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 Development of the Estate 1720-1785: Building Methods and Finance', in Survey of London: Volume 39, the Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair, Part 1 (General History), (London, 1977) pp. 24-29. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol39/pt1/pp24-29 [accessed 5 March 2024]
Building Methods and Finance
Sufficient evidence has come to light about the methods used by builders in the development of the estate to provide several specific examples of modes of building practice which were undoubtedly widespread in the eighteenth century. There are examples of co-operation between builders trained in different crafts, both directly in the few cases where specific contracts have survived, and indirectly in the granting of leases. The contracts are instances of what Sir John Summerson has called 'a remarkably efficient system of barter' (fn. 3) whereby the need for cash was reduced by offsetting one man's carefully costed work against that of another. In 1724 Edward Shepherd, who held under agreement the ground on which Nos. 66–78 (even) Brook Street were built, contracted with Thomas Fayram, mason, that he would procure a lease or assignment to Fayram of No. 68 Brook Street, then 'lately built but not finished', and in return Fayram was to pay him £606, half of which was to be in cash and half in mason's work, presumably at No. 66 and other houses in that range (see Plates 6c, 33c). The rate at which Fayram's work was to be measured was carefully set down, viz.—2s. per foot for Portland block, 1s. per foot for superficial plain work, 1s. 3d. per foot for the same moulded, 5s. per foot for white and veined marble chimneypieces and slabs, 2s. 6d. per foot for white and black marble squares, 1s. 6d. per foot for Portland paving, 1s. per foot for plain firestone hearths, 7d. per foot for Purbeck paving and 1s. 10d. per foot for Purbeck steps. (fn. 4)
An agreement drawn up four years later between Shepherd and Francis Drewitt, bricklayer, is even more informative. Shepherd, who was then in possession of a piece of ground on the north side of Grosvenor Square under an agreement of 1725, undertook to obtain for Drewitt a lease of No. 20, which was to be built according to Shepherd's plan and elevation, this being one of the houses forming his Palladian composition discussed above. Shepherd was to supply sufficient place and grey stock bricks at the rate of £3 5s. per rod, (fn. 1) and Drewitt was to do the bricklayer's work on two houses to be built by Shepherd in the square, presumably No. 19 and No. 21 (the latter being leased to Shepherd's brother, John, a plasterer). (fn. 5) For this Drewitt was to be allowed £16s. per rod including ornaments. He was to carry out the work according to Shepherd's plans and elevation and under Shepherd's direction. In return Shepherd was to do the 'Plaistering worke' on the front of Drewitt's house (namely the entablature, 'Rustick Story', cellar storey and the ornaments to the windows) at the lowest price customarily charged for such work. As soon as the respective work of each was finished the account was to be settled between them and Drewitt was to pay Shepherd the balance before he received the lease. (fn. 6) Drewitt, who signed documents with a mark, obtained £400 by mortgaging this agreement before the lease was granted. (fn. 7) The lessee of No. 18, the easternmost house in Shepherd's Palladian group, was Thomas Fayram, (fn. 8) with whom presumably a similar contract was made.
An unusually explicit reference to the barter system is contained in an agreement of 1755 between Edmund Rush, mason, who was principally responsible for the development of Norfolk (now Dunraven) Street, and Jacob Hancock, painter, who contracted to take a building lease of a plot on the east side of the street. The document states that 'Edmund Rush shall do and Perform or cause to be done and Performed all the Masons Bricklayers and Carpenters Works wanting and Necessary to be done in and about the building and Finishing the Carcass of the said Messuage or Tenement or other buildings to be Erected and built upon the said Peice of Ground . . . and whatever Sum of Money the same shall amount to . . . the said Edmund Rush doth hereby agree to Accept and Take out in Work and Business to be done by the said Jacob Hancock for the said Edmund Rush in his Trade or Business as a Painter'. (fn. 9) Other lessees of houses in the same range as Hancock's included a carpenter, a bricklayer, a mason, a carver, a plumber and another painter, (fn. 10) and similar arrangements were probably made with them, for Rush granted the lease in each case.
