The Social Character of the Estate: A Survey of Householders in c. 1790

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. All rights reserved.


, 'The Social Character of the Estate: A Survey of Householders in c. 1790', in Survey of London: Volume 39, the Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair, Part 1 (General History), (London, 1977) pp. 86-89. British History Online [accessed 21 May 2024].

. "The Social Character of the Estate: A Survey of Householders in c. 1790", in Survey of London: Volume 39, the Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair, Part 1 (General History), (London, 1977) 86-89. British History Online, accessed May 21, 2024,

. "The Social Character of the Estate: A Survey of Householders in c. 1790", Survey of London: Volume 39, the Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair, Part 1 (General History), (London, 1977). 86-89. British History Online. Web. 21 May 2024,

A Survey of Householders in c. 1790

The end of the eighteenth century was a quiet period in the history of the Mayfair estate. The building operations begun in 1720 had finally come to an end in the 1780's, and rebuilding on any significant scale did not start until the 1820's. A stable pattern of occupation therefore established itself in these years, and this is well illustrated by a detailed survey of the 'inhabitants' which was compiled in 1789–90 by the authorities responsible for collecting the assessed taxes in Middlesex. (fn. 2)

Though its provenance must connect it with taxation the real purpose of this survey remains unknown. It covers the whole of the parish of St. George's Hanover Square, street by street, listing the 'inhabitants' with their status or occupation and a wealth of other detail besides. (fn. 1) The term 'inhabitants' here seems to have been synonymous with the resident householders, but it also included non-residents who had businesses on the estate or let houses there to tenants. All householders were included (which was not the case with the poll books, previously discussed), but no information was given about the size of households or of the population as a whole.

The total number of these 'inhabitants'—excluding as far as possible non-residents and double entries—was 1526. These can be divided according to rank or occupation as shown in the accompanying Table.

The figures in this Table confirm the impression, already hinted at by the 1749 poll books, of a very heterogeneous population in which trade and commerce predominated. The residents of rank and fashion, who in this area might be expected to be numerically preeminent, are, however, not very easily identifiable in the survey, their presence being partly concealed in the 'no occupation' category, which includes 63 esquires and 24 gentlemen, and nearly 200 women. A better guide to the proportion of residents of rank and fashion is probably provided by Boyle's Court Guide, first published in 1792. Its 410 entries for the Grosvenor estate suggest that about a quarter of all householders on the estate belonged to this class.

Householders in c. 1790.

The location of the various classes showed hardly any changes since the mid century. For those who could afford it Grosvenor Square was still the 'best address'— indeed one of the best in London. Of its 47 householders in 1790 thirty-one were titled, and these included three dukes, six earls (of whom one was Lord Grosvenor) and a viscount. Only slightly less fashionable were Upper Brook Street and Upper Grosvenor Street, which Mrs. Anne Damer, house-hunting in Mayfair in 1795, coupled with Grosvenor and Berkeley Squares as the 'ne plus ultra'. (fn. 3) In Upper Brook Street (where Mrs. Damer settled in 1799) 49 householders out of a possible 55 are listed in the court guide for 1792 and in Upper Grosvenor Street, 42 out of a possible 48. Brook Street and Grosvenor Street, always more vulnerable to commercial pressure than their extensions west of the square, were rather less exclusive, particularly towards their eastern ends. In Brook Street just under a quarter of all the householders were tradesmen and by 1805 the estate surveyor, William Porden, thought that the eastern half of the street was 'of such a mixed character of Houses as not to be thought an eligible situation for Persons of Rank'. (fn. 4) The newer developments in Hereford Street, Norfolk Street, Portugal Street and the south-west end of South Street were, however, all popular with fashionable residents. In South Audley Street the two facing groups of houses at the south end (Nos. 9–16 and 71–75 consec.) retained their fashionable cachet against commercial encroachments, as did the large houses overlooking the park at the south end of Park Street, and some of the houses on the south side of Green Street.

Titled people of all types accounted for 8.5 per cent of the 'inhabitants' listed in the survey. They included 37 peers (including Irish and Scottish peers), 18 baronets, 15 'honourables', and 39 'ladies'. Heading the list of peers was the Duke of Gloucester, one of George III's brothers, whose large detached house in Upper Grosvenor Street was later to become the London home of the Grosvenors. In addition to the Duke of Gloucester there were five non-royal dukes living on the estate. Foreign nobility was represented by the Hanoverian minister, Baron Alvensleben, at No. 37 Grosvenor Square, and the Duke of Orleans (Philippe Egalité) at No. 2 South Street, a house at the corner with Park Lane.

