cannot be related to Campbell's.
Two other designs attributed to Campbell in the R.I.B.A. have been associated with Grosvenor Square, (fn. 11) but they show astylar blocks in the manner of his Old Burlington Street houses or of his own house in Brook Street, and the dimensions do not fit any of the sides of the square.
One of the associates of Campbell who lived on the estate was John Aislabie, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer who had been discredited by the South Sea Bubble. In 1729 Aislabie concluded the purchase of No. 12 Grosvenor Square, on the north side, from its building lessee, John Kitchingman, a timber merchant, moving in during that year. (fn. 12) The house, which was demolished in 1961, had a Palladian façade (fig. 2a on page 106) and interior decorative features in the manner of Campbell.
Another member of Campbell's circle who had a house on the estate was William Benson, the architect of Wilbury House in Wiltshire, which was an early example of the Palladian revival. He had been made Surveyor-General of the King's Works in 1718, having manoeuvred Wren out of the office, only to be dismissed himself for incompetence in the following year. (fn. 13) Campbell was his Deputy Surveyor and Chief Clerk but also lost his position on Benson's disgrace. Benson was, however, well compensated financially and among other perquisites received the reversion of the office of Auditor of the Imprests. (fn. 13) In 1725 he and his brother Benjamin (who had replaced Hawksmoor as Clerk of the Works at Whitehall in 1718) jointly took an assignment of a building agreement for thirty-six feet of frontage on the south side of Grosvenor Street, where they had two narrow houses built (Nos. 45 and 46, now demolished). (fn. 14) William Benson lived in No. 45 from 1726 until 1752 and was succeeded as occupant by John Aislabie Benson, his son. (fn. 15) Whether Benson designed these houses, or what, indeed, they looked like is not known, and he is chiefly of interest in the history of the estate as a mortgagee of Sir Richard Grosvenor, to whom he lent £10,000 in 1732, (fn. 16) probably in connection with the extensive work then being undertaken at Grosvenor House, Millbank.
Of the architect-builders who worked on the estate, Edward Shepherd must rank as the most important, both in terms of the original extent of his work and of the amount surviving. He is first recorded on the estate in 1721 as the assignee of an agreement for a plot on the south side of Brook Street now occupied by part of Claridge's Hotel. In 1723 he was granted a lease of the house which he had erected (No. 47), and is there described as a plasterer, which accords with Vertue's account of his career. (fn. 17) In November of the same year he entered into an agreement to build on the north side of Brook Street between Davies Street and Gilbert Street, (fn. 18) and in the course of this development (and others on the estate) he progressed from calling himself a plasterer to firstly a 'gentleman' and finally an 'esquire'. It was for part of this ground in Brook Street that Colen Campbell was granted a building lease in 1726 in the circumstances described above, and, in view of instances where Shepherd obtained leases for building tradesmen who did work for him, it is possible that the two men were professionally associated in some way. Between 1726 and 1729 they lived within two doors of each other, Shepherd at No. 72 Brook Street and Campbell at No. 76. (fn. 15) Certainly by the end of the 1720's Shepherd had graduated from being a plasterer to being an assured if not outstandingly distinguished architect, and Campbell may have been his mentor.