The mutual co-operation of several building lessees responsible for a long terrace range can often be assumed but surviving contracts between them are rare. One such is an agreement of 1742 between Elizabeth Simmons, the widow of John Simmons, on the one part, and Joshua Fletcher, mason, John Barlow, bricklayer, Lawrence Neale, carpenter, John Smith, timber merchant, and Robert Andrews, on the other. Elizabeth Simmons was in possession of 189 feet of frontage along the north side of Upper Brook Street to the west of No. 21, presumably as the result of an agreement made between her late husband and Robert Andrews, who was the head lessee of the ground, and she and the others mutually agreed to build seven houses there (Lawrence Neale being responsible for two). She covenanted to build her house 'with the same Expedition' as the others 'to the Intent that the whole of the said peice of Ground may be built upon and such Buildings carried up at one and the same time', and, moreover, she undertook to employ Fletcher, Barlow and Neale on the house in their respective trades, it also being stipulated that Neale was to obtain his timber from Smith's firm. For this work she was to pay them 'in ready Money', as she herself had no building skill to offer in return. (fn. 11) The seven houses, Nos. 22–28 (consec.) Upper Brook Street, were built, nearly though not quite as arranged (see table on pages 186–7).
Although the barter system could lessen the dependence of a builder on a supply of ready money, it could not eliminate the need for cash altogether. Some of the accounts of John Jenner, bricklayer, have survived among the records of a Chancery case which followed his death in 1728. These include bills from various tradesmen who had supplied materials or worked for him, with statements of what proportion of the account had already been settled. In only one is there a direct indication that part of the payment had been made in kind, Henry Huddle, carpenter, having done work amounting to £404, of which he had received £306 in cash and lime. One or two other instances of reciprocal arrangements can, however, be assumed from the system of accounting, for an account book kept by Jenner's executor contains entries of money received from Francis Commins, mason, partly in payment for bricklayer's work (presumably done by Jenner) on the same day as he, Commins, was ostensibly paid money for mason's work. Nevertheless for the most part Jenner and later his executor appear to have had to meet their commitments in cash.
The bills also provide evidence about the cost of materials and workmanship. For carpentry Huddle charged £7 per square (100 square feet on plan) for a house in Grosvenor Square, £3 per square for a house in Brook Street which Jenner built for 'Mr. Hogg' (presumably Thomas Hogg, lime merchant), and 45s. per square for coach-houses and stables. For 'Act of Parliament' bricks James Whitaker, brickmaker, received £1 per thousand. Daniel Wheatley, carver, submitted a bill in which his prices ranged between 3s. 6d. per foot for a frieze, 1s. 2d. per foot for bed moulding, 8d. per foot for door and window architraves and 3d. per foot for 'cornish'. He also charged £6 for thirteen fronts of Ionic caps (presumably to pilasters). (fn. 12)
Enrolments of many of the mortgages whereby builders raised money on the security of their leases, or in some cases of their pre-lease agreements, are in the Middlesex Land Register. The sum borrowed is not always stated, but there is sufficient evidence, nevertheless, to indicate the general pattern of long-term borrowing. The majority of mortgages were for amounts ranging between £100 and £500, chiefly at 5 per cent interest (the maximum allowable by law), although additional sums were often provided by mortgagees as building progressed. In 122 mortgages of building leases for streets other than Grosvenor Square between 1722 and 1760 the average amount borrowed initially from each mortgagee was £470. This rather high average figure is explained by a few instances in which substantial sums were involved. Richard Lissiman mortgaged No. 34 Grosvenor Street during the course of building for firstly £1,300 and then a further £1,125 from the same mortgagee. (fn. 13) Benjamin Timbrell borrowed at least £2,000 in two instalments on the security of a house on the site of the present Nos. 71–72 Grosvenor Street, (fn. 14) and No. 40 Upper Grosvenor Street was also mortgaged by its building lessee for a similar sum. (fn. 15) In Grosvenor Square, where the scale of operations was bigger, the loans were often of £1,000 and upwards. No. 38 was mortgaged for £3,500 by its building lessee, Israel Russell, painter-stainer, to a citizen and clothworker of London. (fn. 16) Nos. 12 and 25 were each mortgaged for £3,000, (fn. 17) and it can be assumed that similar or greater sums were borrowed for the building of other houses in the square where detailed record of the transactions has not survived.