Several of the householders whose names appeared in the court guide were professional men. They included 'placemen' who were not also tradesmen; members of the armed forces; attorneys and lawyers; medical men (but not apothecaries) and architects. The 'placemen', of whom there were 32, were mostly either civil servants like Timothy Caswall of Davies Street, one of the Commissioners of the Salt Tax, or court officials, like Thomas Dupuis of Park Lane, the King's organist. Among the armed forces the Army was represented by fifteen officers and a surgeon, the officers ranging in rank from captain to general; the Navy's complement was two admirals, three captains and a surgeon. Three civilian surgeons were among the twelve householders who were medical men, the others being physicians, a dentist, a 'man mid-wife' and a chiropodist described as 'Operator to their Majesties for the Hands and Feet'. Another eight householders were attorneys, two of them being Earl Grosvenor's own lawyers, Edward Boodle and Thomas Walley Partington of Brook Street. Only two householders were described as architects, one being John Crunden, who occupied a house of his own designing in fashionable Hereford Street, and the other the little-known George Stoddart of South Street. Rather surprisingly the financial world had only one representative, George Brooks of Green Street, a founding partner in the banking firm of Dixon Brooks and Company, established in 1787 in Chancery Lane. (fn. 5)

More than half the householders on the estate in 1790 earned their living by trading in goods and services. Some 120 different trades were represented, ranging from muffin-makers to 'herald painters', but the main areas of activity were those concerned with food and drink, building, dress and fashion, and transport. The standing and scale of business of individual tradesmen evidently varied greatly. Twelve of them claimed to have the patronage of Royalty, the names of several appeared in the court guide, and the wealthy and fashionable inhabitants of Grosvenor Square naturally dealt with high-class purveyors, some of whom enjoyed metropolitan reputations. But at the other extremity were those who must have relied for their trade on the unfashionable but more numerous inhabitants of the lesser streets and mews.

The main shopping streets in 1790 were Davies Street, Duke Street, Mount Street, North and South Audley Streets, Oxford Street and Park Street—Mount Street being probably the most fashionable. The survey does not identify individual shops (except for a few occupied separately from the rest of the house), but as most tradesmen seem to have used their homes as their place of business, a good many ground-floor front rooms must have been turned over to trade. Some of them were fitted up with shop windows, as is shown on a plan of the east end of Brook Street in 1778–9 (fig. 4). Tradesmen had not at first needed the permission of the ground landlord to install shop windows, but from the 1760's estate leases contained a clause prohibiting the erection of bow windows (fn. 6) —evidently an attempt by Lord Grosvenor and his advisers to limit the proliferation of shop fronts.

The largest of the four main commercial groups were the food and drink trades, in which 288 tradesmen (some 19 per cent of all householders) were employed. Within this group the most numerous in a single occupation were the 74 licensed victuallers, of whom 73 occupied named licensed premises on the estate. Thus the number of public houses had hardly altered since 1750. Some losses in the older streets had been made up in the newer developments like Norfolk Street, but their distribution was as widespread as before, and among the principal streets only Grosvenor Square, Hereford Street and Portugal Street had none at all.

After the victuallers came the butchers, with 55 traders including poulterers and a tripeman. They were heavily concentrated in the north-east corner of the estate, particularly in St. George's and Grosvenor Markets (both exclusively food markets), where 35 butchers had their stalls. Their concentration in these two markets may have been the result of an attempt by Earl Grosvenor to take what was often an offensive trade out of the main streets. But even in the markets the butchers were not immune from complaints. In 1801, for example, a resident of Brook Street complained that on market days the stable yard behind her house was so crowded with cattle belonging to the butchers in St. George's Market that her carriage could not be 'aired' without running the risk of being 'gored by the bullocks'; and her neighbour objected to being disturbed in the morning by the bleating of sheep and calves. (fn. 7)

Less numerous than the butchers, but far more widely distributed, were the 43 chandlers whose main customers were the poorer inhabitants. Other householders in the food and drink trades included 28 greengrocers and fruiterers, 20 grocers, 18 bakers, 10 cheesemongers, 7 dairymen (including a cowkeeper in Green Street), and 6 fishmongers, one of whom was said to hawk his wares about the streets.