In the absence of any evidence to the contrary it can be conjectured that Shepherd was responsible for the design of the elaborate interior of No. 66 Brook Street (now part of the Grosvenor Office), of which he was the building lessee in 1725 (Frontispiece, Plates 6c, 9a). (fn. 19) Four years later he assigned the house to its first occupant, Sir Nathaniel Curzon, and Curzon's account at Hoare's Bank records payments to Shepherd and his mortgagee but none to any other architect. (fn. 20)
His most remarkable design during these years, however, was for three houses on the north side of Grosvenor Square (Nos. 18, 19 and 20 in the modern sequence) which he united behind a Palladian façade of red brick above a rusticated, stuccoed ground storey with an attached hexastyle Corinthian portico as its centrepiece (Plate 5). The design was presumably in existence by April 1728, when an agreement with a bricklayer who was to work on the houses made reference to 'the modell plann or forme and elevation . . . which hath been made or drawn by the said Edward Shepherd'. (fn. 21) Originally the composition was symmetrical but within a few years it was made to seem unbalanced when the adjoining corner house (No. 21) was refaced to match its neighbour. Robert Morris wrote in 1734 that 'the same Architect did compose a regular Range for that whole Side, in which he has shown a Nobleness of Invention, and the Spirit and Keeping of the Design is not unworthy of the greatest British Architect; but the unpolite Taste of several Proprietors of that Ground prevented so beautiful a Performance from being the Ornament of that Side of the Square'. (fn. 22) That he had Shepherd in mind is suggested by his reference elsewhere to 'that Grandeur of Esqr; Shepherd's [range] on the North'. (fn. 23) The only other undertaker on the north side was Augustin Woollaston, a brickmaker, who received his frontage at the same time as Shepherd (March 1725), (fn. 24) but the first building leases of his ground were granted in 1726, (fn. 25) some two years before those of Shepherd's houses.
No. 12 North Audley Street, which has an interior as fine as that of No. 66 Brook Street, was built on part of the 'hinterland' of Shepherd's ground on the north side of Grosvenor Square (no. 54 on plan A), presumably for its first occupant, Colonel (later Field-Marshal and Earl) Ligonier, who paid a rack rent to Shepherd for some five years before purchasing the house outright in 1735. (fn. 26) Although Shepherd was almost certainly the builder, there is a possibility that he was here working to another's designs, for on stylistic grounds there is a strong case for attributing the design of the interior, and in particular the splendid long gallery at the back (Plate 11), to Sir Edward Lovett Pearce, the Irish Palladian architect who provided a design (probably unexecuted) for a house for Ligonier near Dublin. (fn. 27)
Other large and apparently well-appointed houses by Shepherd in North Audley Street have been demolished but in South Audley Street more has survived of the range from No. 71 to No. 75 where he was the undertaker. (fn. 28)
Thomas Ripley's known work on the estate is confined to one house, No. 16 Grosvenor Street, for which he was the building lessee in 1724. He too had graduated in rank, from 'carpenter' in 1720 when he entered into an agreement to build on this plot to 'esquire' on receipt of the lease. (fn. 29) The first occupant of the house was Lord Walpole, (fn. 15) the eldest son of Sir Robert Walpole, and it was to the latter's influence rather than his own skill that Ripley owed his advance in the world. Ripley was also one of the first builders to take ground in Grosvenor Square, signing an agreement to develop the whole of the west side in 1725. (fn. 30) He was one of the parties to the arrangement with Sir Richard Grosvenor for the laying out of the square garden, but by the time building leases of his plot were granted in 1728 he appears to have relinquished all his interest under the building agreement to Robert Scott, carpenter, and Robert Andrews, (fn. 31) and there is no indication that he had anything whatsoever to do with the heterogeneous mixture of houses which made up that side of the square.