The mortgagees came from a variety of stations in life, one of the largest sources of capital on the Grosvenor estate being, as we have already seen, the ground landlord. Among the many gentlemen and esquires were doubtless a number of solicitors and barristers, some of them identifiable by addresses in the Inns of Court. Widows and spinsters were prominent in providing the small sums necessary to maintain the essential flow of cash to builders, but a high proportion of mortgagees were tradesmen living or working in the several Westminster parishes. Among them were two apothecaries, a cordwainer, three fishmongers, a gingerbread baker, a linen-draper, two oilmen, a pattern-maker, a peruke-maker, a poulterer and a woollen-draper. (fn. 18) From slightly further afield were a brewer of St. Giles and a gardener of Chelsea, (fn. 19) while there were also merchants or tradesmen with City connexions, some of them members of various livery companies including the Clothworkers', Ironmongers', Goldsmiths', Cooks', and Farriers'. (fn. 20) There were also several instances in which builders obtained mortgages from timber merchants, brickmakers or even fellow craftsmen, but these were no doubt sometimes post hoc securities for materials supplied or work done. Few of the mortgagees were from outside London and most of these had addresses in the Home Counties. One of the most important was Philip Stone, a maltster from Shepperton, who lent money to several builders. (fn. 21) Richard Lissiman's mortgagee for No. 34 Grosvenor Street, mentioned previously, did hail from the provinces, however, being a gentleman from Hambledon in Hampshire. The clergymen mortgagees included Dr. John Pelling, the rector of St. Anne's, Soho, who advanced £2,000 to Edward Shepherd towards the building of No. 19 Grosvenor Square. (fn. 22) Among noble lenders were the Earl of Uxbridge, Baron Carpenter and the Dowager Lady Gowran; and Lady Mary Forester of Hampton Court lent £2,000 to Benjamin Timbrell. (fn. 23) At the other end of the social scale Richard Wood, a coachman, lent £100 on a mortgage of a house in South Street. (fn. 24) Institutional lenders are more difficult to identify, because the deeds relating to their loans were often executed in the names of individuals and do not mention the name of the firm or company concerned, but there is no evidence that they played a major role in the supply of money to builders on the Grosvenor estate. A notable exception was the series of mortgages, amounting to £7,000 by 1743, obtained by Edward Shepherd from Christopher Arnold and Richard Hoare, goldsmiths, which were, in fact, loans from Hoare's Bank. (fn. 25)
Little is known about the majority of mortgagees apart from their names and sometimes their occupations, but John Aldred, a former seaman, is an exception. He had been captain of the 'Rochester', a man of war, and in 1710 was 'Commander of the Forces in Newfoundland'. (fn. 26) In 1731, when he was living in St. Marylebone, he began lending money to builders on the estate, and between then and 1734 he executed at least six mortgages for a total of £2,500. (fn. 27) In 1733 he took up residence in a new house at No. 15 Upper Brook Street (Plate 44b, far right, now demolished) of which he was already the mortgagee and lived there until his death in 1740 (see table on page 187). (fn. 28) He also had a country house in Buckinghamshire, and at the time of his death he was able to leave legacies of over £6,000, including £2,000 each to St. Bartholomew's and St. Thomas's Hospitals. (fn. 29)
Although much of the loan capital needed for the development of the estate was no doubt channelled through attorneys, scriveners were also very important in providing similar services. They not only acted as witnesses to transactions but were also sometimes parties themselves. James Swift of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, for instance, made several loans to builders, including £2,750 to Benjamin Timbrell and £2,000 to Thomas Knight, joiner, on mortgages of Nos. 28 and 47 Grosvenor Square respectively. (fn. 30) Whether he was using his own money or funds entrusted to him by his clients for investment is not known, but he also witnessed other mortgages, (fn. 31) as did several of his fellow scriveners. (fn. 32) The foremost member of this profession connected with the estate, particularly during the early years of its development, was John Hodson of St. Paul's, Covent Garden. He was probably an associate of Thomas Barlow, the estate surveyor, who had also lived in Covent Garden, and he witnessed both Barlow's agreement with Sir Richard Grosvenor for the large plot on the south side of Grosvenor Street and the resultant building lease. (fn. 33) He was also an executor of both Thomas Barlow's and his son Richard's wills. (fn. 34) No doubt profiting from this connexion he was able to extend his practice on the estate and witnessed a considerable number of building agreements and leases relating to it. He also provided a number of mortgages to undertakers and builders, (fn. 35) but in 1743 he suffered a fate more usually associated with his builderclients when he was declared bankrupt. (fn. 36)