Slightly over 10 per cent of the householders were employed in what may broadly be termed the building industry. Apart from the regular building tradesmen— carpenters, bricklayers and the like—this group includes craftsmen and tradesmen associated with the decoration and furnishing of houses, principally upholsterers and cabinet-makers. Also included are four surveyors (none of them well known), but not the two architects previously mentioned. The carpenters, numbering 56, were by far the most numerous of any of the individual categories in this group. Many of them had their premises in the streets to the north of Grosvenor Square: in George Street, for example, where 14 of the 33 householders were employed in the building trades, there were seven carpenters. The most prominent member of the trade living on the estate was William Clarke of Little Grosvenor Street, described as carpenter to the 'Board of Works'. In addition to the carpenters there were 21 bricklayers, 12 masons, 11 plasterers, 9 glaziers, 6 plumbers and 2 slaters, but only one 'builder', William Rutledge of Mount Street.

Upholstery and cabinet-making was the best represented of the various furnishing trades, with 12 practitioners, some of them very well known. In Berkeley Square there was John Linnell, who had extensive workshops on the site of the present No. 25. Nearby at No. 70 Grosvenor Street lived Charles Smith, 'Upholsterer to their Majesties', while in Mount Street, which was soon to become a popular address with high-class furniture-makers, were to be found the cabinet-maker Edward Rawlings and the upholstery firm of Elward and Marsh, the latter much patronised by the Prince of Wales. (It is perhaps an indication of the standing of this firm that one of the partners, William Marsh, lived in a house in the fashionable part of South Street.) Altogether 29 building tradesmen had premises in Mount Street (20 per cent of all the householders there), numerically more than in any other street on the estate.

The dress and fashion trades employed a further 173 'inhabitants', many of whom lived in Mount Street, Oxford Street and Park Street. Twenty different types of tradesmen are represented in this group, including tailors, breeches-makers, mantua-makers, glove-makers, milliners, haberdashers, linen-drapers, perfumers, hairdressers and peruke-makers. Tailoring and shoemaking, which together engaged 77 householders, were the most widespread of these activities. On the other hand dressmaking and millinery, trades chiefly practised by women (who were, of course, often not householders), are certainly under-represented.

The 142 householders who derived their livelihood from the trades grouped under the heading 'transport' included 30 stable-keepers, 27 coachmen and 23 coachmakers as well as smiths, farriers, wheelwrights, saddlers, horse-dealers and coach-brokers. The large number of stable-keepers suggests that there was a substantial demand for commercial stabling in the area in addition to the private requirements of residents who kept their own horses and carriages. A few of the coachmen were in the employment of particular individuals, but the majority seem to have worked on their own account. The coachmakers included John Barnard of Park Street, coachmaker to the King, and Murdoch Mackenzie of the 'Rhedarium for the sale of coaches' which occupied the former Guards' stables built by Roger Morris between Green Street and Wood's Mews. Advertisements for the Rhedarium offered coaches and horses for sale by commission, 'neat Carriages of every kind to let for any space of time', 'Stallions to cover', and stables 'for gentlemen's horses to stand at livery'. (fn. 8) For new or inexperienced horsemen who might wish to improve their technique there was a riding academy in Queen Street, and a riding master in Park Street. Supplementing the horse-drawn transport were eight chairmen, one in the service of the Duchess of Devonshire, but the rest evidently self employed.

The remaining 123 tradesmen were employed in trades unconnected with any of the four main categories. These included fifteen coal dealers and twelve apothecaries, as well as stationers, chinamen, chimney-sweeps, tobacconists and watchmakers. Another twenty-one were the sole representatives of their trade on the estate, among whom were a piano-maker in Duke Street, a gunsmith in Mount Street, and a printer in Queen Street.