Roger Morris is first encountered on the estate in 1727 when (as a bricklayer from St. Marylebone) he was given possession of some ground in Green Street by Thomas Barlow and Robert Andrews, who were the undertakers for a larger area of which Morris's plot formed part. He built a house for himself at No. 61 Green Street, living there from 1730 until his death in 1749, and the building lessee of the neighbouring house on the west (formerly No. 60, but now joined to No. 61) was James Richards, who was the master carver of the King's Works and an associate of Morris. (fn. 32) In 1738 Morris, who had become master carpenter of His Majesty's Ordnance, built a large block of stables for the Second Troop of Horse Guards on the site now largely occupied by Green Street Garden. (fn. 33) To the east of the Guards' stables, on the west side of Park Street, he was also responsible in his capacity as developer for the erection of a terrace of narrow-fronted and apparently unremarkable houses between Wood's Mews and Green Street, all since demolished. The lessee of one of these houses was his kinsman, Robert Morris, the author of the favourable comment about Edward Shepherd's houses in Grosvenor Square quoted above, who lived in Park Street from 1739 until his death in 1754. (fn. 34)
The evidence relating to the part played by other notable architects is more fragmentary and in some cases entirely speculative. Nicholas Dubois, James Gibbs and, briefly in 1730, John James were named in several building agreements as parties to whose judgment disputes were to be submitted, and Isaac Ware witnessed the agreement with Thomas Ripley for the west side of Grosvenor Square, but none of these architects is known to have been involved in any building work on the estate. Henry Flitcroft is known to have undertaken alterations to No. 4 Grosvenor Square (the great centre house on the east side) for its second occupant, Lord Malton, (fn. 13) but his name also occurs in other circumstances in which his role is less clear. In 1728 he provided a mortgage of £400 on No. 12 Upper Grosvenor Street, which the master builder Benjamin Timbrell was then building for his own occupation, (fn. 35) and seven years later he witnessed an assignment of No. 6 Upper Brook Street (now demolished) from Edward Shepherd, who had built and briefly occupied the house, to Lord Gower. (fn. 36) Flitcroft was also associated with Timbrell in other enterprises, and, perhaps coincidentally, the widow of the Duke of Kent's son, whom Lord Gower was to marry in the year following his move to Upper Brook Street, had previously lived in a house built by Timbrell at No. 9 Clifford Street on the Burlington estate. (fn. 37) Later architects such as Sir Robert Taylor, James and Samuel Wyatt, or the Adam brothers, who certainly worked in the area, fall into a somewhat different category, for they were adapting or embellishing existing houses for clients rather than concerning themselves with the first development of the estate.
It is impossible to give details of the work of all of the building tradesmen whose names are known, and information about those who worked in the principal streets is contained in the tables on pages 172–95. Nevertheless the contribution of a few may be singled out. Prominent among the builders, if only by the continual recurrence of the name, was the family of Barlow. At least three generations of the family, which came from Forebridge, Stafford, worked as bricklayers on the estate, but lack of biographical information and the practice of giving the same Christian names to successive generations have made it impossible to determine exact relationships, or, in some cases, to be sure which member of the family was responsible for a particular building. There were four Williams, and probably two Johns and two Georges who were all involved in building work. The eldest William Barlow, sometimes described as William Barlow senior, was the son of Hugh Barlow of Stafford, husbandman, and was apprenticed to a member of the Tylers' and Bricklayers' Company in 1705. (fn. 38) He himself took as apprentice in 1715 another William Barlow, son of George Barlow of Stafford, mason, and therefore perhaps his cousin, (fn. 39) and this may be the William Barlow, sometimes described as William Barlow junior, who built the two adjoining houses, No. 88 Brook Street and No. 9 Grosvenor Square. (fn. 40) William Barlow senior was extensively involved in the earliest building activity at the eastern edge of the estate and continued to be active until his death in 1743. He was appointed bricklayer to the parish of St. George, Hanover Square, in 1725, and in this capacity helped to build the workhouse on the south side of Mount Street. (fn. 41) He was also one of the four proprietors of the Grosvenor Chapel. (fn. 42) None of the houses of which he was the building lessee have, however, escaped rebuilding. His grandson, Sir George Hilaro Barlow, was created a baronet in 1803. (fn. 43) No relationship has been discovered between the Barlow family of bricklayers and Thomas Barlow, carpenter, who was the estate surveyor.
The position of Benjamin Timbrell as one of the foremost master builders working in the West End of London in the first half of the eighteenth century is well known, (fn. 13) but his work on the Grosvenor estate has not so far been recorded. He was the building lessee of some ten substantial houses there (including at least two in Grosvenor Square), of which No. 52 Grosvenor Street (Plate 8c; fig. 16 on page 136), No. 69 Grosvenor Street and No. 12 Upper Grosvenor Street survive in part. The latter was his own residence, where he lived from 1729 until 1751. (fn. 15) He was almost certainly involved in the building of other houses where he was not the direct lessee, and of the four proprietor-builders of the Grosvenor Chapel he is the most likely to have provided the design (fig. 7 on page 119). As one of the original vestrymen of the parish of St. George, Hanover Square, he often supplied plans for parish buildings, including the workhouse. (fn. 44) His son, William, also worked as a carpenter on the estate (fn. 45) and his daughter, Martha, married John Barlow, (fn. 46) the son of William Barlow senior.