Evidence about other sources of funds apart from mortgages is less readily available. The accounts of John Jenner show that builders operated on an extensive system of short-term credit for materials and sometimes workmanship. (fn. 12) William Packer, carpenter, who was the building lessee of a house in Grosvenor Square, must have encountered financial difficulties for his lease was assigned in trust to creditors, and the deed of sale of the house contains a list of his creditors and their occupations. They included three timber merchants, a brickmaker, an ironmonger, a sawyer, two carvers, a turner, a joiner, a blacksmith, a painter, a lighterman, a butcher, a baker, a coal merchant, a carman and two victuallers including the proprietor of the Mount Coffee House. (fn. 37) Borrowing on the security of bonds and promissory notes was no doubt also a widespread practice, but little evidence of this has survived. There is, however, a reference to Robert Andrews lending £400 on a bond to Thomas Knight, the builder of No. 47 Grosvenor Square, before any mortgage of the property had been made, (fn. 38) and in 1743 Job Beasley, a servant to a resident of Putney, complained that he had purchased two promissory notes drawn on a builder who became bankrupt, but 'coming but Seldom to London', he had missed the declaration of the dividend. (fn. 39) Several mortgages must in fact have been executed to cover money already advanced and in many cases doubtless already spent.
One way to raise capital without borrowing was to sell annuities. This method would only be available to the large-scale undertaker with a considerable annual income, but there are examples of its use by builders on the Grosvenor estate. Thomas Barlow raised £1,500 by selling an annuity of £100 out of the rents and profits of his ground on the south side of Grosvenor Street, (fn. 40) representing a return for the purchaser of just over 6½ per cent.
When building was well under way it was possible for the larger operator to obtain cash by selling the improved ground rents which he had created in the course of development. There are several instances of this practice on the Grosvenor estate, where the level of rents required by the ground landlord was so favourable to undertakers. Unfortunately, as in the case of mortgages, much of the evidence occurs in the Middlesex Land Register, where the sums of money involved are only rarely stated, but from the available information the rate at which improved ground rents were bought varied widely. John Baker, esquire, was the purchaser in several such transactions, usually paying between sixteen and nineteen years' purchase, representing an annual return of about 5½ to 6 per cent on his investments. In April 1725 he paid £320 for ground rents of £20 per annum arising out of subleases of houses in Brook Street (sixteen years' purchase), (fn. 41) but in December of the same year he paid £142 10s. for rents amounting to £7 10s. (nineteen years' purchase). (fn. 42) In the following year he paid £635 for several houses on the east side of Duke Street let on subleases at rents totalling £35, (fn. 43) and two years later he paid Edward Shepherd £1,100 for a rent of £59 9s. from thirteen houses in James (now Gilbert) Street (both between eighteen and nineteen years' purchase). (fn. 44) In 1728 Henry Huddle, carpenter, paid a sum equivalent to twenty years' purchase to buy the rent for which he was liable under a sub-lease of a plot in Mount Street. (fn. 45)
In some cases, however, the rate was twenty-one years or longer, giving a return of under 5 per cent. A document among the papers relating to John Jenner, referred to earlier, values the improved rents arising from his building activities at twenty-two years' purchase. This may well have been an optimistic assessment, for in 1729 Francis Commins, mason, paid £210 for £10 worth of rents from Jenner's executor. (fn. 46) In 1739 Abraham Crop, a merchant, bought a plot of ground on which a rent of £69 10s. had been secured for £1,459 10s. (fn. 47) Both these sums were equivalent to twenty-one years' purchase, and this was also the basis on which Robert Grosvenor paid John Simmons for the improved ground rents of houses on the east side of Grosvenor Square in 1731–2. In 1733, however, he bought the increased rent of the large centre house there at twenty-three-and-a-half years' purchase, (fn. 48) his willingness to pay this exceptionally high price being probably due to his wish to provide a stimulus to the whole development by the completion of such an important house.