Apart from a few coachmen and other stable-servants, who traditionally lived over the mews stable, there were 48 householders engaged in some form of domestic service 'living out', evidently in their own houses. At first sight this may seem a surprisingly large number; but, as we have already seen, some families employed small armies of servants, more than could possibly be accommodated under one roof. (Lack of adequate servants' quarters in the original Georgian houses was one of the reasons why extra storeys were often added in the nineteenth century.) Married servants with families were no doubt obliged, and may have preferred, to provide their own accommodation. Many of the servants 'living out' were in the employment of the nobility resident both on the estate, like Lord Petre and Lord Abercorn, and elsewhere, like Lord Clive and Lord Powis. Lord Clive's porter had a house in Little Grosvenor Street which was only a few minutes' walk away from his lordship's own house in Berkeley Square, but a rather longer journey faced the Earl of Powis's cook on setting out from Green Street for the Earl's house in Portland Place. Domestic servants whose duties were specified in the survey included four porters, four valets and three cooks. Four of the Duke of Gloucester's pages had their own houses as did his cook, all within easy walking distance of Gloucester House. Lord Petre's butler, who shared his employer's Roman Catholic faith, lived in Green Street, not far from his master's mansion in Park Lane. Also included in the total number of domestic servants are three stewards, one combining the duties of steward to the Earl of Tankerville (who had extensive estates in Northumberland) with the business of a coal agent.

The survey of 1790 also provides information about the number of furnished houses and the number of subdivided houses. Although there were probably more furnished houses than the 29 listed in the survey, they nevertheless represented only a small proportion of the 1400 or so houses on the estate. As the customers for these furnished lettings were most likely to come from the upper classes such houses were to be found almost exclusively in the fashionable streets. One upper-class occupant of a furnished house was the third Earl of Rosebery at No. 73 South Audley Street. The provision of furnished houses at this time was often in the hands of upholsterers and cabinet-makers, several of whom appear in the survey in the role of furnished-house proprietors. In Grosvenor Street the cabinet-makers Mayhew and Ince and the upholsterer Richard Taitt had a furnished house apiece, both however awaiting tenants in 1790, while at No. 65 Brook Street, a furnished house occupied by an 'esquire', the proprietor was the New Bond Street upholsterer Charles Elliott. But the ownership of furnished lettings was not confined to the professionals, for private owners would often let their town houses for brief periods while they themselves were away. Thus in Park Lane the second Earl of Warwick was enjoying possession of Camelford House during the absence abroad of Lord Camelford. Lord North, the former Prime Minister, used regularly to let his house at No. 50 Grosvenor Square while he occupied Downing Street: but 'conscious on how frail a basis his administration reposed, [he] would never let it for a longer period than one year. In consequence of this principle it annually changed possessors, and being frequently taken by newly-married couples, it obtained the name of Honeymoon Hall.' (fn. 9) Lord North's presence in his own house in 1790 did not deter the compilers of the survey from including No. 50 amongst the furnished houses. The demand for furnished houses, particularly by 'Families who spend but a short time in London', was soon to outstrip the supply and led naturally enough to the opening of several private hotels on the estate, one of the first of these being Kirkham's in Brook Street, which opened in about 1802. (fn. 10)

The sub-divided houses identified in the survey are those where one of the householders was said to inhabit only the ground floor; and almost all of these householders were tradesmen. Only 33 houses sub-divided in this way are listed, all of them in streets where commercial occupation predominated. There were also a few other houses apparently in joint occupation, and the occasional comment that an 'inhabitant' occupied one or more rooms provides further evidence of divided occupancy, which was doubtless far more widespread than the survey shows.


  • 1. The headings under which the information sought by the survey was listed are as follows: 'House Number'; 'Inhabitants'; 'When Inhabited'; 'Furnished Houses'; 'Empty Houses'; 'Inmates Ground Floor'; 'Pays No Taxes'; 'Roman Catholics'; 'Widows and Spinsters'; 'Peers and Members of Parliament'; 'Army, Navy and Placemen'; 'Occupations'; 'Observations and Remarks'. The remarks usually include the sign of licensed premises, the nationality of aliens and sometimes the names of employers.
  • 2. G.L.R.O.(M), TC St. G./1,2.
  • 3. Edward Jerningham and His Friends, ed. Lewis Bettany, 1919, pp. 187–8.
  • 4. E.H.P., box 42/6, Porden to Lord Grosvenor, 6 Nov. 1805.
  • 5. F. G. Hilton Price, A Handbook of London Bankers, 1890–1, p. 53.
  • 6. E.g. GLB XVII/435.
  • 7. GBM 3/167.
  • 8. The World, 15 May 1787, 23 Sept. 1789.
  • 9. Memoirs of Sir Nathaniel William Wroxall, ed. H. B. Wheatley, vol. I, 1884, pp. 374–5.
  • 10. GBM 3/160: R.B.