With Thomas Barlow and Benjamin Timbrell, Thomas Phillips, carpenter, was one of the relatively few nonaristocratic vestrymen appointed by the 'Fifty Churches' Commissioners in 1725 to govern the new parish of St. George, and he also assisted in the design and execution of parish buildings including the workhouse (with Timbrell). (fn. 47) He had been employed, with Timbrell, as carpenter for the building of the church of St. Martin in the Fields and enjoyed a high standing in his trade. (fn. 13) On the Grosvenor estate he built houses in Brook Street and Grosvenor Square. From 1723 until his death in 1736 he lived in one of these houses, No. 39 Brook Street (fn. 48) (later partly rebuilt by Jeffry Wyatville), and his nephew, John Phillips, also a well-known master builder, lived there from 1741 until his death in 1775 or 1776. (fn. 49) John Phillips was the undertaker for the last area of the estate to be developed—in the north-west corner— and he was probably the builder of the two large, detached houses erected there, Camelford House and the house later called Somerset House, the latter apparently to his own design. (fn. 50)
John Simmons, carpenter, the builder of the east side of Grosvenor Square, was the son of John Simmons, citizen and cooper of London, and was himself a freeman of the Merchant Taylors' Company. (fn. 51) He was probably the John Simmons, joiner, who worked for Gibbs at the church of St. Mary-le-Strand. (fn. 52) Besides his considerable undertaking in Grosvenor Square he also built several houses in Brook Street, Grosvenor Street and Upper Brook Street. He had a house and workshop on the Grosvenor estate at Millbank, (fn. 53) and he was thus one of the few builders working on the Mayfair estate who did not live either there or in adjacent parts of the parish of St. George, Hanover Square. After his death in 1738 his widow, Elizabeth, continued his business until her own death in 1755. When their grand-daughter married in 1778 she was able to provide a dowry consisting of some property at Millbank and eight houses in Mayfair (including two in Grosvenor Square) which had been leased to John or Elizabeth Simmons and were then still owned by their descendants, having in the meantime been let on short-term leases at rack rents. (fn. 54)
Other builders who had a substantial impact on the development of the estate included Robert Scott, carpenter, who was also one of the proprietors of the Grosvenor Chapel (with Timbrell, William Barlow senior and Robert Andrews); (fn. 42) he was the builder of some ten houses in Grosvenor Street, Grosvenor Square and Upper Grosvenor Street, and of numerous other houses in the lesser streets where he was often joint lessee. Lawrence Neale, carpenter, who lived at No. 24 Upper Grosvenor Street (on part of the site now occupied by No. 93 Park Lane) from 1730 to 1745, (fn. 15) was responsible for over a dozen substantial houses, including three in Grosvenor Square. Richard Lissiman, mason, who was the son of a gunsmith from Colwall in Herefordshire and who died in 1733, was the building lessee of several houses in Grosvenor Street, including the important trio of Nos. 33–35 (consec.), and Upper Grosvenor Street. (fn. 55) Another builder who died at an early stage in the development was John Green, from whom Green Street almost certainly takes its name. He was drowned in 1737 when he fell into a well he was inspecting for the Marquess of Carnarvon at No. 43 Upper Grosvenor Street, a house which he had himself built some six years previously. He was then living in Green Street and was described as 'a very wealthy Builder'. (fn. 56) In the middle years of the eighteenth century the names of John Spencer, carpenter, and Edmund Rush, mason, appear regularly in the estate records, both as builders and developers of substantial areas in the vicinity of South Street, Portugal Street (now Balfour Place), Green Street, Norfolk (now Dunraven) Street, and the west end of Upper Brook Street where house-building was still in progress in the 1750's. Spencer lived on the estate for several years, latterly at No. 60 Green Street (now joined to No. 61), but in 1771 he was declared bankrupt and quit his house, his subsequent movements being unknown. (fn. 57)