The builder who was fortunate would find a purchaser for a house either before work had begun or when the building was only in carcase. In a few instances leases were granted to the first occupants of houses on the estate rather than to building tradesmen, but in only one of these cases has the contract which was presumably made as a matter of course between the respective parties come to light. This is an agreement of 1769 concerning the large house at the north end of Park Lane (later known as Somerset House, Plate 14b) which was leased to Viscount Bateman in 1773. (fn. 49) By this contract John Phillips, who held the land under a building agreement of 1765 (no. 92 on plan A), undertook to build a house and stables for Bateman at a cost of £6,500 plus an extra £500 for an abatement in ground rent. The document contains several detailed provisions relating to the building work including the dimensions of the timbers to be used. (fn. 50) At No. 48 Upper Grosvenor Street (fig. 2c on page 107), where the lessee, Colonel William Hanmer, was the first occupant, the builder of the house, Robert Phillips, bricklayer, was a party to the lease, (fn. 51) and it is known that a contract for building the house was made between Phillips and Hanmer. It apparently contained detailed specifications and was endorsed with accounts of the partial payments made by Hanmer as the work progressed. (fn. 52)
Two examples of large and imposing houses which were purchased before completion are Nos. 34 and 52 Grosvenor Street, both of which survive, albeit in altered states (Plates 8c, 9b; figs. 16–17 on pages 136–7). A building lease of No. 52 was granted to Benjamin Timbrell in November 1724, (fn. 53) and in March 1725 Sir Thomas Hanmer, the former Speaker of the House of Commons, agreed to pay Timbrell £4,250 for the house which was 'now erected or in building' and was 'to be finished in the best manner now used'. (fn. 54) Hanmer's accounts show that the payments were spread over eighteen months as building work progressed, and he moved in at Michaelmas 1726. As well as the purchase money Hanmer paid sums to other craftsmen for work in fitting up the house, and Timbrell allowed him a reduction of £60 from the stated price 'for the Staircase', presumably because Hanmer had employed Giovanni Bagutti, the eminent Italian plasterer, on the embellishment of the staircase compartment rather than entrust the work to Timbrell. (fn. 55)
A similar arrangement was made at No. 34 Grosvenor Street, for which Sir Paul Methuen paid £4,500 to its building lessee, Richard Lissiman, in 1728, some three years after Lissiman had been granted the lease. (fn. 56) Methuen held back £500 of the purchase money until certain works were completed and a memorandum was drawn up setting these out in detail. Among the specifications was the instruction that Lissiman should 'wainscoat the Staircase with Oak, in the same manner as the Staircase is wainscoated, in the house where Sir Thomas Hanmer now lives. And . . . cover all that part of the Staircase and Sealing above it, that is plaisterd, with Ornaments of Stucco, to the Satisfaction of Sir Paul; But with this Express condition, that Mr. Lissiman is not to be at any greater Expence for the same then [sic] forty pounds. So that if Sir Paul should be desirous to have it done very finely Mr. Lissiman shall be obliged to contribute forty pounds towards ye Charge of it, and no more'. (fn. 57) Surviving bills indicate that Methuen, too, made extra payments to craftsmen for work at the house, although there is no bill for plasterwork. (fn. 58)
A shortened version of one contract shows that shortly after receiving his building lease of the house on the west corner of Duke Street and Grosvenor Square William Barlow junior agreed to complete the house according to the requirements of Thomas Archer of Whitehall, esquire (the architect), after which Archer was to have the option of purchasing it for £1,600. Although all the provisions are not known Archer's general instruction seems to have been that the house should be finished in the same manner as No. 9 in the square, at the opposite corner of Duke Street, which Barlow had built previously. (fn. 59) Barlow borrowed £650 from Archer to complete the house, but in January 1727 he was declared bankrupt, and by November of the same year Archer was complaining that the house was still unfinished and was 'now in a ruinous and destructive manner, open and exposed to the wind and rain'. (fn. 60) In February 1728 Barlow's assignees in bankruptcy conveyed the house to Archer for an unknown amount. (fn. 61)
Undoubtedly the most unusual method of selling a house was the raffle held for No. 4 Grosvenor Square, the centre house on the east side with a seventy-foot frontage (the largest in the square). This imposing mansion was built by John Simmons and was valued at £10,000, but it was described by his widow as 'not being every Body's Money'. She devised a scheme to sell 39,999 tickets at 5s. 3d. each, with a free ticket for anyone who bought twenty-four. The raffle, which was held on 8 June 1739, was won jointly by the wife of a grocer in Piccadilly and her lodger, who sold the house to the Duke of Norfolk. According to The Gentleman's Magazine the Duke paid £7,000, but the deeds seem to indicate that the price was only £4,725, a remarkably low sum for such a large house. (fn. 62)
The highest price known to have been paid for a new house on the estate was £7,500 in 1730 for No. 19 Grosvenor Square, which was described as 'the fine House . . . built by Mr. Shepherd the famous Architect'. (fn. 63) With a sixty-foot frontage and a handsome Palladian façade it was perhaps originally the grandest house in the square. In 1731 No. 7 Grosvenor Square was let to Lord Weymouth for seven years at a peppercorn rent for the first year and £396 per annum thereafter with an option to purchase the house within three years for £6,400, the price to include four coach-houses in the mews behind. (fn. 64) Other known prices paid to their builders for houses in the square were £5,250 for No. 18, £4,800 for No. 17, £4,200 for No. 12 and £3,400 each for Nos. 44 and 46. (fn. 65) No. 34, however, which was a smaller house on a corner site, sold for £1,750. (fn. 66)
Substantial sums were also paid for houses in other streets. The £4,500 paid by Sir Paul Methuen for No. 34 Grosvenor Street, a house with a forty-three-foot frontage, and the £4,250 paid by Sir Thomas Hanmer for No. 52 in the same street, with a fifty-foot frontage, have already been cited. No. 51 Grosvenor Street (fig. 2b on page 106), another imposing five-bay house next door to Hanmer's, was purchased in 1726 by Sir John Werden for £3,900. (fn. 67) According to a contemporary newspaper report the Hon. John St. John paid £4,000 in 1738 for a house with over forty feet of frontage which now forms part of No. 75 South Audley Street, and from the evidence of his account at Hoare's Bank Sir Nathaniel Curzon paid £3,000 in 1729 for No. 66 Brook Street (Frontispiece; Plates 6c, 9a), both of these houses being built by Edward Shepherd. (fn. 68) Another large house with a thirty-five-foot frontage on the site of the present No. 32 Grosvenor Street was sold in 1726 for £2,800 to Charles Edwin, a Welsh landowner who was later M.P. for Westminster. (fn. 69)
The £5,000 paid in 1740 by the second Baron Conway (later created Earl and finally Marquess of Hertford) for No. 16 Grosvenor Street, a house with a fifty-five-foot frontage, comes into a slightly different category. Although Lord Conway paid the money to Thomas Ripley, the builder of the house, he was not the first occupant, No. 16 having already been inhabited for some fifteen years by Lord Walpole, the son of Sir Robert Walpole, who was Ripley's principal patron, and other instances have been found where houses acquired an enhanced value after having been lived in for some years. (fn. 70)
Prices in the region of £1,000 appear to have been usual for smaller houses in the principal streets. The 'Fifty Churches' Commissioners paid £1,300 to its builder for No. 15 Grosvenor Street, (fn. 71) and No. 35 Grosvenor Street was sold for only £1,250 (fn. 72) even though it stood next door to Sir Paul Methuen's grand house which cost him nearly four times that sum, and moreover was built at the same time by the same builder. Another house in Grosvenor Street, on the site of No. 65, was purchased by a widow in 1726 for £1,240. (fn. 73) On the north side of Brook Street to the east of Davies Street prices were significantly lower, two houses on the site of the present Nos. 52 and 54 with twenty-foot frontages selling for £500 and £550 in 1725. (fn. 74) In the lesser streets, with one or two notable exceptions, they tended to be lower still. In 1737 Captain Robert Booth paid only £180 to Edward Shepherd for No. 11 North Audley Street, (fn. 75) a house which still survives behind a later façade and which was even smaller than its twenty-two-foot frontage suggests. A house in James (now Gilbert) Street sold for £250 in 1726 and one in South Audley Street in 1730 for £275. (fn. 76)
Rack-rental values also varied widely. In auction particulars dating from about 1745 of the estate which had belonged to Thomas Barlow, the annual value of twentyfive houses on the south side of Grosvenor Street is given. (fn. 77) The average was £88, the highest being £220 for a house with a forty-two-foot frontage built by Benjamin Timbrell. Francis Salvadore, a merchant in the City, paid Edward Shepherd £250 per annum on behalf of the Portuguese ambassador for No. 74 South Audley Street, (fn. 78) and the Earl of Chesterfield paid £240 yearly for No. 45 Grosvenor Square (with an option to purchase the house for £4,200 which he did not take up). (fn. 79) There is, however, a remarkable contrast between the £396 per annum paid by Lord Weymouth for No. 7 Grosvenor Square and the annual rent of £24 which Richard Barlow, Thomas Barlow's son, paid Edward Shepherd for a house in North Audley Street. (fn. 80) Some houses built by John Jenner in Mount Row were valued at an even lower figure, for his widow stated that five of them were worth annually only £60 altogether. (fn. 81)
Perhaps understandably there is more clear evidence about the failures of builders than their successes, but some at least left their descendants in a comfortable if not vastly wealthy state. The example of Thomas Barlow, who was also the estate surveyor, is given on page 12. Thomas Richmond, a carpenter from Soho who built three houses in Grosvenor Square, left an estate consisting chiefly of leasehold houses worth over £8,000 at his death in 1739. (fn. 82) Edward Shepherd, although indebted to Hoare's Bank, was also in a basically sound financial position at the time of his death in 1747. His widow sold some of his property to clear his debts, and after a long series of disputes the bulk of his estate was sold at the end of the eighteenth century for over £13,000. (fn. 83) When Benjamin Timbrell died in 1754 his daughter claimed that he owned freehold land and houses to the annual value of £1,000 and leasehold ground on which he had built 'several large and magnificent Dwelling Houses', which, together with his money, stocks and other securities, gave him a personal estate of £20,000, but that his executors were defrauding her of her share of the inheritance by claiming that he died in mean and low circumstances. (fn. 84) One is more inclined to believe her side of the story, but even a successful builder such as Timbrell could find his affairs severely compromised at times. John Green was described as 'a very wealthy Builder' at the time of his unfortunate demise in 1737 (fn. 85) and when his son died two years later he was said to be 'possessed of a plentiful Estate', (fn. 86) but nevertheless the Grosvenors do not appear to have been able to recover the money owed by Green towards the cost of making the garden in Grosvenor Square. (fn. 87) It may be noted that, with the possible exception of Green, all of these builders had extensive interests outside the Grosvenor estate.
The bankruptcy records for the years 1720–75 show that commissions of bankruptcy were awarded against 38 of the 290 known builders or allied tradesmen working on the estate. (fn. 88) There is, however, evidence that many builders became insolvent without actually being declared bankrupt and that in several cases the assets of a builder at his death were insufficient to meet his liabilities. A document among the estate records dating from about 1738, with revisions made some years later, lists the amounts still owing from builders for the laying-out of the garden of Grosvenor Square. (fn. 87) This indicates that of the thirty-one builders or firms to take plots around the square, eight became bankrupt and at least another eight died either insolvent or with insufficient funds to complete the payments. (fn. 2) Of the eight bankruptcies, seven can be confirmed from other sources and there is little reason to doubt the basic accuracy of this record, which was intended to aid in the recovery of money owed to the estate. Typical of several marginal comments on the document is that beside the name of Francis Bailley which reads 'A prisoner many years and not worth a shilling', with the single word 'dead' added later, evidently to conclude the matter.
Some indication of the narrow margin under which builders operated is given in a letter from the builder Roger Blagrave's solicitor to Robert Andrews in 1744 or 1745. Blagrave, who built several substantial houses in South Audley Street, South Street and Park Street, had apparently made an addition to one of his houses which extended beyond the limits of his building plot and was consequently having difficulty in obtaining a building lease. His solicitor claimed that as a result Blagrave was unable to borrow money to complete the house and concluded, with no doubt pardonable overstatement on behalf of his client, that 'The Man has laid out all his Substance and many Years Constant Labour in these Houses and if he Cannot Obtain a Term in this peice must be inevitably Ruined and cannot get Money to pay his Journeymen another Weeks Wages and is really very Deserving'. (fn. 89)